Downtown Walking Tour (For Kids!)
Waterville Public Library 1905
Waterville Public Library circa 1905, historic postcard courtesy Bill Taylor Andrew Carnegie was a wealthy businessman who had emigrated from Scotland as a young boy. As a young man, he educated himself by reading all he could at public libraries. He never forgot what he owed to that ability to read, and donated millions of dollars to establish libraries and schools all over the country, and the Waterville Public Library is a result of his gift of $20,000. It was built in 1905, in an unusual style, called “Richardson Romanesque.” That basically refers to the tower, arches, and combination of brick, granite, and copper building materials. All in all, the result is a really neat looking building. The current renovations are recovering some of the original look of the building—architectural features that had been covered up in fire repairs during the 1960s—while expanding collection space. With over 90,000 books, cds, and movies in its collection, that new space will be invaluable as the library continues to expand. Plus the new reading rooms will make the library into an awesome place to stay and read!
During the recent renovations, librarians have been delving into the attics and old storage areas of the library. Itâ€™s amazing what was found in those back rooms. Discoveries include ledgers from the 1800s; old spelling books and newspaper articles; a bill from Massachusetts (from 1804, when Maine was still a part of that state) charging Waterville $112 in taxes; presidential primary ballots; and a document signed by Civil War hero and Maine governor Joshua Chamberlain, commending Sydney Keith for his bravery in the Civil War.
Joshua Chamberlain, photo:
Ladder truck at Waterville Public Library fire, 1959, photo: Waterville Public Library
In 1959, a massive fire began in the library. Volunteers worked for hours with the Fire Department to put it out. Some, including students from Colby, formed a line and moved books as fast as they could out of the library and into the Baptist Church across the street. Thanks to that work, and to the copper fire doors that you can still see on the main floor, the building and collection were much less badly damaged than they might have been.
1. Waterville Post Office 1911
Before phone calls and email made getting in contact with people quicker and easier, the Post Office was an even more important place than it is today. The imposing Greek style architecture and the central location of this building reflect its important role as the center of communication in the town.
The Old Post Office, looking south towards Main Street,
Across the U.S., the way mail was delivered was changing in the 1910s. Rural delivery (mailmen driving from house to house in the country) had recently begun, and in 1913, packages could be sent. This increased the volume of mail shipped nationwide, and motivated the development of more efficient transportation systems. By 1918, the U. S. Post Office had already begun air mail deliveries to places in the United States, but airmail didnâ€™t reach Waterville until much later.
2. Hanford Hotel This house (with orange doors and cast iron gates) is the oldest surviving
building on Main Street. Until recently, it was both a boarding house and a hotel, depending on the type of visitor.
Summer visitors stayed for as little as $1.00 for the night. Boarders stayed for a longer time and got meals and housekeeping services along with a room. It was a good option for workers, who were too busy for cooking, cleaning and laundry.
Photo courtesy Waterville Historical Society Among the boarders at the Hanford Hotel were many French Canadians looking for work at the mills. Many who found jobs eventually settled in town. Lockwood Cotton Mill, historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
If you look across the street, you can see a Rite Aid building (now vacant). Thatâ€™s where another hotel, the Elmwood Hotel, used to be. It was one of Watervilleâ€™s most famous (and fancy) places to stay. Elmwood Hotel, historic postcard courtesy Bill Taylor
Front Street Area: Lebanese Maronite Community Immigrants from the Middle East began coming to Maine in the 1860s. Around 1910, large numbers of Maronite Catholics from Lebanon began settling in Waterville. Many of these immigrants were fleeing forced military service in the Turkish Empire, which controlled Lebanon at that time. In Waterville, many Lebanese people settled around Front Street, the area beside the river which allowed them easy access to work at the mills or at the railroad which ran through the area.
You’ll be able to see St. Joseph’s Maronite Church on the corner of Appleton and Front Streets as you walk towards the Two Cent Bridge. This wasn’t built until the 1950s. Before that, the Maronites worshipped with the French immigrants, or at a house on Appleton Street.
Later in the tour, as you walk down Main Street, notice the Lebanese Heritage Mural on the side of the GHM Insurance building!
St. Joseph’s Maronite Church, c. 1950 Image: St. Joseph’s Maronite Church website
Try some Lebanese food! George’s Restaurant on Union Street and Lebanese Cuisine on Temple Street still serve great food from tabbouleh, hummus, and falafel to baklava and spinach pies.
