Down East 2013 ©
The question was simple: If you could be granted one wish for a better Lewiston-Auburn, what would it be? The answers, from seven people involved in education, politics, business, and other aspects of the Twin Cities life, are more complex and varied. A common theme, however, is a deeply felt yearning for others, including their fellow residents, to recognize the unique qualities of the community that they have come to love.
Rachel Desgrosseilliers, Lewiston native and executive director of Museum L-A, which documents and interprets Lewiston-Auburn’s industrial and cultural history in the Bates Mill Complex:
“My wish is for people of this city to realize what a fantastic community we are. You can say, ‘I wish we had a convention center’ or some other thing, but if we don’t realize how amazing this community is, what good are those things?
“Coming from a mill town and being beaten down for so long, we need to deepen our sense of pride. When I first started working at Museum L-A, I would show people the machinery and equipment from the mills, but I felt something was missing. It’s when I started taking the oral histories of the elders — the shoemakers and the textile workers — that I realized what that was: The people. They have these incredible stories. This town has a strong sense of community because they are the heart of it. Things don’t make a community. People do.”
Jonathan LaBonté, executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust and an Androscoggin County commissioner:
“I’d focus all our energy on building the trail network envisioned by the Androscoggin Greenway Initiative, which would fully link downtown Lewiston to Androscoggin Riverlands State Park, the newest and fifth largest state park in Maine. This corridor was envisioned by the land trust and the National Park Service with the cities back in the nineties, but somewhere along the way, with changing administrations and economic conditions, it fell to the wayside. Now we have an opportunity to take this vision that was almost a pipe dream and make it happen.
“This is a trail network that you could experience on the water or in hiking shoes, skies, or snowshoes. It will illustrate how our urban industrial lands and our farms and forests are linked and how that creates our unique quality of place. The potential economic benefit of the river is huge. If we really get creative with paddling, we can have people staying at the Hilton Garden Inn or purchasing condos in one of the mills because they can take river trips that begin in one of the mill district’s canals and go all the way to Jay and Livermore Falls.
“The opportunity we have to remake the landscape is made possible by the unfortunate history of the Androscoggin River. It’s become a more pristine river, but people don’t realize it because of the stigma of the past.”
Craig Saddlemire, independent filmmaker and founder of Round Point Movies, neighborhood activist with Lewiston’s Visible Community, and a Bates alumnus:
“I’d wish that the stereotypes that people in other parts of Maine have about Lewiston would go away. As great a community as Lewiston is, I still hear derogatory comments from other parts of the state, and that hurts Lewiston’s self image.
“I’ve lived in a lot of different communities growing up — Wisconsin, New York, France — and Lewiston has been a great home to me for about ten years. Lewiston has a city feel in its dense urban downtown, but it’s also small enough for everyone to know each other. I love that I have all my resources in a small radius: it’s a short walk from my housing co-op to the public library, city hall, the bike shop, the Bates campus, and our hangout pub, She Doesn’t Like Guthries.
“There is a lot of poverty in Lewiston, but it is a city where people try to take care of each other. There is a lot of effort to make sure no one falls through the cracks when times get tough. I’d like people to see Lewiston for what it is: a cool and up-and-coming community.”
Peter Geiger, executive vice president of Geiger, a customized promotional products firm, and editor of the Farmers’ Almanac:
“I’d like to find better ways to use the Androscoggin River for recreation. We’re on it, around it, and it flows by us, but we ignore it to some degree. I grew up in the sixties when the paper mills upriver were polluting the river, and Lewiston got a bum rap for that. Even though the river is clean now, we’re not taking as much advantage of the opportunities it offers as we could.
“My second wish is to bring together all segments of our community to resolve our problems. We’ve become more diversified than ever before and our sense of community needs to be nurtured.”
Heather Letourneau, Lewiston native and owner with husband Randy Letourneau of She Doesn’t Like Guthries, a vegetarian restaurant and pub:
“We’d like a more centralized downtown, where people can park and easily walk or bike to restaurants, stores, and the things we need. Businesses are so sprawled out in Lewiston now, and you have to drive to everything. It would be nice to have zoning that encouraged more businesses to move downtown, so there would be more foot traffic and a stronger downtown feel.”
Georgia Nigro, Bates College psychology professor and interim director of Bates’ Harward Center for Community Partnerships, which links students to community volunteer, work, and research projects:
“The first thing that I think of is a better public transportation system. We have a terrible bus system here in Lewiston. They stop running at 5:30 p.m., which is almost useless. The Harward Center is currently involved in a big community-wide food assessment fund, and one of our findings is that people can’t get to places where they can get good food at fair prices. We face this issue ourselves. We have so many students who want to be doing things in the community, and I see how much we have to put in our budget to get them to our community partners. It’s amazing how deep the effects of a poor transportation system are. Improved transportation may seem like a mundane wish, but it would have cascading effects on the quality of life.
“We also need more creative young entrepreneurs. Some Bates graduates have stayed and they are doing good work for a number of nonprofits, but I don’t know if our liberal arts colleges are doing enough to cultivate the young entrepreneurs, which may be a slightly different group. We do see a few of them here and there, like the owners of Guthries.
Paul Landry, Lewiston native and co-owner with his wife, Kate Landry, of Fish Bones, a sophisticated seafood restaurant in the Bates Mill Complex and of Mac’s Grill, an Auburn steakhouse:
“I’d like to see people get behind L-A’s renaissance, to embrace it, so we can recapture the grace and grandeur that this city once had. Part of that is better appreciating our education community. We have four colleges, including Bates, one of the Baby Ivies, here! I just got back from Ithaca, New York. Ithaca is a city that is in love with its colleges. We should have that same enthusiasm for our fine institutions — our colleges, our restaurants, our arts organizations.
“I grew up here. I used to take music lessons on Lisbon Street in the seventies. It was a hustling and bustling place. Most of the mills were still operating. We kind of lost our way, but the restoration of the Bates Mill is the centerpiece in bringing Lewiston back to its former glory. My wife and I hung a shingle outside Bates Mill No. 6 because we thought, ‘Why not? Why can’t Lewiston have the kinds of restaurants that Portland has?’ We’re proud to be part of the renaissance.”