Explore: Livermore Falls — historic mill town offers strong sense of community

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For much of the 19th and most of the 20th century, the town of Livermore Falls was joined to the industrial output of the Androscoggin River. Like many mill towns — such as its neighbor, Jay, just upriver — the economic fortunes of the community rose and fell along with the fortunes of paper making and manufacturing.

For nearly 150 years, beginning first with saw and grist mills and, later, the pulp and paper mills, Livermore Falls relied on water power provided by the river and its thundering falls. Mills and manufacturing provided the economic catalyst for the area and contributed to the development of Livermore Falls and its sister town of Livermore across the river.

Four paper mills — founded by industrialists Alvin Record and Hugh J. Chisholm — later became known as International Paper Company. Paper making and manufacturing were central to the economic boon experienced by the town of Livermore Falls. The architecture of the downtown area clearly demonstrates it was a town of considerable means at one time, especially historic buildings like the Bank Building and the Lamb Block.

Kathy Langlin, who lives in Livermore, recognizes the historical assets of the town, especially the downtown area along the L formed by Main and Depot streets. That’s where you’ll find the most prominent examples of the buildings that went up following two devastating fires that leveled much of the downtown business district at the end of the 19th century.

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“Livermore Falls and downtown is where the town’s history is,” said Langlin. “The Bank Building, the home of the town’s most prominent bank at one time, is rich with history,” she said.

While the focus is on Livermore Falls, it’s important to note that local residents are very conscious of the differences between the two towns that once comprised the town of Livermore.

“You are either from Livermore or Livermore Falls,” said Jim Timberlake, who resides in Livermore.

Named for early settler Elijah Livermore, the town of Livermore was incorporated in 1795, divided by the Androscoggin River. Over time, the eastern portion of the town because known as East Livermore and incorporated on March 1, 1844, taking the name Livermore Falls in 1930.

The area began growing in importance in the early 1800s mainly due to agriculture and dairy farming. But given what became Livermore Falls’ prime position along a robust section of the Androscoggin River, it’s easy to see why the town developed as an economic center. With a 28-foot drop at the falls, the river generated 10,000 horsepower, and it was here that Elijah Livermore and then others began using that water power to drive their mills. The advent of the railroad in 1852 hastened the town’s development.

Like many towns in Maine, Livermore Falls had a major fire in the late 1800s. Two fires, in fact, one in 1898 and another the following year, destroyed most of the wooden structures downtown. Main Street burned to the ground. Rebuilding began the following year and included the Bank Building, home of the Livermore Falls Trust and Banking Company.

While shoe manufacturing has disappeared as a prominent industry in Maine, the Livermore Shoe Company, which opened in 1954, became one of the largest in the state a decade later. Fifty years ago, shoemaking was seen as one of the town’s growth industries, along with papermaking. In a lifetime, all that’s changed.

So how do places like Livermore Falls reinvent themselves in the 21st century, when large-scale manufacturing that defined the town has closed or located elsewhere? Perhaps it begins by tapping into a sense of community to face the challenges of a post-industrial future.

“The beauty of this community is the coming together that happens regularly,” said Don Simoneau, department commander of the American Legion and longtime resident of Livermore Falls.

Simoneau is in charge of raising funds for the restoration of the town’s 1897 cannon that resides in Union Park, a beautiful tree-lined downtown sanctuary at Union and Main streets.

“People here come together around causes,” said Simoneau. “It’s not about Livermore, Livermore Falls or Jay. They rally around the need,” he said.

On a summer-like Saturday in late September, community spirit was on prominent display at the Apple and Pumpkin Festival taking place along the river, on the recreation fields off Foundry Road in Livermore Falls. The festival, organized by the Jay-Livermore-Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce, brings together the neighboring communities to celebrate their common culture and serves as a harvest festival.

A diverse cross-section of vendors, craftspeople and local agricultural products were on display, as well as a host of community groups. One of these groups, the “Good Neighbor” Tri-Town Fuel Assistance Fund, had a booth and was collecting donations for the coming cold-weather months to help residents stay warm though the winter.

“It’s an example of neighbors helping neighbors,” said Debbie Kendall, president of the fund. “There’s always something going on in this town — thousands and thousands have been donated for families with cancer or other hardships. People care about one another here.”

And they enjoy the beauty of the area. The town has a well-maintained snowmobile trail system, is one of three towns that owns Spruce Mountain Ski Slope across the river in Jay, offers a recreation area and skate park, and has a public canoe launch providing access to the Androscoggin River.

It’s hard to know what the future holds for communities like Livermore Falls and surrounding towns. The realities of the new economy are much different than the ways of the 20th century, when a high school education and a job in the paper mill or shoe shop guaranteed a solid middle-class existence.

But if the hundreds of people gathered Saturday was any indication of the town’s and area’s spirit, the future of Livermore Falls looks bright.

Jim Baumer is a freelance writer. He blogs about Moxie, small towns, and other Maine-centric topics at his blog, http://jimbaumerexperience.com/blog. If you’d like him to profile your town, email him at jim.baumer@gmail.com.

Livermore Falls: The drive-by

Incorporated: Originally known as Port Royal, the town of Livermore — later to be divided into Livermore and Livermore Falls — was incorporated in 1795. In 1844, the part of Livermore east of the Androscoggin River, then known as the village of East Livermore, incorporated as a town, with residents changing the name to Livermore Falls in 1930.

Origin of the name: The area was part of the Abenaki Indian territory called Rockemeka, meaning “great corn place.” The land grant for Port Royal was awarded to heirs of English veterans who served in the campaign against Port Royal in Jamaica. The town eventually was named Livermore after Deacon Elijah Livermore, one of the first English settlers.

Population: 3,187 (2010 census)

Significant historical facts: The pioneering aspects of 18th-century settlement were characterized by battles between early settlers and the native people, including the Abenaki, along the Androscoggin River.

The 19th century brought general calm and later prosperity to places like the young town of Livermore. The economy was based upon products like lumber and furs. Also, given that many of the early settlers of the village were from the section of Massachusetts known for the raising of fruit and dairy production, Livermore became a center for apples, potatoes and cheeses. Later, Livermore Falls harnessed the Androscoggin waterway and became an industrial and manufacturing center, the more prominent of the two villages.

Key community events:

* Frantasia, an annual avant garde music and art festival held in late August.

*The Apple Pumpkin Festival, celebrating the fall harvest, held in late September.

FMI:

* www.jay-livermore-lf.org/

* www.livermorefallsmaine.org/

5 good reasons to visit Livermore Falls and the area

“Make sure you check out downtown — that’s where the history is.”

— Kathy Langlin, employee of Finley Funeral Home, Livermore Falls

“Norlands Living History Museum in Livermore is a great visit. It’s like going back in time.”

— Melissa Gilbert, co-owner of Berry Fruit Farm in Livermore

“The Maine Paper & Heritage Museum on Church Street — there are artifacts from the mills, including the old Otis Mill.”

— Louise Chabot, volunteer for the “Good Neighbor” Tri-Town Fuel Assistance Fund in Livermore Fall.

“There’s Spruce Mountain (Ski Slope in Jay) in the winter. They still have an old-fashioned rope tow to get up the hill. We also have a lot of walking and hiking trails in the area.”

— Debbie Kendall, president of the “Good Neighbor” Tri-Town Fuel Assistance Fund

“Our athletic fields are great in town. These are all a result of volunteer efforts.”

— Don Simoneau, department commander of the American Legion and longtime resident of Livermore Falls

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