LEWISTON – The discoveries are immediate.

Fanning out through the Riverside Cemetery on a cold, gray April morning, Bates College sophomores James Getomer, Carrie Garber, Charles Poris and Tim Larson exclaim over hundred-year-old gravestones, family memorials and the grave of one of the area’s first female doctors. They point out the stonecutter symbol engraved on one old headstone, then puzzle over another emblem they can’t identify.

A couple of hundred yards from the cemetery’s entrance, Poris and Garber find a slim gravestone jutting crookedly from a small patch of earth. Blanched and dirty from decades of Maine weather, the stone is difficult to read. But a small American flag marks the grave as a veteran’s, and the students are intrigued.

“Lieutenant? Lieutenant with the 29th Maine,” Poris says, peering at the faded Civil War-area engraving. “A. C.? A. C. Rankins?”

While other stones are clustered in family groups of three or four or five, Garber notices that this one has a lonely spot of its own. “He’s all alone out here,” she says.

Poris considers this and nods enthusiastically. “He might be an interesting story.”

For the next month, the four students and more than 35 of their classmates will spend their days delving into such stories.

The goal: Write Lewiston-Auburn’s unwritten history.

“There are pieces that really haven’t been told yet,” said assistant history professor Joe Hall.

The class, Writing the History of Lewiston and Auburn, was started last spring by history professor Steve Hochstadt. He believed that the daily class, which centers heavily on student research, interviews and personal site visits, could help strengthen the connection between the college and the community.

“Focusing on Lewiston history would be a way of creating a relationship between Bates and Lewiston through these students,” Hochstadt said.

A history buff and Bates instructor for 24 years, Hochstadt also believed that the course could ultimately offer something more tangible- a written history of the Twin Cities, from the role of residents in the Civil War to the effect that waves of immigration have had.

“Here you have the history of America in one place,” Hochstadt told his class of 40 on Tuesday. “Lewiston-Auburn is, in some ways, a typical American place. By studying Lewiston-Auburn, we can find out about American history.

The class started this week and runs through most of May. Over the next few weeks, students will choose topics, research Lewiston-Auburn’s history and provide a finished project.

If the course continues for the next several years, students will be able to build the first complete history of the Twin Cities.

“What I’m hoping for now is it keeps going,” Hochstadt said.

On Wednesday, Getomer, Garber, Poris and Larson started looking for their own piece of history to pursue with a trip to the Riverside Cemetery.

Said Poris, “This is definitely a start.”

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