Since Col. William Garcelon pulled the first copy of the weekly Lewiston Falls Journal off a heavy iron hand press on May 21, 1847, more than two million additional pages have followed suit, spread across nearly 100,000 separate issues.

In the 175 years since that spring day when the Journal sprung to life, the paper and its direct descendants have captured, day by day, the community’s story, including its best moments and its worst, its most illustrious leaders and its most enchanting oddballs, its teams and its dreams.

Over the long years, far beyond the memory of anyone alive, the paper has told the stories that got people talking generation after generation.

The range of what’s been done over the years is astounding, from interviews with prisoners slated to hang to a former slave talking about his life in chains. Reporters have talked with Old West gunmen, opera greats, presidents, heavyweight boxing champions, movie stars and all sorts of fascinating people closer to home.  They’ve attended everything from a Fat Men’s Convention to the first football game in Maine. They’ve offered advice on everything from grooming horses to buying mouse traps.

Every issue of carries within it the vibrant urgency of its moment in time, from where people shopped to what made them angry to the sorts of things that brought them laughter.

Dr. Alonzo Garcelon started the Lewiston Falls Journal to prod what he called the “old fogeys” to embrace progress. He wanted railroads, canals, factories and the hum of both commerce and the arts to put life into the sleepy village where he practiced medicine.


The first receipt ever issued for a subscription to the Lewiston Falls Journal Lewiston Evening Journal. A subscription to that first weekly in Lewiston cost $1.50 for a year, less than the price of a single daily newspaper today.

Nosing around and nudging a community to better itself, the Journal quickly became the steadfast chronicler of the communities it covered, the place where the history of Auburn, Lewiston and scores of towns across Maine was recorded in real time and the mechanism by which that history remains available for all time.

A subscription to that first weekly in Lewiston cost $1.50 for a year, less than the price of a single daily newspaper today.

That initial price tag, though, is not as tiny as it sounds. Figure inflation into it, and it cost $52 in today’s money for a once-a-week, four-page publication. For subscribers, each edition today is cheaper than Garcelon charged all those years ago.

A busy doctor and budding politician, Garcelon didn’t have any time for the paper he founded, leaving brother-in-law and co-founder William Waldron in charge as his Lewiston Falls Journal barely stayed alive.

When Garcelon stepped away completely in 1850, the paper had fewer than 700 subscribers. A history of Androscoggin County printed decades later recalled that the next few years at the paper, under the leadership of Waldron, were “marked by anxiety, struggle and faith.”

The Journal didn’t make any money, but it kept rolling off the press.



Then two things happened that turned the tide for the Journal: the birth of the Republican Party and the arrival of a senior at Dartmouth College, Nelson Dingley, Jr., who began contributing stories about the hot topics of the day.

Years later, he remembered that until he came along, the paper had been neutral in its politics, which were barely mentioned in any case.

An 1899 portrait of Nelson Dingley Jr. of Lewiston by artist D.D. Coombs. Morphy Auctions

But Dingley was a politician through-and-through. He also loved journalism.

Having just finished his junior year at college, Dingley began to write in the summertime for the Journal, reporting on political speeches, the temperance movement and the growing battle over slavery. He wrote editorials, dealt with subscribers and even set type in the middle of the night.

As he studied to become a lawyer the following two years, Dingley contemplated moving West. Instead, thankfully, he bought into the newspaper and, by 1857, when the Journal had a thousand subscribers, Dingley owned it entirely.


In his private journal, Dingley noted that he had “chosen the editorial profession. It is a high and noble profession. It is a position in which one can exert an influence wide and extended for weal or woe.”

He said his new role offered him “innumerable advantages for mental improvement” and asked God that his influence “may be for good.”

That same year, a murder in Poland so transfixed the region that the weekly Journal temporarily became the Lewiston Falls Daily Journal so it could give constant updates about the trial. Dingley reported on the case for 27 difficult days, then the paper returned to weekly publication.

Dingley said that after he completed the purchase of the paper in September 1857, he “became not only sole proprietor and editor, but also foreman, bookkeeper and reporter. Probably I averaged 12, and on publications days, 14 hours of work a day on the paper for the first five years after I became connected with it.”

During that time, he switched its emphasis to local news, began creating a corps of correspondents to help fill the news columns and extended the paper’s reach well beyond Lewiston and Auburn so that it began attracting interest across Maine.

He paid the correspondents by sending the paper to them for free.



