“He is dead, and yet he speaks,” said Oren Cheney, president of Bates College, in eulogizing Benjamin Bates, the Lewiston college’s benefactor and namesake, in 1878. “How do the dead, the blessed dead, speak to us? Certainly, through their lives.”

Recently, Cheney’s printed eulogy from the 1878 edition of The Bates Student zapped into our e-mail inbox. The president’s loving remembrance of Bates is a time capsule for local history, richly describing the relationship between Lewiston and its still-most-recognizable surname.

It takes vision to do what Bates did in the realms of industry, education and philanthropy. So how did Bates ultimately see the community he helped build? According to Cheney, he, like so many others have over the years, viewed the area as an undivided whole. 

“By Lewiston, I mean Lewiston Falls — both sides of our beautiful Androscoggin — what ought to be and what Mr. Bates desired should be, one city as we are one people,” Cheney said.

Now, this doesn’t likely mean Benjamin Bates supported joint municipal services or consolidation of departments, or any of the modern names we’ve given to this notion. Instead, he seemingly realized something that we should remember: The communities on the river are not insulated from each other.

They rise and fall on the fortunes of each other; one cannot prosper while the other falters.

Which brings us to another historical footnote, a brief editorial from the Oct. 24, 1857, edition of the Lewiston Falls Journal, on the occasion of nascent discussions between the leaders of the towns of Lewiston, Auburn and Danville about securing their future successes.

The Falls Journal said:

“Although no steps have been taken to accomplish the desirable project of uniting the three villages into which our whole village is divided, yet we doubt not that before many years it will be done. Where natural position, private and public interests, and the general welfare, demand such a course, and where no single tenable reason can be adduced against such a union, it must eventually be brought about.

“Whenever the time shall come to organize a city government, there ought to be entire [unanimity] in consolidating our different municipal organizations.

“It will lessen the expenses of our municipal governments, it will give us better schools, it will place in us a position to make needed improvements, it will increase the importance of our village and give us greater influence, and we shall command greater respect from abroad. It will enlarge our business, and increase the value of all kinds of property.”

These two history lessons show the notion that L and A are a single community and should be managed like a single community is much older than any polarizing forces that prevent these cities from working together today. It often seems more energy is spent trying to keep the cities apart.

Why, when from the beginning it seems they were meant to be together?

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