[/media-credit] The Le Messager building at 223 Lisbon St. in Lewiston.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — The venerable Le Messager, the longest running French-language newspapers in the country when it stopped publishing in the 1960s, served as the lifeblood of the Franco-American  community in Lewiston and Auburn.

Its longtime home on Lisbon Street may soon receive historic recognition.

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission has awarded Lewiston money from a federal grant to begin the process to earn the brick structure at 223 Lisbon St. a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Only one other entrant from Maine, also located in Lewiston, was nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the Maine preservation group — the Downtown Commercial Historic District.

That district includes more than 80 buildings on lower Lisbon Street and parts of Main Street (see map). Some of those buildings are already listed on the national register.

The state awarded another 11 grants to Maine municipalities and nonprofits for varying historic, preservation and public education projects. The 13 projects are sharing $110,078.

The grants for the two Lewiston nominees support the research and technical assistance required to prepare the NRHP application, said Gil Arsenault, the director of planning and code enforcement for Lewiston.

The state will review the application before sending it to the national board.

Lewiston has more than 45 individual buildings and districts on the historic registry, some of which are no longer standing.

To be eligible for a place on the national register, a building must either have historical significance and integrity, be associated with a major event or person in history or contains a distinctive design that demonstrates its historical significance, said Christi Mitchell, the assistant director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

This process is standardized throughout the country, she said.

The benefit of being on the national register is the availability of state and federal tax credits for renovations, Arsenault said.

The four-story building that housed Le Messager for most of its run was built in the 1880s. The newspaper moved its operation there in 1908, having outgrown its previous home on 175 Lincoln St.

Le Messager largely chronicled the lives and activities of Franco-Americans locally and throughout the Northeast. The newspaper promoted education and encouraged its Franco-American readers to become American citizens, according to the booklet “Historic Lewiston: Franco-American Origins” written in 1974.

The newspaper stopped publishing in 1966. Another Franco-American newspaper grew out of its ashes, but that one shut down two years later.

Adding to the building’s Franco-American significance, the bilingual radio station WCOU opened in 1939 with its studio on the third floor.

Building owner Gabrielle Russell is hoping to use tax credits to rehab the third and fourth floor into residential units.

The proposed historic district extends along Lisbon Street from just past Cedar Street to Main Street, then up Main Street a few blocks to Blake Street. A few buildings along Park Street and Chestnut Street are also included in the district.

While several buildings in the district are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, those that are not may qualify for state and federal grants as “contributing structure.”

Arsenault specifically mentioned the building at 199 Lisbon St. (on the corner of Pine Street), which used to house Marcotte Furniture and, more recently, Compass Coin and Jewelry.

The building does not qualify for listing on the national register, but would be eligible for tax credits if the district is approved.

Building owner Jules Patry recently removed the building’s facade, revealing the original brick from when the building was built. The tax credits would be used to renovate the interior into commercial space and residential units.

 


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