They are places lost to time.

The original Lewiston City Hall, tall and majestic, an 1800s marvel that burned 19 years after it was built. The first Edward Little High School, its grand Victorian architecture nearly destroyed by fire. A network of trolley tracks and the Lewiston-Auburn toll bridge and church after church after church. And, because of a recent fire, the iconic Cowan Mill. 

They’ve been knocked down, burned out, replaced. In some cases, transformed. In others, obliterated.

Mostly forgotten.

Until David Gudas and Ronald DeBlois. 

‘Like a treasure’

It started with a fluke. 

Gudas, a personal computer coordinator for the city of Lewiston, happened to sit in on a talk at the Lewiston Public Library. It was 2003 and Earle Shettleworth, director of the state Historic Preservation Commission, was showing dozens of faded photos of the Twin Cities from the mid- to late 1800s. Slide by slide: Churches that no longer existed. Snick. Historic buildings that had been torn down. Snick. Regal architecture long lost. Snick. 

Gudas wasn’t from here. He wasn’t even from Maine. Raised in Rhode Island, he moved to Lewiston to become a police officer at age 20 — too young to even buy his own bullets. He spent years on the police force listening to old-timers’ stories about the mill town. He patrolled its centuries-old streets and toured its broken buildings. He learned about Lewiston-Auburn’s past.

But he’d never really seen it. Not in the detailed, slice-of-life way Shettleworth’s photos showed.

“I was just floored,” Gudas said. “My jaw just dropped.”

He wanted more.

The Historic Preservation Commission happened to have a lot more.

Shettleworth invited Gudas to the commission’s Augusta headquarters to take a look at its Lewiston-Auburn collection. The commission maintains thousands of historic Maine photos and makes them available to view or copy.

When Gudas returned to his office in city hall, he sought out DeBlois, his boss and a genealogy buff.  

“I bubbled over to him,” Gudas remembered. “He said, ‘We need to grab this stuff.'”

Together they hatched a plan: They would go to Augusta, copy every Lewiston-Auburn photo and caption they could, and bring them back. As the city’s computer guys, they had the technology to scan the delicate pictures and enhance the images that had faded. As Lewiston employees, they had community-related reasons for going.

“We played it that it was historical, that you never knew when you might need it,” Gudas said.   

Their boss gave them one day in Augusta, eight hours to take what they could get. 

“Once we got up there it was like a treasure,” DeBlois said, nearly giggling at the memory.

Photos of Kennedy Park when it was the new City Park, willowy saplings carefully planted along the walks.

Photos of Pine and Lisbon streets, then dirt roads with horse-drawn carriages.

Photos of millworkers by their machines and schoolchildren in knickers and long dresses. 

Some of the pictures were worn, torn or creased. Although the preservation commission cared for them, the photos were up to 150 years old and Gudas and DeBlois felt like they were deteriorating in front of them.

“But once they’re digitized, you’ve stopped the bleeding,” Gudas said. 

Saving the past 

The men almost immediately discarded the flat-bed scanner they’d brought. They had at least a couple of hundred photographs to go through and the scanner was too slow. They relied instead on a 3.2 megapixel digital camera, snapping photos of photos. They studiously recorded whatever caption information there was, but about half had none. At the end of the day, they walked away with hundreds of images of Lewiston-Auburn’s homes, businesses, streets and city buildings, some of which they couldn’t identify.    

They spent the next few months trying to fill in the gaps. Area history buffs and historical societies helped out where they could. At points, Gudas and DeBlois resorted to driving around the city and trying to match the 21st-century places in front of them to 19th-century places in their photos.

“It was all-consuming for a while,” Gudas said. 

One of their biggest epiphanies: the location of the long-gone St. Peter’s Church. It had been built, it turned out, on Ash Street, the current site of the basilica.  

“That was an ‘Oh my god’ moment,” Gudas said.  

Some images still remain a mystery, like the striped poles visible in several photos of Lisbon Street. Experts say they aren’t barber poles, but they don’t know what they are.

“It’s like that stripey pole represents the failure to hand it down,” Gudas said. “It’s lost to history.”

That spring, Gudas and DeBlois created a slide show with the images they’d copied and restored. Gudas debuted it that summer — showing it during a family barbecue.

After that, Gudas and DeBlois showed the slides to community groups. Local history buffs were fascinated by the images they saw. Elderly residents loved reminiscing about the past.

Years later, CDs of their slide show are still available for $10 through the Lewiston city clerk’s office 

Gudas and DeBlois hear once in a while from others with old photos of Lewiston-Auburn. They copied those pictures — a long-defunct toll bridge between the cities, a group shot of firemen, a 1908 bricklayer with a train in background — and added them to their files.

The men have never said no to pictures. 

“They won’t get lost again,” Gudas said.

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To view historical photos from Lewiston and Auburn’s past, click the play button:

Want a copy of the photo slideshow? Copies of the CD are available for $10 through the Lewiston city clerk’s office. 

David Gudas, left, and Ron DeBlois in front of Hathorn Hall, Bates College’s oldest building.

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