One discovery always leads to another when I’m researching material for these columns. It was an election 100 years ago that led me to learn the fascinating story of a Lewiston mayor and the rather small bridge that was named for him.

Drivers on Chestnut Street in Lewiston cross the Wiseman Bridge over the main canal that was essential to the city’s textile industry. It’s only two lanes wide and just a bit more than 74 feet long. Those who built it in 1927 and dedicated it to Dr. Robert J. Wiseman in 1928 might be surprised to learn today that the unique design of the bridge has stood the test of time just as effectively as the place of that former mayor in the city’s history.

Wiseman Bridge is one of only two known remaining rainbow arch bridges in the entire state of Maine. A 114-foot rainbow arch bridge was built at Blue Hill in 1926 still stands. 

In Norridgewock, a 589-foot covered bridge that was built in this reinforced concrete tied-through arch design in 1928 was replaced in 2011. A fourth example built at Farmington in 1928-1929 was destroyed in the 1987 flood.

Rainbow arch bridges are extremely uncommon nationwide. In addition to the Wiseman Bridge’s significance as a rare example of its type, it is also an example of one of the most visually stunning and attractive forms of concrete arch bridge, according to the website historicbridges.org.

Wiseman Bridge is a favorite of amateur and professional photographers.

Historicbridges.org reports that the bridge’s overhead bracing provides the bridge with stability as well as visually enhancing the crossing experience. The portal bracing contains the construction date cast into the bridge.

When Wiseman Bridge was dedicated in May 1928, crowds gathered, a festive parade was held and Maine Gov. Owen Brewster spoke. In acknowledging the honor, Wiseman said, “I consider the bridge a monument to my father and to those who have gone before.” And he concluded by saying that his family came to Lewiston 55 years previously and “There has been a Wiseman on Chestnut Street ever since.”

His comments also included mention that the Cercle Commercial had raised money to widen Chestnut Street to a uniform width from Lisbon Street down to the bridge. That’s significant because a Franco-American organization’s efforts were recognizing Wiseman’s role as the city’s first mayor of Canadian heritage when he was elected in 1914. He also served as mayor in 1925 and 1926.

It was no small accomplishment for Wiseman to win the Lewiston mayoralty race in 1914. It was a contentious election with many charges denouncing Wiseman thrown about at public meetings.

Wiseman, who was born in 1871 at Princeville, Quebec, was the son of an Irish mother and a Scottish father. Orphaned early, he came to Lewiston when he was young, and he attended Lewiston public schools.

The Lewiston Evening Journal was a solid Wiseman supporter during the hotly contested campaign for mayor in 1914. The newspaper published a major profile of the man, calling his life an example of “grit and determination.” It told of him working in the mills at the age of 13 and at a drug store where liquor was sold.

“Realizing the evil of it,” he quit and became a grocery man, the story said. Hard luck and bankruptcy followed, as well as unsupported claims that he dodged his debts. The newspaper story said Wiseman became determined to learn a profession. He graduated from Bates College and earned his medical degree at Bowdoin College. He became a highly respected physician in Lewiston.

Wiseman claimed no political affiliation and his campaign identification was “the fusion candidate.” Lewiston citizens who belonged to Democratic, Republican, Progressive and other parties were equally opposed to Wiseman’s candidacy, and he overcame a lot of mud-slinging to achieve victory in late February 1914.

His election opened the way for the valuable civic participation and success of many Franco-American citizens through the years.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by emailing [email protected]


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.