Every now and then, the Androscoggin River rebels against the constraints that normally hold its immense power in check.

The city’s newspapers are full of stories of times when spring freshets and major storms have dumped so much water into the river channel that the volume of water begins to scour the river banks, sometimes washing away buildings and bridges in its rush to the sea.

Every spring, residents of Lewiston and Auburn watch the water gushing over the rocks at the falls, wowed at the sight. But when conditions combine to add even more water to the mix, the river can become something far more spectacular — and terrifying.

Here are some short tales of several of the worst incidents in the history of Lewiston and Auburn.

The Flood of 1896

Photograph of Lewiston during the 1896 flood.  Lewiston Public Library

When it began to rain on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1896, a foot of snow lay across Androscoggin County. Farmers and tradespeople rushed to get home before the roads got so soft, slushy and muddy that travel would become difficult or perhaps impossible.


Nobody knew that “the most malicious of Maine freshets” had just begun.

The rain kept up, hard and heavy, for several days, turning the Androscoggin River “wild, angry and revengeful,” as the Lewiston Evening Journal put it.

Both the north and south spans between Auburn and Lewiston were carried away by the wild, turbulent waters that held “logs, trees, bridges, cabins, household effects, ice ground into powder” and more between the two cities connected only by two iron railroad bridges that stood above the frothy scene, the paper reported.

A drawing in the March 2, 1896, Lewiston Evening Journal. Newspapers.com

Phone, gas and power lines were all knocked out.

Everything seemed “topsy turvy,” the paper said as it speculated that the Lord was reviving the days of Noah.


“Water poured in one even, level mass over Lewiston Falls, the rocks all being submerged,” the paper noted.

Buildings near the river were shoved off their foundations and tumbled to pieces in the rushing tide from well upstream past Brunswick.

A drawing in the March 3, 1896, Lewiston Evening Journal. Newspapers.com

Before the storm let up, it turned into a blizzard so fierce that it froze much of the mess in place, a whopping tangle of logs, wires and debris.

The Journal said that Lewiston lay in darkness in the aftermath, but its spirit remained strong.

“Out of it all – the sorrow, the distress, the financial loss, the homes swept away, the business ventures tossed into the tide, the water powers flattened to the bed of the river – out of it all, the Yankee pluck arises and the people smile at each other and say to the waters, ‘Come again.’


“And in the meantime, we come forth from the ark and build altars to the Future. May they stand against flood and fate and be propitiatory of better days to come,” the paper said.

A drawing in the March 2, 1896, Lewiston Evening Journal. Newspapers.com

The Flood of 1936

The March 21, 1936 Lewiston Evening JournalThe March 21, 1936, Lewiston Evening Journal. Newspapers.com

After a frigid winter with a lot of snow, northern New England really didn’t need a slow-moving storm in March 1936 that dumped serious rain on top of everything for days on end.

Between the heavy rains and the melting snow, every river in the region became a raging torrent of ice, water, logs and debris — a seriously dangerous situation.


By March 20, the water level gauge for the Androscoggin River in Auburn measured the height of the river at 27.6 feet, well above flood stage and the highest level ever recorded.

The Lewiston Evening Journal said saving the city’s bridges, buildings and infrastructure “was no easy fight.”

“Pulp logs, river debris and ice cakes roared past Lewiston from 7:25 until 10:35 in solid mass” on March 20, with disaster minimized only because “all the resources of the Gulf Island dam and all the engineering knowledge of Union Water Power Company were mobilized” along the entire river valley.

At about 10 a.m. that morning, Paul Bean, river authority and agent of the water power company, told the newspapers, “We are now making the last desperate effort.”

“I’ve watched the wrath of God for the last three days,” Bean told a reporter.

“Men with pickpoles were risking their live” to save the Main Central Railroad trestle above Lewiston Falls by “fending off the logs and beams that were pounding against” its piers, the paper said. They were doing the same for the North Bridge that tied Lewiston and Auburn together.


When it was all over, the Lewiston papers published a booklet of photographs to show what had happened during “Maine’s Greatest Flood” that lasted nearly two weeks starting on March 11.

They showed freight cars loaded with gravel stretched across the trestle to try to hold it in place against the surging waters. They showed houses flooded up to their second stories.

A section of South Bridge got washed away. Water flowed across the North Bridge. Families in low-lying areas had to spend days at the Lewiston Armory waiting for floodwaters to diminish.

The Journal looked around, hailed its crew for somehow getting papers printed and distributed, and then reminded the community of the freshet of 1896 that had washed away the city’s bridges entirely.

“We expected never to recover,” it said. “But we did we recover.”

It said that with the days of Noah past, Auburn and Lewiston would put this latest disaster behind them and grow bigger and better still.


The Flood of 1987

A photo from the 1987 book “Rivers on the Rampage” published by the Sun Journal to document the flooding that spring.

On April Fool’s Day in 1987, the river grew so large that its raging surface nearly touched the bottom of bridges spanning the river as it inundated low-lying areas on both sides of its banks.

The flooding forced dozens of people to flee their homes, especially those who lived on Newbury Street in the New Auburn neighborhood and along Lincoln and Oxford streets in Lewiston, in an area long known as “Little Canada” because of its many French-Canadian immigrants.

The river slammed areas upstream worse, wrecking bridges and businesses, but it took its toll in the Twin Cities as well.

“It makes you realize the power of the elements,” Maine Gov. John McKernan Jr. said as he watched the water gush past the Longley Bridge that spanned the torrent between Lewiston and Auburn.

The river did Auburn a favor, though, washing away a little building on Miller Street that the city had planned to demolish. The river did the work for free.

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