Museum L-A Curator Emma Sieh, middle, talks with Executive Director Audrey Thomson about the giant interactive game visitors will be able to play when they visit the latest exhibit, “Our Working Waterway,” opening Friday. For more information visit: Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The Androscoggin River has been a cornerstone of Lewiston-Auburn’s history for more than 200 years. Museum L-A’s new exhibit celebrates Maine’s bicentennial by exploring the past, present and future of the waterway and how it has connected surrounding communities both physically and culturally.

Reopening July 10, Museum L-A’s “Our Working Waterway” exhibit will take visitors back to the industrial revolution era, when Benjamin Bates first started construction on his textile mill, where Museum L-A is now located.

“School groups and visitors alike are always curious about how these massive textile mills were powered by the river here in Lewiston, but that story is shared by many communities founded along the river,” said Emma Sieh, Museum L-A’s curator. “We felt it was time to create a new exhibition that describes how this amazing waterway shaped history and inspired entrepreneurship and ingenuity throughout our entire region of Maine.”

Photographs and archival collections from 10 historical organizations throughout the state will be on display to tell the story of how the river’s water-power generation impacted and developed the industries and lifestyles of earlier settlements.

Many of the industries that were founded on the river — namely textiles, paper, pulp, logging and sawmills — profoundly influenced the water quality through decades of wastewater dumping. For that reason and others, the Androscoggin River was once considered one of the most polluted waterways in the country. But through the concerted efforts of concerned citizens, town officials, political leaders and environmental organizations like Grow L+A’s river working group, the waterway classification could soon shift from C to B (swimmable).

Sieh said the portion of the exhibit discussing pollution is not intended to point blame but to share the full story of the river, acknowledge that it happened, and recognize what is being done to fix it.

“The river has come a long way in 100 years,” said Sieh. “The Androscoggin caused so much positive change back in 1850 and now we are causing positive change on the river’s condition today.”

Museum L-A Development Associate Alex Cave paints the base of a working waterwheel inside the Bates Mill Complex on Tuesday afternoon as the museum puts together its newest exhibit opening Friday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Interactive installations will be offered throughout the gallery, including a running water wheel and a life-sized game board showing how water moves from land to ocean. Four local artists will have their murals on display along with the photographs of the winners of Museum L-A’s Androscoggin River Photo Contest.

“The Androscoggin is key to so many parts of western Maine both in life and work, recreation and tourism,” said Sieh. “The story doesn’t end here; there’s still so much work to be done. It changed our lives and we changed it pretty drastically, but we’re doing better and that’s all that matters.”

Following the guidelines outlined by the state, new policies and procedures about cleaning, masks and social distancing have been put into place to protect visitors as well as the museum’s staff and volunteers. In addition to those new policies, the museum will also be limiting hours of operation to three days a week: from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit Museum L-A’s website at

One of several giant murals by local artists wait Tuesday to be hung inside Museum L-A. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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