A framed copy of the first Lewiston Falls Journal published May 21, 1847. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

When introducing the first edition of the Lewiston Falls Journal on May 21, 1847, Editor Francis Lane made a lot of promises.

He promised the newspaper would always write with reference to the best interest of “our beloved state and country,” but will not forget the town — referring to Lewiston — which gives character to the state, and, consequently, demands our most conspicuous attention.”

He promised that the newspaper would “contain a large mass of political and miscellaneous news, selected with great care, and with particular deference to the various tastes of our readers.” 

In the 175 years since these promises were first made, the Lewiston Falls Journal and its successors, including the Lewiston Evening Journal, the Daily Sun and — now — the Sun Journal, have maintained the course set by Lane in carrying on our journalism in the best interest of the communities we serve.

President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “There are two newspapers that I always like to get a hold of. One is the Philadelphia North American and the other is the Lewiston Evening Journal.”  

This year, the Sun Journal celebrates its 175th anniversary. While the newspaper is one of the oldest businesses in Lewiston, it is so much more than that. Every single significant event that has ever happened in the lives of Mainers has been reported by generations of our journalists who first brought news of the world to local homes long before radio. They have remained steadfast on the job to shine a light on our shared lives, our struggles, our successes, and our personal stories, helping shape our communities in untold ways. 

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Our journalism is a reflection of and a connection to our communities, of the people who live, learn and work here, who face challenges here and who thrive here, and of all the events that shape our lives — good and bad.  

When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the Journal mourned for the community. “As we write, knots of citizens stand silently and mournfully at the street corners, with hearts too full of sorrow to give utterance to words expressive of their grief. Silent tears steal down the cheeks of many a strong-minded man. The great loyal heart of this people bleeds. 

The Journal reported when the first telephone exchange was installed in Lewiston in August 1880, the “abyss of fire” that consumed Edward Little High School in December 1884, the conflagration that destroyed Lewiston’s City Building in January 1890, and the fire that destroyed 249 buildings in what is now known as New Auburn in May 1933. 

But news isn’t always bad, as the Journal tracked the “unprecedented” rise in bicycle use in Lewiston and Auburn in 1890, and — in May 1900 — marveled at the sight of the “first automobile ever to pass through Lisbon … It was a vehicle sent out by a business firm and a bugler attracted attention to the nobby little carriage.  

The Evening Journal marked the right of women to vote when, one morning in Auburn in 1920, “Eighteen women were waiting to add their names in the voting list of the city when the office opened at 10 o’clock.” 

In December 1933, when 350 acres of land on the Old Hotel Road were purchased to establish what was then said to become the “best airport in the state,” the Daily Sun brought that news to its readers. At that same airport, in 1985, the Sun Journal reported when Samantha Smith and her father were among eight people killed when a Bar Harbor Airlines plane crashed and exploded in flames.  

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While the Lewiston papers have certainly reported on major state, national and international events over these many years, our focus has always been on local journalism, as Lane promised.  

Local news, local events, local people, local issues, local advertisements, local impact. That focus has been the strength of the Lewiston newspapers over the years, and will remain our focus in the future. 

Our journalists are Maine people with a shared mission to publish our products to inform, challenge and reflect the communities we serve. The work can be hard, but it is crucial to educate, inform and empower readers so they can make the best possible decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.  

As Editorial Page Editor Daniel Dexter wrote in the 1940s, “A newspaper man or woman must have a nose for news. I don’t believe it can be acquired with any great degree of certainty. They must have a sense of natural curiosity. As they linger on the payroll, they develop a skin that rivals the hide of an elephant. Unkind things that are said to them leave no bitter stings.”   

Much more recently, in 2003, staff writer Mark LaFlamme mused that news is “a tough business. I’ve seen strong men broken by it. They try their hand at the journalism game and give up, breathless. They go on to something else and tell themselves it was really a personal choice. But the fact is, it takes guts to live with the uncertainty of breaking news and unpredictable calamity. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, quit.”   

We’re not quitters. 

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This year, the Sun Journal will celebrate the histories of our communities through our journalism, revisiting events of historic significance and reexamining journalism with impact over the years. We’ll look back at work that shined a light in the darkness, and those stories that inspired and energized people into action. 

On Thursday, the 2021-22 season of the Great Falls Forum concludes with a program featuring Sun Journal staff writer Steve Collins alongside David Chittim of the Androscoggin Historical Society, for a talk titled “175 Years of Recorded History — Through Journalism.” This free, public program will take place from noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom, and will be streamed to the Lewiston Public Library’s Facebook page, on sunjournal.com and on the Sun Journal’s Facebook page. To register for the program, go to: lplonline.org/events-programs/

Next Saturday, which marks the official birthday, we will publish a commemorative edition of the Sun Journal looking at the history of the newspapers, a compilation of articles that have been published over the years, a look at an ordinary day in 1886 using coverage from the Lewiston Evening Journal, a full reprint of the first letter from the editor, and a look at historically significant sporting events. 

That same day, in partnership with the United Way of Androscoggin County and Central Maine Community College, the Sun Journal will participate in the Touch-A-Truck event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CMCC on Turner Street in Auburn. Commemorative 175th anniversary editions of the newspaper will be available.

The following day, Sunday, we will launch a 30-part serial about the mysterious and riveting tale of the 1873 murder of Lizzie Lowell, whose headless corpse was found along the tree-lined Switzerland Road beside the Androscoggin River by woodcutter John Small.  

“The Mystery of the Headless Skeleton: The story of Maine’s most spectacular murder case,” written by self-professed history buff Steve Collins, will run in installments each Sunday through Dec. 18. The entire serial will also be published on sunjournal.com. 

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For the remainder of the year, on the third Sunday of every month, a section of the newspaper will be devoted to specific historic events about various local topics, including communication, health, sports, education, climate, politics, courts and crime. 

In addition to these features in the print editions, there will be additional content on sunjournal.com/175th, including a collection of journalism with impact published over the past 25 years, including the Sun Journal’s investigation of Maine Education Services and its use of tax-free public bonds to leverage a lucrative private business that, in 2000, held a near monopoly on Maine’s student loan market. 

The Sun Journal has partnered with newspapers.com to have every edition of the Lewiston papers digitized in a searchable format, and subscribers will soon have unlimited access to 175 years of SJ archives as a benefit of their subscription. The archives will be available on sunjournal.com and you’ll have to be logged in to the website for access.

For 175 years local businesses have put their trust in us to develop and create meaningful marketing to deliver important messages about their products and services to our readers, and our readers have supported us through subscriptions. Now more than ever your investment and support funds the work of our journalists and allows us to deliver the news and stories that reflect the communities in which we live.

Our anniversary celebration is about more than the newspaper. It’s about our advertisers, our readers, our contributors and our journalists. If you have a story idea to suggest, or just want to share your thoughts, please email us at [email protected].

In 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected president of the United States, Maine and Vermont were the only two states that voted for the other guy. At the time, the Lewiston Evening Journal poked a little fun at Maine’s Dirigo slogan at the top of the paper, publishing “As Goes Maine. So What?”


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