The Journal became a daily once and for all at a moment when everyone wanted more news: on April 20, 1861, the day after the fall of Fort Sumter to secessionists in South Carolina near the start of the Civil War.

Dingley said that he had “little time to make the necessary arrangements for issuing a daily” but decided that with “a bloody struggle” ahead, the change was needed.

In his first issue of the new Lewiston Daily Evening Journal, the paper said it would continue to come out every day except Sunday at about 4 p.m. “as long as the receipts from the enterprise shall pay the actual expenses.”

The paper promised to include “all the telegraphic dispatches of the Associated Press up to that hour and be as up-to-date as any of the Boston papers.”

Dingley, ahead of his time, said he recognized that telegraph “became at once the most important factor in the daily newspaper” because people wanted up-to-the-minute war news. It cost a lot, but it also spurred growth in circulation.


Dingley got some serious help when his younger brother Frank graduated from Bowdoin College and came to work with him at the paper and took the day-to-day reins of the paper. Still, it was tough going.

“The constant excitement and physical mental strain during the four years of civil war were felt in a greater degree, if possible, by publishers of daily papers than by any other position of our population. It was emphatically, a wearing time for newspaper men,” Nelson Dingley said in 1887 from his office in Washington, D.C.

After so many battles and so much blood, the Journal and its leaders looked forward to peace when Southern armies began surrendering in 1865.

All seemed well at last until, as the paper was putting the finishing touches on a story at midnight one night in April, “anxious and tired,” they suddenly heard a messenger shouting a name from the street below: “Abraham Lincoln.”

“Little did I think then that I should see this same Lincoln dead, stricken by the bullet of a fanatical assassin, the same Booth whom I should see but a few weeks previous in mock tragedy, not a veritable tragedian, whom Brutus would fain have emulated,” Journal foreman Alonzo Sturgis recalled a quarter century later.

The next issue of the Journal carried the fateful news that Lincoln had been slain.


In 1866, the Journal grew in both size and volume. The Bangor Daily News noted that its Lewiston counterpart had “greatly enlarged” in “a new and handsome dress.”

As an aside, it mentioned, “The Journal is an excellent and enterprising paper, of the straightest sect of Republicanism in politics.”

That same year, the Journal declared that the longer it lives, “the more thoroughly, if possible, does it become convinced that there is to be no letting-up in the just requirement that here, in this free Republic, God and Humanity demand a full and unhindered field for the freest exercise of the broad rights of the Man and the Citizens, untrammeled by no superficial or aristocratic distinction whatsoever!”

By 1869, the paper had a circulation of more than 20,000 — and Nelson Dingley had set his sights on politics more than the press, beginning a career that included stints as governor and in Congress.

Dingley’s growing renown helped make his newspaper all the more valuable as a source of information that only he could feed.



The little paper dreamed up by Garcelon became a powerhouse in Maine during the last few decades of the 19th century.

At times, it had more than 100 correspondents and a host of staff members to sell advertising and subscriptions. It produced daily and weekly papers that were sent out by train and trolley across much of Maine and even into New Hampshire.

Some of the papers were delivered by barge to lakeside communities. Rangeley, for instance, got its papers after a train dropped them off on the far end of the lake. They were then transported by water to the town, where newsboys grabbed their bundles to deliver single copies to eager readers every afternoon.

A 19th Century poster touting the Lewiston Journal Androscoggin Historical Society

The Journal billed itself as “The Great Family Newspaper” and covered everything from horse racing to every scrap of police news. It told of giant turnips and tiny babies, of runaway carriages and wrecked trains. It hailed new factories, bragged about Bates College and held fast to the notion that anything interesting to its staff was worth shoveling into its pages.

There is no denying that among the pleasures of working at a bustling newspaper are the opportunities it presents for access to the bizarre and unusual.

One reporter at the Journal in 1874 got the chance to talk at the old DeWitt House in Lewiston with J.B. “Wild Bill” Hickock, a gunman in the Old West. Edward Page Mitchell wrote there was “nothing of the faker about Bill.”


How did he know?

Hickock “stripped to the waist for my benefit and allowed me to count the dozen or score of unmistakable bullet scars upon his person. There could be no doubt of the genuineness of his record.”

Two years later, Hickock’s luck ran out when somebody found the right spot in the “well-riddled Pistol Prince” out in Deadwood, South Dakota, Mitchell noted in his memoirs.

Some tales took reporters further afield.

