Railroad tracks near Danville Junction in Auburn. Steve Collins/ Sun Journal

If there’s one key moment in the history of Lewiston, it may be March 24, 1849, the day the Androscoggin & Kennebec Railroad opened a track into the city, connecting what was still a tiny town to a network of rails already crisscrossing the country.

On that spring day, a locomotive called the Androscoggin pulled three freight cars holding 30 tons of goods across the river into Lewiston for the first time, according to a diary from an old resident reprinted in the Lewiston Evening Journal a quarter-century later.

At the time, the diary noted, Lewiston consisted of a few stores on lower Main Street and a post office in John Smith’s cobbler’s shop.

But the ability to move materials cheaply and efficiently by rail quickly propelled plans to harness the Androscoggin River’s waterpower into reality, with the first Bates textile mill opening for business in 1852 and two more Bates mills completed within another decade.

A host of other mills and manufacturers followed, using the river to power machinery and employing the railroad to bring in cotton and other raw materials that could be transformed into products that could be shipped out for sale across the land.

The railroads also moved people, making it possible for financiers to scout the city’s prospects and for workers to arrive who could run the mills and provide the enormous range of services required for an ever-growing community.


By 1850, just a year after the first tracks reached Lewiston, four trains were running each way daily between Portland and Waterville, with Lewiston the key stop along the route.

A decade later, the railroad connected to Brunswick as well. Other lines had already begun creeping out to the smaller towns in western Maine.

More rails followed when increasingly busy trolley lines were added to the mix in the late 1800s.

Maine Central Railroad map from 1914, printed by Rand Avery Supply Co. Osher Library Sheet Map Collection

Given the proliferation of cars, trucks and buses over the last 100 years, it can be tough to grasp how dependent Mainers once were on the vast network of tracks that provided a way for most people to move around.

Trolleys faded away after the Great Depression. Passenger rail, much diminished, ceased almost entirely in Maine by 1960. But by then, rail had transformed Maine and Lewiston-Auburn.



Sometimes, history can seem like it was all inevitable, that it happened just the way it did because of vast impersonal forces and could not have gone any other way.

But that’s not true.

Consider John Poor, a Portland businessman determined to make his port city a true rival to Boston by pushing a rail line north to Montreal, creating a connection that might mean goods and people moving from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes region would pass through Maine rather than Massachusetts.

After hearing that the Canadians were about to give their approval to a new line to Boston, Poor took off in a sleigh, heading north into the worst blizzard of 1845.

“By frequent changes of horses and almost superhuman exertion, he broke his way through the snow-blocked passes of the White Mountains and by constant and almost sleepless travel” arrived in time to stop the move, allowing time for a new charter to reach Montreal from Augusta that allowed his proposed rail line to win out, according to Edward Everett Chase’s 1926 “Maine Railroads: A History of the Development of the Maine Railroad System.”

Construction began quickly and by 1849, a line stretched from Portland to Danville Junction and on to Mechanic Falls. It reached Montreal in 1853, opening the door to a vast amount of commerce from Canada.


The Danville Junction station, located where the Auburn-Lewiston Airport is today, was the first place with Lewiston and Auburn to have any train service. But the Androscoggin & Kennebec Railroad’s tracks reached the cities within a couple months on a separate route.

A 1919 photograph of Lewiston’s upper rail yard. David Larrabee’s Railroad Picture Archives

Train travel in those early days wasn’t always easy.

A different diarist from the one cited by the Journal left notes about a train marooned in the snow after leaving Leeds Junction. Typically, the little line had a small engine, a baggage car, two passenger cars and a few box cars.

Short of wood and water, the engineer hoofed his way down the tracks for two miles to Pettengill’s Crossing, where he carried pails of water from a brook to fill the tender.

“It was very cold and the men were covered with ice,” the unnamed diarist wrote, in words preserved in George Drew Merrill’s “1891 History of Androscoggin County.”

The passengers, two women and three men, remained in the passenger cars for two days as railroad workers shoveled off the tracks so the train could reach Livermore Falls. Once it got there, nobody moved for another week.



After the Civil War, Lewiston leaders grew increasingly antsy about the Grand Trunk line that passed tantalizing close by, but didn’t actually reach into Lewiston.

Nelson Dingley Jr., the owner of the Journal, was among those who pushed for a connection between the two lines reaching the city.

In 1872, he said Lewiston and Auburn required “a close connection” to the Grand Trunk railroad “in order that Western produce might be brought to their doors as low” in price as it is in Portland, provide closer ties to Oxford County, accommodate more passengers going to or from Portland and offer greater competition for both freight and passenger travel.

A postcard of the Grand Trunk Railroad station on Lincoln Street from about 1905. Private collection

That effort led to the creation of the Lewiston and Auburn Railroad Company, which still exists as a municipally owned firm, to provide a rail link from an existing link in Lewiston to the Grand Trunk line.

The Grand Trunk railroad built a station on Lincoln Street, which is still standing, that became a sort of mini-Ellis Island for French-Canadian immigrants to the community between 1874 and the 1920s.


The Lincoln Street station was often a harried scene.

In 1904, the Journal described one busy day there when 600 French residents gathered for an excursion to Quebec.

From early in the day, the paper said, “truckmen began carting trunks, boxes, cases and bundles of all shapes and sized” in a long procession that continued until evening.

Around them were “fathers, mothers, children, sweethearts, newly married couples” and more “hustling and bustling first in this direction and then that.”


Those types of everyday scenes at local stations began fading soon afterward.


When the first automobiles arrived in town in the late 1890s, including a famed steam-powered vehicle, the Stanley Steamer, nobody could have known how they would swiftly transform transportation.

By the 1920s, cars and trucks had put an end to the stables and horses that had been an integral part of Lewiston and Auburn’s economic life.

As their numbers continued to expand, use of the trolleys declined and passenger rail began to suffer as well.

The Great Depression in the 1930s left the railroads and trolleys struggling to survive. The trolley system had vanished by the 1950s. Rail became an entirely freight-driven operation before John Glenn orbited the earth in 1961.

The tracks that had made the Twin Cities flourish are still there, with an occasional train still running through the heart of Auburn, but they carry only freight these days.

Only the oldest residents today can remember boarding a train or trolley in Lewiston or Auburn.

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