Photo courtesy Waterville Historical Society
Or you can find recipes at the library or on the internet and try making some yourself. It’s delicious!
3. Haines Theater
By 1917, you could go to Haines, Silver, State, or Bijou Theaters if you wanted to see a movie. All those theaters were on Main Street, and even better, it cost only 7 cents to buy a ticket!
State Theater eventually became Steveâ€™s Restaurant and is now Cancun Mexican Restaurant. Haines Theater burned down in 1967, but it used to be next to the Cyr Building, where TD Bankâ€™s drive-through is now. The theater was destroyed in a spectacular blaze involving explosions and flames that leapt 100 feet into the air. Image from the Waterville Fire Dept website:
4. Two Cent Bridge
Workplaces like the Hollingsworth and Whitney Mill were across the Kennebec River in Winslow, but had many employees from Waterville. The mill workers couldnâ€™t be swimming to work every day, so a footbridge was built in the 1890s to connect Front Street with the opposite shore. After that bridge was washed away by very high flood waters in 1901, they built the current one in 1903. To get across, you had to pay a toll of two cents to the collector in the red booth. Thatâ€™s how the bridge got its name.
historic postcard image courtesy Bill
Housing along the river before the Two Cent Bridge was built
French Canadian Immigration
The first French Canadian immigrants came to Waterville in the early 1800s, and kept coming throughout the early part of the 20th century. They found work at the mills along the Kennebec River. They became part of the regular community very quickly, settling first in the Water Street area and building St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in 1874 and Mount Merici Academy in 1889.
St. Francis de Sales, 1876, historic postcard image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
Sacred Heart, 1906, historic postcard image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
An early Waterville High team. Image from the Waterville Sentinel.
Religion was an important foundation of Franco-American life. The majority were Roman Catholic. The first Roman Catholic Mass said in town was in the home of Jean Baptiste Mathieu on Water Street in 1841. As immigrants poured into the area, and there were soon enough people to build St. Francis, and only 30 years later, Sacred Heart Church.
The French Canadians introduced hockey to Waterville!
Foundry workers took molten iron and poured it into molds made of sand in a process called “casting.”
Pig Iron referred to chunky casts
French Canadian workers at an iron foundry near Waterville.
of metal sold as raw material. Cast Iron was often more finished pieces, like tools, kettles or even garden railings. At the Redington Museum, you can see a big carved wooden gear, used to form molds for casting machine parts.
Image : Collection of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission
There are many ways to find out about the early FrancoAmericans.
The Hollingsworth-Whitney Mill across the river in Winslow Historic postcard image courtesy Waterville
Mills and factories like the Lockwood Cotton Mill, Hathaway Shirt Factory, and the Wyandotte Mill were so common in and around Waterville because of the Kennebec River and Messalonskee Stream. In the early 1800s, these waterways provided both power and easy transportation, and they continued to help power the mills until the mid-1900s.
Take a look at the “Museum in the Streets,” which guides you through the French Canadian background of Main Street and the South End. On the other hand, you could look up traditional French Canadian food and music, at the library or on the internet. Eat and listen—both the food and music are great!
5. Maine Central Railroad Trains were one of the main reasons that Waterville was such an important town at the beginning of the 20th century. They allowed passengers to come and go easily, and also made transportation of clothes, tools, and food fast and simple. When you walk back towards Main Street from the Two Cent Bridge, youâ€™ll cross over the old tracks, and if you look further down the river, you can see the railroad bridge still standing over the Falls.
President Teddy Roosevelt came to Waterville around 1912, stopping at the railroad station to campaign for office. Like many other presidents, Roosevelt enjoyed vacationing in Maine, and came here frequently.
image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
The Route: After coming across the river, the train ran along Front Street, eventually crossed College Ave., and stopped at the passenger station (across from where the Post Office is now). From there it could go to Lewiston, Skowhegan, Bangor, or just head to the Round Houses a bit further up College Ave., along the Kennebec.
