A fresh view of the city

It's been 159 years since anyone stood on the river in Auburn, looked across at Lewiston and didn't see the Cowan Mill.

Without its features, and those of its late sister the Libbey Mill, creasing the skyline, Lewiston is reclaiming its natural, pre-industrial, form. Back then, it was a city with an undeclared future. Some visionaries then saw the riverbank, watched the rushing Androscoggin, marveled at the power of the falls, and realized this was the perfect spot to build themselves a legacy. And did they ever.

Long after the last brick tumbles from the last mill in L-A, the community culture they created will remain.

This identity is rooted in people, not places. Though many see the mills as the essence of this place, many also see them as anchors, weighing down L-A. With the Cowan gone, another city emerges. From Festival Plaza, for example, the ivory-hued shape of Central Maine Medical Center and its layered garage now arches into view. These structures may not stir souls like the mill, but they do show some things that the Cowan hasn't for many years: life, vitality and growth. 

The past 41 years weren't good for the mill, after all. Industry breathed its last there in 1968, sparking a four-decade sojourn of plan after plan and  idea after idea being conjured for its stunning rejuvenation, all of which yielded last week to the most non-negotiable of elements: fire.

There was a value in those sentiments, because they coalesced community priorities. But at what point does clinging to the past become a hindrance?

This is not an airy question. But from a seat on the Auburn side of the Androscoggin, it is unavoidable. On Wednesday, as workmen picked through the fallen, blackened bricks of the Cowan, their counterparts in Auburn were laying fresh stone for another community-changing purpose: the Riverwalk, the paved path along the bank to use the river for purposes besides power generation.

When finished, it will be a tremendous community amenity that will further improve the character of downtown Auburn and Lewiston. But why is it being built? To stare across the Androscoggin at blighted reminders of the past, or as a platform to see a brightening future? (To us, the latter.)

Soon, the Cowan will be a cherished memory. Even days after the fire, many folks gathered to watch and chronicle its vanishing act. Instead of mourning what's been lost, however, the focus should be upon what has been gained.

A new start. A chance to remake L-A's future, again, from where it all began: on the banks of the river. Almost 16 decades have passed since anyone was able to see clearly past the Cowan to the city its presence and potency helped create.

It is time for a fresh perspective.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Eagle, I have to finally

Eagle,
I have to finally agreewith you Lewiston could use the entry fees to the zoo to pay for thedog park!

"over heavy catholic cohort

"over heavy catholic cohort falls like the bricks of the Cowan Mill"

You show that you have zero credibility to come here making statements like that.

Come back when you've grown up. Or just don't come back.

DENIS E FORTIER's picture

To both Michael A and

To both Michael A and LewistonNative:

There are large elements of truth in what you both say. I disagree with what you Michael say about the Catholic cohort, because in fact it no longer represents the majority of Lewiston's population. The lock-step obedience to Church and Diocesan authority which I grew up with is long-gone. There is still a Catholic influence, but nowhere near as great as before. However, please remember that until the 1970's, the Catholic parishes educated the vast majority of our population in the parochial schools. The one great benefit there is that Lewiston did not have the large public-school funding burden then that it now bears.

Enough on this point. Your points speak to a very complicated set of events which impact upon development in any given area. My wife and I are both natives of this area, but we were away for several years while I was in the service and then attending graduate school. We returned to this area not by choice but by employment opportunity. We raised our three children here in Lewiston, and they had a wonderful upbringing through the 70's and 80's, and were educated in Catholic schools. We did encourage them to have a healthy skepticism about Church authority, and we encouraged them to look at the world through a wider prism than being restricted to Lewiston and Maine. They all attended and graduated college outside of Maine. Much to our chagrin in one sense as parents, none of them have returned to Maine. However, they do not bear any ill will toward Lewiston, and even they admit that this was a great place to grow up, but that the job opportunities are not here

And that brings me to the crux of the matter, job opportunity. The death of our textile and shoe manufacturing industries, not only here in Lewiston but throughout New England, has had a tremendous impact on the area, not all of it negative.

My point here is this. Any area has its positives and negatives. It all depends on what one is seeking. There are opportunities in certain industries in this area, industries which never existed until our mills died. Those decisions are difficult to make, but the vast majority of people who live in this area are happy, lead productive lives, have children, send them on to college in much greater numbers than before, and then never see them return to Maine except to visit. I don't detect the same bitterness that you seem to exhibit, Michael, just an acceptance of the fact that opportunities are more diverse elsewhere than here in this area.

This same story could be repeated in countless other small to medium formerly industrial areas around the country and that are now trying to build new economic futures for themselves.

 's picture

Michael, that is pretty

Michael, that is pretty interesting statements that you made. How exactly are the citizens of Lewiston intolerant and uneducated? I was born and raised in Lewiston and believe it to be extremely tolerant. I have been to MANY other states and even lived in 2 of them (Phoenix and Mesa, AZ and Tampa, FL area). Maine is not stuck in its past on accident if you look at New England as a whole it is a region where we embrace our past. If you are saying that we are intolerant or uneducated because of SOME people in the state/city then you need to re-think what you might "know" about the state/city. If you don't like the area fine, but to speak negative about the area that you no longer live in and don't know what is going on. That to me just sounds a little ridiculous. Anyways, have a good day.

 's picture

Very well and beautifully

Very well and beautifully written article. Nice job.

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