Lewiston, the second largest city in Maine, (population 35,690) was named after Job Lewis, a Boston merchant. Most of Lewiston’s 500 early inhabitants were farmers. In the 1850s, Boston investors financed the construction of a canal system and several textile mills. The mills prospered during the Civil War because the owners had stockpiled sufficient cotton to maintain production.
In the 1870s, thousands of French Canadians immigrated to Lewiston, increasing the population of the bustling mill town tenfold in less than 40 years. After the booming mill era came to a close in the 1970s, the city tried to revitalize the downtown area, and preservation has been an important part of that effort.
The Lewiston Historic Commission was established to identify historical sites and determine ways to preserve and restore them. The commission has helped increase awareness of the city’s history and also helped prepare a number of nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, including the Kora Temple and Lewiston City Hall. After 10 weeks of surveying, 125 buildings in the Lisbon-Main Street area were documented and, by 1989, 42 individual buildings and sites were entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
Lisbon Street, locally known as the Southern Gateway into downtown, has seen a dramatic transformation from decline to rebirth as an urban center. One of the many properties successfully renovated is the Maine Supply Company Building. This 1911 four-story building was the earliest known automobile garage in Maine. Closed from 1990-2005 for renovation, the building received a local award in 2007 in observance of Historic Preservation Month. On January 2, 2007, the building reopened as the Key Bank Business Service Center, a one-stop center with a collaborative arrangement among business service providers in the area. Since opening, the center has provided services for about 80 clients and held more than 450 meetings and events.
Museum L-A, located in the historic Bates Mills, collects and disseminates historical information from the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries when Lewiston-Auburn was part of the Industrial Revolution. The museum is preserving the archives, artifacts, and human experiences of this community through its Workers Oral History and Photo Documentary Project. The museum also offers special programs for all ages and allows visitors to tour two galleries in the building.
Lewiston’s Historic Preservation Review Board reviews proposed changes within historic districts, ensuring that the proposed renovation is in keeping with the preservation plan and approved design criteria. An annual event every May recognizes outstanding preservation efforts completed the prior year.
The Franco-American Heritage Center, located in the former St. Mary’s Church, which is currently being restored into a heritage museum and performance art center, sponsors four major events every year. The Festival of Franco Fun is a three-day celebration of Franco-American musicians, foods, dancing, and exhibits. LaRencontre, held the first Friday of the month, features French music and theater.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2008.