Transportation You could do most of your shopping on Main Street in 1915. People traveled by horse or buggy to the downtown and walked from store to store; or perhaps to the City Hall, Opera House, or movie theater. You could also take the trolley down Main Street if walking was too much trouble. At first, these were horse drawn, but by 1900, they were powered electrically, running along wires strung between buildings.
historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
Even though you could get most of what you needed in Waterville, sometimes you had to go farther away, maybe to Bangor or Skowhegan. In that case, you could head to the railroad station and hop on one of the trains of the Maine Central Railroad.
You can still see one of the old engines at the train yard on the right as you head down College Ave.
historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
How they got to fires in 1912: horse-drawn fire engines.
The first car in Waterville! Owned by Charles Hussey
All images on this page are from the City of Waterville website photo gallery: http:// www.watervilleme.gov/ departments/ administration/
The â€œCity of Watervilleâ€? steamboat predated most of the bridges in the area. This picture is from the 1890s.
6. Castonguay Square
The town common would have been an important base for various official activities in Waterville. It was used for festivals, ceremonies, and as a center for parades. Just about every occasion imaginable was an excuse to put banners out the windows of Main Street businesses and send a parade down the street. Adding to the fun were the dozen or so school, church, or club bands that were organized around this time. historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
On Saturday nights, bands like the R.B. Hall Band would play live music and people would come out to dance in the
After WWI, the Common was renamed after Arthur Castonguay, a Franco-American sergeant who was the first soldier from Waterville to die in the war.
One of the bands, in costume Image: Waterville Historical Society
historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
Waterville history goes back a lot farther than 1915. It became a city in 1888, and was already a town in 1802â€”thatâ€™s before Maine was even a state!
You can still easily find out a lot about important things that happened in Waterville and the surrounding area. For example, in Castonguay Square, thereâ€™s a plaque commemorating the time that Benedict Arnold and American Revolutionary troops landed just above Ticonic Falls on their way to Canada. Another nearby place that dates all the way back to the French and Indian War in the mid 1700s is Fort Halifax, just across the river in Winslow. You could also check out the park across the street from the Library. Ever noticed the Civil War Monument there? Waterville history is everywhere!
Use the internet, the Maine State Museum, or the Waterville Public Library to find out something interesting about the history of Waterville before 1900. Then tell the story to someone else, either at school, at home, or on your own tour of Waterville!
Fort Halifax before renovations
Civil War Memorial
Images courtesy Waterville Historical Society
7. Waterville City Hall and Opera House How the Opera House was built: (according to the Waterville Opera House website)
...Into town strolls a man named George Adams from Lawrence, Massachusetts. George meets with the City Council and declares that he has a design for an Opera House and asks, “How big would you like it?” The City Council members ponder for a while (as counselors are prone to do), and they respond by telling George they don’t need an Opera House; they need a new City Hall. George, being a most resourceful man, makes a deal with the Council. “I’ll build you a City Hall, and put an Opera House on top!”
Left: an early production at the Opera House, probably around 1903; Image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
Around 1915, all sorts of shows would have been on stage at the Opera House: plays, music recitals, and vaudeville shows involving singing and dancing—much like today’s musicals. In the 1940s, it became a movie theater because the popularity of live shows had declined. But now it shows mostly plays and concerts again, except during special events, like the Maine International Film Festival.
The old City Hall used to stand right behind the present one. It was first known as the Old East Meeting House, then City Hall. After 1901, it became the armory, where the local guard troops stored their equipment. Historic postcard mage courtesy Bill Taylor
City Hall was, and still is, the center of Waterville politics. In 1915, Martin F. Bartlett was the mayor, and his office was here, along with the city council offices. Now you can find the same offices, plus town records and the Police Department in this building.
Image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
Just for Fun Even though people back in the 1910s didn’t have computers, video games, or televisions, they could still have plenty of fun. When they weren’t listening to bands in the Square, going to a play, or watching a parade, they might play sports, go to the fair, or even to the circus.
Elephants in Main Street, heading to the circus
“Dare Devil Volo” is having a blast at the fair, jumping through two rings of fire on a bicycle!
The Central Maine Fair used to take place in Waterville, just off Chase Ave, beside Mount Merici. Just like now, there were animal shows, races, and even Ferris wheels to ride on!
All images on this page courtesy Waterville Historical Society
â€œNelsonâ€? was a favorite race horse at the fairgrounds in the early 1900s. Image: Waterville Public Library.