Mitchell recounted a time when he visited the state prison in Thomaston to witness two executions in 1875. He spent hours in the cell of one of the doomed men, listening as Louis Wagner detailed his supposed innocence.

The next morning, the other man headed for execution, True Gordon, who had butchered three family members with an ax, managed to get hold of a knife and slash at an artery in a bid to cheat the hangman.


The warden whispered to Mitchell that Gordon was dying in his cell, unconscious and bloody.

Nobody knew what to do, Mitchell said, but he listened as officials decided to haul the “hideously red-stained” and limp body of the killer to the gallows “reeling and quivering” as four deputies put a hood over Gordon’s head.

Wagner looked over at the scene and uttered, “Poor Gordon! Poor Gordon!” before the trap door beneath them swung open and sent them both to eternity.

Mitchell also mentioned in passing that Garcelon remained a key figure around town, describing him as “one of the finest of those old-school country practitioners” who would go 20 miles out of town in a snowstorm to treat a farmer’s wife’s injured thumb “or perform with equal sang-froid the most difficult of amputations with a jack-knife and carpenter’s saw if no better surgical instruments were at hand.”

It no doubt came as a relief to the community that both its modern-day hospitals put down roots in the decade that followed.

Lamont Leavitt Lewiston Evening Journal

Not every story in the Journal carried weight or heartache. Some were just fun.


In 1897, the Journal published a tale under the headline “HE IS A GIANT.”

“A few days ago, pedestrians in Auburn were startled by the appearance of the biggest and fattest boy that ever trod her streets,” the story said, calling him “a giant in knickerbockers, a rosy-cheeked, roly-poly 12-year-old who could lift a barrel of flour as easily as you can lift a pail of water and who weighs 203 pounds in a bathing suit.”

The tale went on to detail every inch of Lamont Leavitt and his family, including his love of reading and his desire for a bicycle.

In short, the Journal reveled in the life that swirled around it, capturing more than its fair share for publication and providing a safe, reliable source for everybody to discover the truth of what went on.

That it was also a rock-solid Republican organ promoting Nelson Dingley’s political objectives in Congress was no secret.

Its owner came around only rarely. It was so unusual, in fact, that Frank Dingley had a half-sized desk manufactured that he squeezed in somewhere in the newsroom that his brother could use when he happened to be around.


The daily’s Republican political leaning, safe as it was in a heavily GOP state, opened the door to a new era of competition as Democrats started thinking maybe they ought to have a newspaper, too.


As a great blizzard swirled through Maine on the morning of February 20, 1893, the first issue of a brand-new, morning newspaper rolled off the presses at 32 Ash St.

The owner of The Lewiston Daily Sun, Henry Wing, bragged that it was “the only Democratic daily paper published in central Maine, which is over half the population of the state.”

Wing also promised to be “non-partisan, non-sectarian, free from every prejudice” and to endeavor to report on events “fairly and correctly.”

Wing, an experienced newsman who had worked in Bangor and Portland, offered kind words to the Journal, his paper’s well-established afternoon competitor, saying it would unjust “if it did not recognize the Journal to be what it is: a first-class and able newspaper.”


The Rockland Tribune, among others, hailed the new daily. It called the Sun “a credit to Maine journalism” and praised its appearance. In an era where some papers in the state put out “ink-daubed posters” with antiquated presses, the Sun stood out for its “handsome typographical appearance.”

Those first days at the new paper must have been a whirlwind.

On its first day, as the storm slammed Maine, Wing told a reporter to “get a storm story.”

That brought the next day’s story: “Like a sentence passed on a prisoner, the assignment to ascertain interesting facts concerning a storm like that of Monday, by personal observation falls on the ear of the reporter, unless indeed he has a heart of oak reinforced by a flask of brandy.

“When the SUN man, to whom was assigned the storm to do, had reached the office Monday morning he had experienced enough sensations of being out in a storm to write columns and to satisfy himself on the storm question for years to come and he would gladly have seated himself in the office and written these words: The storm is so severe that it is unreasonable for even a reporter to go out.”

Generations of reporters can sympathize with that unnamed soul.


Soon after, Wing and his wife got married in March 1893 at the Elm Street Universalist Church in Auburn. They didn’t even have a place to live, setting up house instead at the fancy DeWitt Hotel next door to the newspaper office.

And soon after, the Sun’s business manager, 29-year-old Charles Fox, died when he caught German measles that turned into pneumonia.

