LISBON — When the Maine Blues Festival came to Lisbon Falls earlier this year, many downtown businesses saw their sales spike.

Olive Pit Brewing beat its previous single-day sales record more than three times over. Flux Restaurant and Bar, too, surpassed its previous record high, with other restaurants and retailers posting profits well-above an average Saturday.

“It was an economic day that we haven’t had in years,” said Director of Economic and Community Development Ross Cunningham. “It was incredibly valuable.”

A former mill town born from Maine’s 19th century manufacturing boom, Lisbon has struggled to redefine itself in its post-industrial era. Best known for its annual Moxie Festival, the town has a population of nearly 10,000 people split between two core areas, Lisbon and Lisbon Falls.

Town officials say large community events like the Maine Blues Festival are a crucial piece of their economic development plan.

Located equidistant between Portland and Augusta, with Lewiston to the immediate north and Brunswick to the south, Lisbon is situated in the middle of some of Maine’s largest population centers.


“We want people who want to hold events to think of us,” said town councilor and Olive Pitt Brewing owner Christine Cain.

An aerial view Wednesday afternoon of the Androscoggin River and the empty lot, left, where the former Worumbo Mill once stood in Lisbon. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Officials say that lively gatherings like the Maine Blues Festival will draw new people, revenue and businesses to Lisbon Fall’s quaint downtown.

“That actually gave the community a great opportunity (to see) what could happen,” said Town Council Chairman Fern Larochelle.

At the core of their plan is the site of the former Worumbo Mill, located on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Currently used for parking, officials envision developing a community space where people can recreate, host personal events and enjoy dynamic festivals.

“In the years past when people thought of Lisbon, they actually thought it was a place you’d pass through to get to Brunswick or a place you’d pass through to go to work or Lewiston,” said Larochelle. “We’re hoping this space actually makes it a destination, not just a pass-through.”



While the town owns the former Worumbo Mill site, a local nonprofit organization will be responsible for managing the property and events.

Friends of Worumbo, a subcommittee of Positive Change Lisbon, was elected to become the town’s nonprofit partner at a Town Council meeting last week. The organization’s overarching mission is to improve the image and livability of Lisbon.

Cunningham said the town will revegetate much of the property with grass and shrubs, add safety lights and an electrical panel.

That’s when Friends of Worumbo will take over.

The Maine Blues Festival in Lisbon Falls drew 2,200 attendees and 20 bands from across the state. Friends of Worumbo envisions erecting temporary stages at the former Worumbo Mill Site for music events. Ross Cunningham photo

“They then get a blank slate to sit down and say ‘this is what we want to create here,'” Cunningham said. “They get to go out and look for grant funding, donor funding, that kind of stuff, to create all of those embellishments that will make it the perfect space.”

Cain, who is also the designated spokesperson for Friends of Worumbo, said the nonprofit will use revenue earned from festivals and private events to finance the construction of a pavilion and fund regular maintenance of the space.


It’s a model used in other municipalities, including Congress Square Park in Portland. Similar to Friends of Worumbo in Lisbon, Friends of Congress Square Park has been Portland’s nonprofit partner for managing events and upkeep since 2013.

But coming to this decision has neither been quick nor easy. After the town purchased the property in 2019, locals expressed opposing views on what to do with the site.

Some wished to see the site developed into housing or riverfront commercial space. A development firm hired by the town to survey residents found that locals had a mostly positive view of existing housing options in town.

A group of local business owners and residents, calling itself Save the View, sought to preserve the site as greenspace.

“Whatever happens with the redevelopment plan, we do not want to lose the view of the Androscoggin River,” the owner of nearby 207 Edibles and Save the View member Lorelei Hilliker told the Town Council in 2021. “We don’t want a four-story apartment building come up there like an eyesore. It takes away all the beauty of that space and the attraction.”

A couple walks along the Papermill Trail on Wednesday afternoon in Miller Park in Lisbon. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Faced with the options to develop the property into a multi-use housing complex or an event venue, the council ultimately voted 6-1 in July to pursue the latter.


“Building an apartment building would not keep our young people in town,” Larochelle said. “The idea of actually having a space that’s on a river, that’s environmentally friendly, that holds (events), I would hope would keep some of our younger people more interested in our community, because that’s who we’re trying to draw back.”


Built in 1864, the Worumbo Mill was once the heart of Lisbon Falls, producing fine wool cloth. Much of the mill burned to the ground in 1987 after years of living off of borrowed time, leaving the remnants to decay for the next 30 years.

But six years ago, the owner of the lot demolished the remainders the the mill, revealing the river view for the first time in generations.

A 2013 Sun Journal file photo of the Worumbo Mill in Lisbon. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“We actually have a river, and it’s a great asset,” said Larochelle. “I don’t think we’re really tapped into its full potential, and I think it’s going to be a good draw.”

Now, Cain and the other members of Friends of Worumbo imagine a space which might host a festival one weekend and a wedding reception the next. A place where locals might sit to enjoy the river or hop on a bike and ride north to Lewiston by way of a proposed trail converted from an unused rail line.


They hope recreational opportunities and lively events will draw not only income, but also new businesses and investments. They hope the quality of life for current and future residents will improve.

And even as Friends of Worumbo and the town begin redeveloping the former Worumbo Mill site, a second, separate transformation has been ongoing in Lisbon Falls.

Earlier this year, the state began tearing up Main Street. They’re in the process of completely reconstructing the street at the center of downtown Lisbon Falls, from its underground utilities to the sidewalks and street lamps which abut it.

Stop by Lisbon Falls in the summer of 2024 and it may just be unrecognizable.

The Worumbo Mill built Lisbon Falls. But now, more than a century later, the site may once again become the economic pillar of the community.

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