Right: Nelson, mid-race Image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
Left: The Colby College football team. Image courtesy Bill Taylor
8. Shopping on Main Street
What do you think shopping was like in 1915? Unlike now, you would usually go to many small stores to get everything you needed, instead of to one big store. Stores on Main Street like the W.B. Arnold hardware store, the Grand Union Tea Company, or McCallumâ€™s Fish and Meat Market
The Clukey Block (above, on the corner of Silver and Main Streets) contained one of the largest department stores in central Maine. You could go to a shoe store, millinery (hat) store, clothing stores, and a dry goods store all in the same building.
allowed you to support small family businesses Main Street shops in 1910, looking south
in the center of town.
Images on this page courtesy Bill Taylor
Levine’s and H.R. Dunham were two wellknown clothing stores that only closed within the last 30 years or so. You can see where both used to be; the Kennebec Federal Savings Bank building is a
A typical general store; image courtesy Waterville Historical Society
remodeled version of H.R. Dunham, and as you walk further south on Main Street, look for the old signs for Levine’s on a building to your left.
One of the most obvious differences between life in the early 1900s and life now is how people dressed. Both men and women generally wore hats. Men wore vests and jackets. Women usually wore long dresses. Using the internet or old Sears Catalogues (check the library), find pictures of typical clothing from 1910-1915. You can print (or even draw!) what you find, and compare it with examples of modern clothing.
Levine’s in the 1940s Image courtesy Bill Taylor
Just as it was for the French Canadians and Maronites, religion was a major factor uniting the Jewish population into a close-knit community. The founding members of the Beth Israel Congregation (chartered June 16, 1902) included Julius Levine, William Levine, Louis Wolman, John Paikowsky, Phillip Levine, Moses Silver and John Williams. Wishing to preserve their family traditions and pass them onto their children, they held services at the Fire Station on Ticonic Street. Later, they bought a barn further up the hill, demolished it, and built the first synagogue in town. Moses Silver became the first shochet (ritual leader) and was succeeded by Hyman L. Shenson. Since 1914, rabbis have led the Congregation. The original wooden building
The Old Beth Israel Synagogue, built 1905
was eventually replaced by the Left: The New Beth Israel Synagogue, built 1958
brick synagogue on upper Main Street.
Photos on this page courtesy of Beth Israel Congregation. Website: http://www.bethisraelwaterville.org/
The Levine family started out as peddlers, (see page 23) but soon became one of the founding families of the Jewish community in Waterville and owners of Levine’s clothing store on Main Street and many rental properties on Ticonic Street. That’s partly thanks to President Johnson of Colby College. As a boy, Louis Levine used to sell papers on a corner of Main Street near a bank (the site is now Judy’s Salon), kicking his feet against the building in the winter to keep them warm. President Johnson used to buy the newspaper from him, and one day asked Louis if he was going to college. Louis was a good student and athlete, but he told Johnson that his parents didn’t have the money to send him to college. That wouldn’t matter, Johnson told the boy. As long as Louis kept up his grades, “Colby would make it possible for him to go.” Sure enough, when he graduated from high school, he applied to Colby and they worked out a way to fund his
A paperboy, around 1905 Image: http:// upload.wikimedia.org/ wikipedia/commons/6/61/ Newsboy_in_1905.jpg
degree. He became a successful lawyer and eventually bought the bank building where he sold newspapers years before.
The Colby Campus today: Miller Library, built in 1939. Image courtesy Colby College.
Unlike many other newcomers to Waterville, Jewish immigrants often didn’t start out working at the mills. Instead, they came from bigger U.S. cities to work as peddlers in the area.
Since the Jewish community was smaller than other ethnic groups in Waterville, you can easily trace its geographical movement. It was concentrated in Ticonic Street initially, where housing was inexpensive. As families began to succeed in business, many of them moved up towards Colby College.
Peddlers traveled the countryside, selling small goods like needles and thread. If they were successful, they might eventually open a shop. Stern’s, Levine’s, and several other shops on Main Street were owned by Jewish families. Other newcomers to the area started out by going into the scrap business. They would buy junk for low prices, sort out the metals, and sell them to iron foundries (see page 9). From there, some family businesses expanded into waste management or car dealerships.