But the paper grew, rising from about 1,700 initial subscribers, paying two cents daily, to more than 4,000 two years later.

In a surprising twist, the Democratic-sympathizing paper rejected the first Democratic presidential candidate it covered, calling populist William Jennings Bryan unfit for the presidency. The Journal, to nobody’s surprise, agreed.

Both papers rarely hesitated to address seemingly minor issues directly.

Take the Sun’s plea in 1896: “Will someone please tune that museum hand organ on Lisbon Street?”


Lewiston Evening Journal letterhead from the 1890s

That same year, Wing sold his interest in the Sun to Lewiston native George B. Wood, taking control as its publisher and vowing a non-partisan approach to the news and its editorial policies.

He brought his nephew, Bates College graduate Louis Costello, on board as the paper’s business manager.

The pair worked together for 47 years, with Costello inheriting the paper when Wood died in 1945.

James Costello told a researcher years later that he’d looked over his grandfather’s records to discover the Sun never made more than $36 in weekly profits in those early years.

“For a fledgling to take a newspaper from scratch against established competition wasn’t an easy task then, and it certainly isn’t now,” Costello told newspaper historian Alan Robert Miller almost half a century ago.

Front page of the May 18, 1900 Lewiston Daily Sun

The Sun kept growing and ultimately raked in decent profits as department store advertising and higher circulation boosted its revenues. It featured bigger headlines and catchier features than the Journal, which slowly lost its dominance, as many afternoon papers did across the country in the 20th century.


The Journal said in an advertisement in Pine Tree Magazine in 1906 that it “is never so satisfied with itself as to fail to put up new money and put out new energy to make tomorrow’s issue better than today’s. There is no goal in sight; for the perfect newspaper is yet below the horizon, but to improve is obligatory.”

“This is a complete news and literary paper especially adapted to interest the plain people, the homes, the farmsides, the artisans, the workers, wives, mothers and children.”

For $6 a year, by mail, the paper said it rendered “sincere republicanism, good government and all the causes which concern the progress of society and education.”

In addition, it said, for $1.50 more, the Saturday Journal included “illustrated Maine sketches, stories, a short sermon, special news stories, some of the best serials to be anywhere” and more.

At its height, the Saturday magazine issue, widely read, commented on nearly everything of public importance throughout the nation, though it didn’t hesitate to cater to narrow interests at times. One of its editors, L.C. Bateman, a fine historian, even took the trouble to send specimens to the state entomologist, such as the larvae of a morning cloak butterfly and a red-humped apple worm.

The Journal even sought to get into the movie business, backing a 1923 film about the history of Lewiston from its first white settler.  The long-lost film showed for several days at the old Empire Theater.


Even so, the Sun surpassed the Journal in circulation about the time it griped that young people in Lewiston were getting too into jazz and ought to stick to the tried-and-true can-can.

Perhaps the saddest event for either paper occurred in 1912, when the Journal’s sporting editor, Osborne Faulkner, a 30-year-old who had worked for both papers since his days at Edward Little High School in Auburn, drowned alongside a Bates student as they tried unsuccessfully “to shoot the rapids just above the Turner Center bridge” across the Androscoggin River.

They’d been warned about the danger, but they laughed it off.

Many newspaper staffers helped walk the river for days afterward searching for Faulkner’s body.

Wing died in 1912 after serving as the first Democrat ever appointed to work with one of Maine’s many Republican governors and logging a few terms as Lewiston’s city marshal.

The front page of the Lewiston Daily Sun on May 16, 1933, reporting on the widespread destruction from a fire in New Auburn.



The Journal’s separate existence ended on Feb. 1, 1926, when the Sun Corp. bought it.

A wire service story pointed out that the new owners controlled both the morning and evening news in Lewiston and Auburn and “control of the field” in the community.

What’s surprising for those of us who have seen decades of companies squeezing every possible efficiency in their operations is that both the Journal and the Sun continued as distinct entities for more than six decades after the Costello family took control of both of them.

Their staffs competed head-to-head, sometimes ferociously.

Faunce Pendexter, who started working for the Journal in 1940, said in 1989 that reporters “really went at it. In some instances, it got rather feisty. Everyone wanted to get the story first. If you didn’t, you heard about it.

But having joint papers made it easier for circulation issues, selling advertising and all sorts of administrative tasks.


