The Lewiston canal system is a treasure of history, but on one hot summer day in 1913 that treasure could have turned into a tragedy that would have haunted the people of the Twin Cities to this day.

It was common practice at that time for workers in the mills to cool off with a swim at noon. Patrolmen from the Lewiston Police Department did their best to warn people they were not allowed in the canals. They tried to stop the daredevil dives of young men from upper windows of the mills.

Young boys and girls played for hours along the fence line at the top of the canal banking, but for the most part, they abided by the warnings of parents and officials to stay behind that fence.

Many neighborhood children, as well as some of the men who worked nearby, would assemble at the canal at midday and after supper to watch the swimmers.

On this particular day, at the cross canal at Lincoln Street, a group of young boys and two girls were sitting on the fence and a disabled hayrack which stood beside it. For nearly an hour, everything went smoothly. The boys enjoyed the swim and the juvenile spectators were content to keep quiet. In the course of the play, however, one thing led to another until quite a number were swinging on the fence.

A few more joined them, and with a song in rhythm with the oscillation of the fence, the small ones were having the time of their lives.

“They had done the same stunt day after day and all the difficulty that they experienced was the remonstrance of a pedestrian, the scolding of a mother or the admonition of the patrolman,” according to a news story in the July 24, 1913, edition of the Lewiston Evening Journal.

A large pile of timber at the back of the J. W. White Company lumber yard had been placed against the fence, and its tremendous weight was pushing the fence off-center.

It gave just a little.

Then, with a loud crack, it collapsed, throwing about a dozen youngsters who were on the wrong side of the fence into the canal.

The news story said the breaking fence and falling timber created a roar that could be heard for blocks, and people came rushing to the scene.

People told reporters that the beams missed the heads of several children by inches. It was considered remarkable that the boys who were on the canal side of the fence were not injured by the falling beams.

In all, nearly a dozen youngsters were struggling among the pieces of lumber. The mills were shut down for the noon hour and there was no current in the canal.

Joseph Frenette, who drove a team for the J. W. White Company, was preparing for a noon dip when he was startled by the fall of the fence and timber. He dived in without hesitation, and Peter Laverdiere, a mill worker, followed his example from the bridge on Lincoln Street. It was with the greatest difficulty that the children, both those who were swimming and those who had been thrown in, were saved, as the canal was choked with the heavy timbers.

The news story said the narrowest escape of all was that of the two Lagoux girls, Laurette, 4, and Lucille, 11, who were unable to assist themselves. When these last two of the rescued youngsters were pulled out, they were less than 20 yards from the mouth of the intake to the penstock leading to the great water wheels of one of the mills.

Two of the boys who were on the underside of the fence were bruised in the accident, but not seriously injured.

The task of getting the heavy beams out of the canal was no small job, the story said. It took the greater part of the afternoon and the labor of several men. The wood had floated down and lay against the side of the mill. It had to be towed up to the bridge where it was taken out.

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

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