Lately I have discovered a desire to photograph my hometown of Lewiston, Maine. It was a place I longed to leave as soon as I hit puberty and when the time came to pack up and finally embark on dreamed about adventures, I never looked back. I was going to conquer the world and it certainly was not going to be in this river town. Here I am years later looking at Lewiston with new, interested eyes. I am fascinated by the changes to my hometown and the surrounding areas. This desire, this yearning to return to my roots is amusing to me and my family--I guess one should never say never. I am quite interested in the people who have chosen to stay in Maine even during the roughest of times.
**This is Bill, a former commercial fisherman from Point Judith who now lives in the western part of rural Maine. You can see the struggles he has experienced etched in the lines of his face, but the Maine spirit is still present in those blue eyes.
My childhood memory of Maine is of a bucolic place, a constant visual and olfactory delight ~ the sharp smell of pine and my personal favorite, the heady smell of the ocean. This memory is why I never felt comfortable in a landlocked state; I find my dreams are of the ocean. There exists a diversity in Maine unknown to many--the people, geography, lifestyle, but there is also an unexplainable commonality amongst the residents of this magnificent state, which stubbornly clings to the edge of the Atlantic. Maine people are like the land on which they live, steadfast and solid; they are proud of their strength and resiliency. It was a place where I was surrounded by love and when I drive over the state line on the Piscataqua River Bridge from Portsmouth, N.H. into Maine, I know I am home again.
I will occasionally blog about my journey of exploring the nooks & crannies of Maine and the people who reside within them. It is always the people who make a place interesting, who bring heart to their environment; learning their stories will be both fun and entertaining.
You simply cannot visit Maine without having lobster while sitting by the Atlantic
I bet you never saw this type of enthusiastic lawn decoration.
Old Lake Inn located in western Maine
My parents patiently drove around back rural roads helping me find this famous sign
Back to Lewiston....
Since 1768, Lewiston has perched on the banks of the Androscoggin River in central Maine. It is perfectly located; it is an hour from the shore, an hour from pristine lakes, and in ninety minutes one can be hiking in the western mountains. The city grew as an industrial stronghold with the development of mills and factories built along the river at the turn of the century. One can still see relics of it's prior wealth from the few remaining beautiful historical building found in the center of town and other former grand neighborhoods. It's glory days began to wane in the late fifties when the mills started to close down one by one, bringing a change to Lewiston which has never really recovered. It has only been of late that this once thriving city has begun to reawaken--there is a resurgence in the works and one can feel the change just walking around. A new civic pride has emerged.
Lewiston has an interesting immigration history. It was the place where many Canadians relocated to come toil in the shoe factories. They arrived in Maine speaking only the French language and rebuilt their lives with the hope of creating a new and brighter future for their children. There is a small one block area that still exists called Little Canada, a gentle reminder that Lewiston was once the destination for foreign born dreamers. Around ten years ago, to everyone's surprise, Catholic Charities decided Lewiston would be a suitable location for Somalian refugees. It has taken years for the Lewistonians to get used to the idea of Somalians settling in their city and there still remains a vast divide within the community.
The economy has hit hard in Maine which makes people fearful and this fear leads to suspicion, anger, and resentment over welfare and the costs of supporting their new neighbors. The Somalian community, the first generation, are still acclimating to residing in a cold climate, living amongst a fairly closed community (even though I was born in Maine, I would still be considered an outsider by some old timers), and worshiping as a Muslim in a predominately Christian community. Needless to say, there have been challenges. Many Somalians are creating businesses, have children who are honor students, grateful to be out of a war torn country, and have eyes for the future. The angst is over those who are not taking advantage of the opportunities given, the way some choose to live in run down housing living off the state's limited resources, and the ever vast cultural differences. The next generation will, as those before us, pave the way and bridge the current gap between old and new.
I was only downtown briefly on this last visit, but was able to get "permission" from the "chief" to take Abdi Ali's photo. He came directly to Lewiston from Somalia and does not speak English....yet. Our commonality was our mutual use of hair dye which provided great amusement once this fact was translated to him. He was very proud of his red tinted beard.
I love photographing architecture in a city; there are always little jewels hidden and Lewiston has a few that have survived over the past one hundred years.
The following are a few historical Lewiston buildings and one business who is at least trying to be creative.
On the last day of my visit, I attended a Cajun concert in the renovated square amidst the new development of the former shoe factories, formerly known as Bates Mill. People were sitting eating their lunch on the veranda of a nearby restaurant listening to the musicians create their magic and the construction workers were taking a music break from renovating the old mills into what promises to be fabulous loft apartments. It is this renewed interest in revitalizing the once thriving river town that has me looking at Lewiston with new eyes.