The Androscoggin River flowing over the falls in Lewiston during the spring melt in 2019. Steve Collins/Sun Journal file photo

When Editor Francis Lane sat down to write the first issue of the Lewiston Falls Journal in 1847, he noted in its pages that he could hear “the roar of a waterfall as hoarse as the voice of the ocean” from the paper’s little office on Lower Main Street.

Lane could look out at a “wild and poetical” scene that produced “stormy thunders” that had not ceased “since they broke the silence of creation.”

At the time, Lewiston remained small enough, and quiet enough, that water splashing through the rapids and over the falls could be heard day and night.

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

In retrospect, the newspaper was born at almost the same moment that a busy new generation of Mainers began taming the Androscoggin River, for those who want to look at it charitably, or who began to devastate it, for those with a more environmental viewpoint.

In that first issue of the Journal, in addition to celebrating the wild power of the river, Lane hailed the usefulness of “our never-ending streams” and told readers that no obstacles existed to the progress of manufacturing.

Already, he said, “the music of labor gone up from a thousand workshops, and on every hand may be seen the assurance, that success and happiness are crowing the efforts of the mechanic as well as the husbandman” on the farms that dotted the landscape in every direction.


Over the course of a lifetime, the 164-mile Androscoggin went from a fish-filled, pristine body of free-flowing water to a river choked with dams and increasingly treated like an open sewer from New Hampshire to Merrymeeting Bay.

For the most part, nobody took much notice of it.

After all, as artist Marsden Hartley wrote in one his poems, “The Androscoggin changes nothing of its flowing” as it glides over ledges and eventually meets “the salt-sweat of outer ocean washes at Merrymeeting Bay.”


The Androscoggin River clearly carries a Native American name, but what exactly it derived from or what it meant has been a source of debate for centuries.

A 1952 Lewiston Evening Journal account said the name may mean “turbid, foaming, crooked snake,” but it might also mean “fish spearing” or “fish coming in the spring.”


In 1864, Dr. N.T. True wrote in the Journal about his search through colonial records that produced 25 different spellings for the river’s name and the fact that early white settlers often just called it “Scoggin.”

True said the river probably came to be known widely as the Androscoggin, “most unworthily,” after a visit to the area in 1683 by “the tyrant Edmund Andros,” governor of the short-lived Dominion of New England until a revolt in Boston in 1689 sent him packing.”

Until the 1600s, the Androscoggin River valley was entirely the province of natives who relied on its riches. But white invaders shoved the Anasagunticooks aside by the late 1700s to the point where they disappeared from the annals, wiped out, pushed out or absorbed into the new colonial society. The invaders took over the land from Umbagog Lake to the huge freshwater delta where it met the Kennebec River in the tidal estuary that settlers ultimately named Merrymeeting Bay.

Merrymeeting Bay north of Bath is shown this summer where the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers meet to form an unusual freshwater tidal estuary. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

The invaders, who mostly came from what is now Massachusetts, took control of a river watershed that drained some 3,000 square miles, flush with game and fish, with fertile fields and woods.

The unspoiled river in those early years attracted tens of thousands of salmon, shad beyond counting and much more, a bounty that kept the people who lived along its shores fed through the long, cold winters.



A 1916 photograph of Marsden Hartley by Alfred Stieglitz. National Gallery of Art

It didn’t take long before the white settlers began making changes, from erecting small dams for grist mills to much larger projects. At one point in the 1820s, they gave serious consideration to changing the entire course of the river from Androscoggin Lake to the sea. Nobody can say they lacked ambition.

What happened over time is easy to understand: ever-more dams, a growing number of industries that poured an ever-larger amount of waste into the current and a rising population that ultimately required sewer lines that for decades simply deposited community wastewater directly into the river.

Over time, the river’s quality degraded to a degree almost unimaginable today, followed by a half-century of much stricter environmental regulation has helped begin to restore the river.

Hartley would recognize what’s gone on.

In his poem, he noted that with the Androscoggin, “Nothing is changed,/nothing is different but ourselves/who note the change that brings us back to nothing changed.”

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