For instance, when flooding in the spring of 1936 washed away some Androscoggin River bridges and made others impassable, the Sun and the Journal were in a jam. How were they going to get their papers, printed in Lewiston, to the many subscribers in Auburn and beyond?

1936 booklet issues by the Lewiston Daily Sun and Lewiston Evening Journal

Quentin Whittier, the Sun-Journal’s general manager, recalled in 1979 that they decided that chartering an airplane offered the best option.

Oscar Whitmore, the circulation manager, said they drove the papers to the airport in Augusta, loaded them aboard and flew them to Auburn.

Whittier said that when the pilot couldn’t find a place to land safely, the plane swooped low over Auburn and somebody tossed the bundles out the door to tumble to the ground below, where newsboys scrambled to get them delivered.

But Whitmore, speaking in 1962, said the plane landed at the airport in Auburn and the papers were then ferried across the Little Androscoggin River to a fleet of waiting automobiles for distribution through the area.

The newspapers set up a joint office at the YMCA on Turner Street to organize stranded Auburn employees into a makeshift cross-river newsroom and kept on the story that both the Journal and Sun covered vigorously.


The next day, water levels had dropped just enough to make it possible for emergency vehicles to use the North Bridge. One circulation director promptly loaded up a hearse with copies to get them across. Another secured space for some bundles on a handcar hauling bread across the railroad bridge.

Whitmore said snow sometimes posed a delivery problem as well.

He recalled how one driver “outfitted his old Ford with skis on the front and a caterpillar tread on the rear and breezed right through the drifts.”

Through the decades, though, the Sun kept growing and the Journal kept shrinking, more a result of a changing society than anything either paper was doing. Afternoon dailies across America fell victim to the times, which included the rise of radio and television.

Publisher and General Manager James R. Costello Sr. realized that the “duplication of services” didn’t make financial sense any longer.

“We were just way overstaffing the afternoon paper,” he said at the time. “We can use our resources better.”


The Journal ceased publication on June 3, 1989, its name and assets combined with its morning competitor to become the Sun-Journal. It later dropped the hyphen.

Predictably, promotional materials insisted, “We’re better together!”

The final edition of the Lewiston Journal on the afternoon of June 3, 1989.


The last three decades have been tough for newspapers almost everywhere. Many have closed. Others have shrunk to insignificance. Most have struggled mightily as local stores, which advertised heavily, have given way to national chains and the internet has utterly transformed the media landscape.

The Sun Journal has felt the pinch, of course.

It doesn’t have the staff it once had, but compared with its peers across the land, it’s weathered the storm better than most. Maine offers good practice, after all, for hunkering down when necessary.


The Sun Journal kept churning out the news every day, often providing stories and art that won photography, writing and design awards while enlightening readers.

It also embraced the web, putting the paper online and adding personnel to make sure that its digital presence got attention. Innovation was always a priority for Lewiston editors.

Guided by James R. Costello Sr., who started at the paper in 1952 and became its president and publisher in 1993, the Costello family focused on diversification to help ensure the paper could prosper. It added several weekly papers and bolstered its marketing and commercial printing efforts.

In 2007, a new company, Sun Media Group, served as an umbrella to unify the Sun Journal with the smaller companies owned by the Costellos, including longtime weeklies such as the Advertiser Democrat and The Franklin Journal.

After Costello died in 2015, and ownership passed to a new generation, the company was sold in 2017 to Reade Brower, a mid-coast media executive and entrepreneur who already owned the Portland Press Herald, Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Kennebec Journal and more.

It marked the first time in the newspaper’s history when its ownership lived outside the community it served.


The most visible, and difficult, change at the Sun Journal came in 2021 with the dismantling of the paper’s old Goss Urbanite press, the heart of any newspaper. It churned out its last newspaper copy in Lewiston last May, just a few blocks from the spot where Garcelon’s press once produced the first Journal.

Papers are now printed in South Portland and trucked back to Lewiston and elsewhere in the middle of the night for home delivery the next day.

But if the history of the newspaper shows anything, it’s that change is unavoidable and embracing it is crucial to future success.

One thing that hasn’t changed, ever, is a goal laid out by the paper’s first editor, Francis Lane, in the first issue of the Lewiston Falls Journal.

Lane wrote to readers that he aimed to create a paper that would be “a cheerful companion to every condition and age, so that all who shall look upon it once, may desire a more intimate acquaintance.”

And as long as the paper kept making at least a little money, he said, it would keep rolling off the presses.

So far, so good.

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