You can take a quick tour of this area by driving up Ticonic St. from Chaplin St. (at Elm City Photo). Much of this area was owned by the Levine family, who were one of the few wealthier families to remain on the street after the 1920s, renting apartments to poorer families. (The Levine house wasn’t sold until 2009, 13 years after Levine’s store closed.) If you take a left on Kelsey St, you’ll be near the site of the old synagogue. Continue, and you’ll come to Upper Main Street; the new synagogue is on the corner of Kelsey and Main Streets here. Many families moved across Main Street to Johnson Heights, and the increasing affluence of the neighborhood is apparent as you drive up. At the end of this road is North Street, and Colby College—where many of these families were educated—is just beyond that.
9. The Lombard Tractor
You have to go all the way to the end of Front Street to find this Lombard engine on display. Alvin Lombard invented this steam-driven machine for use in the logging industry. Its continuous tracks provided traction and acted as snowshoes in the winter, allowing it to travel over snow that was too deep for horses, and thus to transport wood easily yearround. He began to lose money on his invention when other inventors copied his track design on other machines, such as construction vehicles and tanks.
Alvin Lombardâ€™s house is still at 65 Elm St. The most interesting thing about it? A secret room!
The Lombard Plow Images on this page courtesy Waterville Historical Society.
Although it was unfortunately destroyed in the course of street repairs, it used to be camouflaged as a store room with the door cleverly hidden behind the furnace in the basement. Some people think it might have been a secret laboratory!
10. First Baptist Church 1826
Samuel Francis Smith, a pastor of this church in the early 1800s, wrote the well-known patriotic song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” while he was a student in Massachusetts.
Historic postcard image courtesy Bill Taylor
The oldest public building still standing in Waterville is the Baptist Church directly across Elm Street from the library. It is also the oldest church in town, but it wasn’t only built by Baptists. In order to pay for the building, the church members—under the direction of Jeremiah Chaplin, the first president of Colby—sold pews (the long benches in the church) to whomever would buy them. The buyers included Congregationalists, Universalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, so members of all these churches were also part-owners of the new Baptist church!
More on Waterville (and Maine) History!
People in Maine are certainly proud of their history. In Waterville alone, you can find historical societies, church records, and family histories, not to mention websites and Facebook groups. Here’s a list of some of the most interesting places and events where you can find out more about the town and the state as a whole.
Redington Museum: Built by Revolutionary War veteran Asa Redington in 1814, the house’s neat architecture and historic furnishings can give you an idea of what home life was like over a century ago. (http:// www.redingtonmuseum.org) Waterville Historical Society: The headquarters is in the Redington Museum, so they’re easy to find. They have tons of pictures, and even historical records if you’re really interested in something.
Colby Jewish History Exhibit: Don’t miss this when it opens on the Colby campus next April! Designed for kids, it will have all sorts of stories about the early Jewish settlers in Waterville. (http://web.colby.edu/jewsinmaine)
Franco-American Festival: Taking place in September annually, at the Head of Falls, this celebration of Maine’s French Canadian heritage involves traditional food and great music! (http://www.waterville-me.gov/departments/franco)
Lebanese Supper and Bazaar: Check out these annual spring and fall events at St. Joseph’s Maronite Church; a great chance to experience Lebanese food and culture.
Maine State Museum: Tons of cool exhibits on Maine industry, wildlife, and history. Don’t miss the temporary exhibit on Maine home life! (http://mainestatemuseum.org)
Museum in the Streets: A downtown walking tour centered around the French Canadian immigration in Waterville. The stops are marked by signs at various locations which give the history of the area.
Waterville Public Library: Come back to the library, of course! We have volumes of material, both for grownups and kids on Maine and Waterville history. Look for a few of the great books that helped get this project started. Want to know more about what Main Street looked like years ago? Check out Around Waterville by Frank Sleeper, or Reflections : Waterville and the Upper Kennebec Valley (Vol 1 and Vol 2) by the Morning Sentinel.
Acknowledgements This project was funded in part through a Maine Humanities Council Community Outreach Grant. Many thanks to Bill Taylor of the Framemakers for use of his collection of historical postcards, and to Harry and Donnice Finnemore of the Redington Museum, Waterville Historical Society for their assistance in tracking down other valuable images. Thanks to Dr. David Freidenreich of Colby College for his assistance in finding materials relating to the early Jewish community in Waterville. Also to Rosanna Joseph for proof-reading and design advice. Sponsors: Waterville Public Library and Waterville Main Street Writer and Designer: ThĂŠrĂ¨se Couture