In 1847, Lewiston was barely a blip on the map and Auburn, then called Goff’s Corner, not even that.

Alonzo Garcelon, 1879 Maine State Archives

For some, that was just fine.

Dr. Alonzo Garcelon, though, had no use for those willing to settle for the status quo. He dismissed them as “old fogeys.”

He saw a bright future for the community if only he could find a way to push aside the placid placeholders who held the reins of power and set Lewiston on a course for something bigger and greater.

Forty years later, after a career that took him all the way to the governor’s office in Augusta, Garcelon told the story of how he did it, transforming his community and his state in the process.

At its root was the newspaper, the Lewiston Falls Journal, that ultimately became the Sun Journal, now celebrating its 175th anniversary after covering the ins and outs of Lewiston, Auburn and much of Maine for generations.


But that came later.

First, there was just an idea.

“I felt the need of a newspaper to help push on public improvements and build up the town,” Garcelon said in 1887.

He said that he and William Frye, who later became a powerful senator in the nation’s capital, “had to do everything there was done in the way of progress — and we wanted something to back us up.”

Garcelon said “the old fellows used to call us ‘damned young upstarts’ and do everything they could to put rigs in our way.”

At the time, Lewiston had about 3,500 people. Lisbon Street and Bates College didn’t exist. There were only a few built-up roads, Garcelon recalled, and nearly every business was crowded into a small area.


Another doctor, D.B. Strout, recalled that at the time Lewiston reminded him of “a fair sample of a country village, with a few stores, a red schoolhouse and a small hotel,” with only Lincoln Street showing any signs of growth.

Some were content with the way things were. Garcelon was not.

“We wanted new roads, new bridges, a new county and, most of all, a railroad from Portland here,” Garcelon said.

“While striving for all these things,” he said, “we felt the need of an organ to spread our ideas and stir up the people and butt against the old fogeys.”

In short, Garcelon said, “I wanted a newspaper.”

His initial problem, often common among young folks with big dreams, was that he “didn’t have any money to start it with.”


But Garcelon did have a piece of land in Lisbon valued at about $350. That’s about the same as $12,000 today.

He also had a brother-in-law, William H. Waldron, who was, handily, a printer.

The two men talked over the prospects for a newspaper based in Lewiston and decided it could be done if they could succeed in convincing 300 people to subscribe in advance.

They got about 700 to sign on.

The first subscriber? Col. John Frye, the future senator’s father.

His receipt for that subscription became such a family keepsake that his daughter was still showing it off 75 years later.



Waldron knew the business.

Born in New Hampshire, he had moved to Boston and, after learning typesetting, he helped establish The American Eagle, a penny paper in Boston that promoted the views of the “Know Nothing” movement that loathed immigrants and Catholics.

The Boston Native American, where he was one of five printers, eventually became the Boston Herald. But by then Waldron had moved to Lewiston.

The pair purchased a heavy iron Washington hand-press in Boston and had it shipped to Portland.

Col. William Garcelon, the doctor’s father and a key figure in the community’s early years, took a team of oxen to Portland to fetch it.

When he got there, the ship hadn’t arrived on schedule so he loaded up his wagon with goods to sell back home.


Then he returned to Portland to get the press. Since it still hadn’t shown up, Garcelon hauled more wares back for the storekeepers in Lewiston.

The R. Hoe & Co. Washington Press, like the one that printed the first issue of the Lewiston Falls Journal, was the most popular iron hand press in America for several decades beginning in the 1820s. Smithsonian Museum of American History

Journeys to Portland were too valuable to let them go to waste, after all.

The following trip, though, Col. Garcelon found the schooner tied up at the dock, where he collected the new hand press, and delivered it to a wooden building on Lewiston’s lower Main Street, walking alongside the cart the whole way.

When Col. Garcelon arrived in town, “he created quite a sensation,” his son recalled.

“There were many men in town who did not believe this paper would ever appear, and laughed at our enterprise,” the younger Garcelon said.



The two men hired Francis Lane, also a doctor, to edit the paper. Waldron laid out an astonishingly solid block of type that filled four pages, each 33 inches by 23 inches.

It included original poetry, a piece of fiction and a whole bunch of tidbits of news gathered from publications across the land. It tossed in some foreign news on an inside page and a dreadfully dull account of some doings in the Maine Legislature.

It touted a few marriages, mentioned agricultural doings and managed to land a few advertisements from merchants who no doubt realized the first issue at least would be seen by many, among them the law firm of Little & Morrill, the same Little whose name endures as the key element of Edward Little High School in Auburn.

On Friday, May 21, 1847, Col. Garcelon pulled a newly printed sheet off the press, the first copy of the first real newspaper for the small but growing community.

He was so proud of it that he kept a copy framed on his wall for the rest of his life, showing it off to numerous visitors in the years that followed.

A printed newspaper in a frame from the first Lewiston Falls Journal published on May 21, 1847. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal



That moment marked the birth of the Lewiston Falls Journal, the direct ancestor of the Lewiston Evening Journal and, eventually, the Sun Journal.

It’s been 175 years since that day, making the newspaper they founded older than Lewiston, Auburn and Androscoggin County. The paper’s leaders helped usher in what became Bates College, promoted the construction of canals and mills, and constantly prodded politicians to do better.

Along the way, the paper featured many legendary journalists, including Frank Dingley, Holman Day and Arthur Gray Staples. It told the stories of fires and floods, murders and mayhem, celebrations, political victories and defeats, wars, accidents, disease, inventions, celebrities, oddballs and all the things that got people talking generation after generation.

In short, the paper has been telling the story of its community longer than nearly everything it covers today has existed.

For 175 years, the pages of the Journal, the Sun and the Sun Journal have swirled with the voices of its readers and its writers as they recounted, day-by-day, year-by-year, the tales that created and undergirded this community.

Along the way, the newspaper shared the joys and heartaches of everyday people as it catered to their curiosity, trying to stay true to Garcelon’s urge to have its community strive to better itself.

In today’s issue of the Sun Journal and in others for the rest of the year, we will explore the paper’s history and, through it, much about the area’s past.

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