LEWISTON — When Douglas Rogers discovered that the Cowan Mill was burning, he took it personally.

“I told my wife, ‘My building is gone,'” the amateur historian said. “It wasn’t ‘that’ building or ‘their’ building. It belonged to us.”

For 28 years, Rogers worked for the telephone company, installing phones in seemingly every Lewiston-Auburn home, restaurant, office and workshop. When a past owner of the Cowan Mill needed a phone, Rogers went.

“It was beautiful,” he said. He poked around the first two floors. It had massive exposed beams, creating the feeling of a grand yet warm space. “It also had high ceilings and those heavily oiled floors you see in the mills,” he said.

The glimpse began a kind of love affair for the man who, years earlier, had created a museum while working on the South Atlantic island of Ascension. While working for Pan-American, the Ohio native helped transform an abandoned fort into the remote island’s museum.

“I love structure, the way things are built,” he said. When he moved to Lewiston-Auburn and became enamored of the mill, he began studying its history. He tracked the mill, from its days as the Aurora Mill to its expansion in the first half of the 20th century and the loss of its distinctive dormer windows.

He picked up photos when he could, even discovering an 1857 wood-cut image in an antique shop.

“I did some horse-trading for that postcard,” he said. It was dated only seven years after the mill was built.

Bigger mills would come later, but this one was the first. It was built on a rocky precipice that jutted into the Androscoggin River.

“It belonged there on that site,” Rogers said. “When the textile industry collapsed, the building sat vacant or under-used. It had tremendous potential.”

When Lewiston and Auburn were discussing the creation of a single library to serve both cities, Rogers argued that the Cowan Mill would be a perfect home.

“You could incorporate a cultural center there, too,” he said. “But that’s all gone.”

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