LEWISTON — A picture in the newspaper inspired local painter Melinda Campbell to visit the Cowan Mill on Saturday.

“The way it is now, it looks like the Roman Coliseum — the ruins,” she said. “I just have to paint it.”

Campbell was one of hundreds who visited Veterans Park in Lewiston on Saturday to pay their respects to the Cowan Mill, destroyed by a massive fire on Wednesday.

Most came equipped with digital cameras. Campbell brought her easel, a canvas and paints.

“Somebody came and said the city wants to demolish it by Wednesday,” she said. “So today was the opportunity. It’s sad.”

City officials have scheduled a hearing at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Androscoggin County Superior Court, seeking a legal order to demolish the building. They said Friday that they hope to be ready to begin knocking the building down as soon as that order is signed.

Investigators from the Maine State Police, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Lewiston Police have declared the fire an act of arson. No arrest has been made, but Lewiston Police Lt. Mike McGonagle said police are following some leads.

“We’ve been interviewing witnesses and hopefully, we’ll be able to bring this to a conclusion in the next few days,” he said.

The fire began just after 4 p.m. Wednesday and consumed the 159-year-old mill building in a matter of hours. All that remains are several stories of brick wall and the smokestack.

Spectators had been coming all day, Ace Security guard Lewis Crafts said. He’d been stationed on the road in front of the old mill, near the entrance to Espo’s Trattoria since emergency crews cleared out. His job has been to make sure the curious don’t venture too close to the old husk of a building.

“Its extremely dangerous in there right now,” Crafts said. “You can’t let anyone near it because one brick might fall, then the whole thing would come down and someone would get hurt.”

So far, no one has ventured closer than the street. People stop to look at the building, take a few snapshots and move on. Crafts figured that no fewer than 50 people had stopped by Veterans Park to look at the wreckage during the first three hours of his evening shift.

Dennis and Nadine Bellmore of Lewiston came to snap some pictures of the building’s remains and the nearby Great Falls. Neither had family who worked in the mill but some had worked in the nearby Hill Mill.

“It was a piece of Lewiston’s history, and it’s a shame to see it go,” he said. Both work in Portland and hadn’t been able to get downtown until Saturday.

“We tried Wednesday, to see the fire,” he said. “But we just couldn’t get close. And we tried again Thursday, but we couldn’t see anything.”

[email protected]

Local painter Melinda Campbell works on her version of the ruins of the Cowan Mill. It reminded her of the ruins of the Roman Coliseum, she said. She was one of hundreds who came to Veterans Park Saturday afternoon to look at the ruined building, destroyed in a massive fire on Wednesday.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.