In 1823, the twin cities were farming communities separated by an often unnavigable, forceful river. James Goff Jr.’s store and post office at Court and Main streets dominated Goff’s Corner in what is now Auburn. Opposite that on the river was the law office of Edward Little. Above Little’s on Main Street (then called Water Street) was Barker Brooks’ blacksmith shop and below it was Orra Raynes’ Millinery Shop. The Elm House occupied a large portion of lower Court Street.
On the Lewiston side of the Androscoggin stood Josiah Little’s grist mill. Dean Frye built his home beside the mill near the water, but most of the businesses and residences in Lewiston Falls Village were located at the junction of Main and Sabattus streets, then called Lowell’s Corner, away from the river. 50 years before Lewiston became a manufacturing powerhouse, and before the two towns were connected by a bridge, Lewiston was a small community of only 12 homes, three business and a tavern.
At that time, travel between towns was difficult and often treacherous. Some seasons the safest time to cross the river was during the winter when the Androscoggin froze over. That is how James Goff Jr., for example, moved his store from the Lewiston side to the Auburn side in 1822, by gathering some friends together to help him slide his wooden structure across the ice.
Paul Hildreth, Lewiston’s first resident, was the first person to think about commercial passage across the river. Hildreth owned and operated the area’s first ferry between towns in 1771. His shallow canoe ran across the water where the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge (South Bridge) now stands. He enjoyed a monopoly until 1812, when Auburn resident Zebina Hunt began operating a rival ferry business upriver where Longley Bridge now stands. Ferry crossings were difficult and unreliable, and not an efficient means of transporting large amounts of grain, produce and supplies.
As early as 1807, prominent residents of the surrounding towns recognized the need for safe commercial passage across the river. Industrious local residents decided to invest in the construction of a bridge to support and foster the prosperity of the growing communities…and make some money in the process. The proprietors of the Lewiston Bridge, as the enterprise was legally known, was established that year.
150 shares of stock were sold. The principal shareholders were Josiah Little, Edward Little, James Lowell and Michael Little. Construction began in the spring. That first bridge between towns, then called the Lewiston Bridge, cost $3000 to build, with $20 charged per stock share to cover expenses.
Much of the company’s correspondence, meeting minutes and receipts still exist, all safely archived at the Androscoggin Historical Society.
One such document was a shareholder agreement outlining principles of construction. It stated that the bridge was to be erected at Lewiston “near the foot of twenty mile falls, so called, from shore to shore of good and sufficient materials, and of suitable height from the water of the width of 21 feet, well covered with plank or timber, and with sufficient rails on each side, for the safety of passengers: and said bridge shall be so constructed as to leave sufficient passage ways for the transportation timber, and the passage of boats and other water craft.”
By August, the bridge was nearly completed. To ensure return on investment and regular repairs and maintenance, toll fees were established. Then began a fierce debate over the location of the toll house.
According to an account in the Lewiston Evening Journal written on May 11, 1954, “it was a matter of sharp controversy.” On one side were residents of Lewiston led by Dr. Gorham and on the other, residents of Danville and Minot. “The Danville and Minot advocates, being the majority, finally prevailed, and it was voted that the toll house be placed on the Danville side of the river.”
As with the location of the Androscoggin County Courthouse thirty years later, which Auburn would also win, the matter (temporarily) divided residents of the two towns. Dr. Gorham, so incensed by the decision, cried foul and resigned immediately from the board.
But business was booming. Toll rates were fixed depending on type of passage and number of passengers. Single pedestrians were charged one cent; rates increased for passage by horse, horse cart, sled or sleigh, and yearly permits were available at reduced rates to those who crossed regularly.
The opening of the bridge in September 1823 was heralded like a town holiday and celebrated with baked goods and hot refreshment.
“It was a gala day at the little village of Goff’s Corner in the then towns of Minot and Danville — one of those clear and sparkling days, in the Fall of 1823. From early morn the settlers from the surrounding territory had been converging by foot, on horseback, or by carriage, toward the entrance of a crude structure of wood and stone spanning the river, on which all eyes were turned, and concerning which all conversation was centered. This was the day set apart for the opening of the long desired, now completed, toll bridge.” (Lewiston Evening Journal, May 11, 1954)
Between 1823 and 1863, the two towns quadrupled in size. Traffic was heavy and constantly increasing. Every five years or so, general maintenance was undertaken to maintain the stability of the original structure. A flood in 1837 required proprietors to hire local resident Daniel Briggs to construct a new bridge. Covered sidewalks were added on each side so that pedestrians could traverse the river safely beside constant horse and carriage traffic. Another major renovation occurred in 1849 and 1853.
There are several accounts of the haunting nature of traversing by foot that early covered bridge. “The darkness of those little covered sidewalks was no joke. It was almost as dark on those sidewalks by day as at night,” a resident recalled to the newspaper.
Over the years, as manufacturing grew and the population ballooned, the bridge became central to life in Androscoggin County. More and more people began to rally against the privatization of the bridge and rising toll rates. In an attempt to pacify local anger, the proprietors often reduced prices for holidays or special occasions, and eventually voted to permit people to pass for free to attend religious services.
In the end, however, the townspeople asserted their right to free passage across the river. On July 11, 1863, a petition was filed with the county commissioners, signed by 932 citizens from all over the county, demanding a city bridge for public use.
“To the Honorable County Commissioners for the County of Androscoggin and State of Maine: The undersigned inhabitants of said county, respectfully represent that Lewiston Falls Village is the business centre of the County of Androscoggin, and of many towns adjacent thereto. That there is no public highway or townway leading from Auburn to Lewiston, and that persons having occasion to pass and repass from one town to the other are subject to the expense of a “permit” or to the annoying cry of “TOLL! TOLL!” (Annual Report of the Municipal Officers of the Town of Lewiston, Maine 1863)
The petition went on to state that the towns of Auburn and Lewiston were willing to bear the burden of erecting a free bridge. It was a move designed to force the hand of the Lewiston Bridge proprietors…and it worked. Realizing that they wouldn’t be able to compete with a new, free bridge running parallel to their toll bridge, the stakeholders voted to sell their interest in the North Bridge to the two towns on January 22, 1865.
On March 18, 1865, by unanimous vote, the directors sold and “conveyed to the County of Androscoggin the bridge with all privileges and franchise appertaining thereto belonging, for the sum of $7,500…receiving in payment the bonds of the County.” A newspaper article recalls the triumph with which the townspeople rejoiced the news of never again having to hear the cry of “Toll! Toll!”
Douglas Hodgkin, President of the Androscoggin Historical Society, found records that indicate the bridge was then called the Main Street Bridge or Court Street Bridge depending on which side of the river one preferred (Lewiston or Auburn, respectively). Finally, in an attempt to settle the dispute and dispel confusion, the Lewiston Falls Journal unofficially renamed the passage North Bridge (and the current Bernard Lown Peace Bridge was dubbed South Bridge).
A violent flood occured in March 1896 that caused considerable structural damage.
Another flood occurred 40 years later in March 1936 where, once again, it was necessary to rebuild. This time, the North Bridge was reconstructed on higher cement supports.
Its current incantation spans 600 feet and has a deck width of 64 feet. At a dedication ceremony in 1983, the bridge was (once again) renamed in honor of Maine Governor James B. Longley Bridge four years after his death.
Hodgkin, D. I. (n.d.). Frontier to industrial city: Lewiston town politics 1768-1863.
Merrill, G. D. (1891). History of Androscoggin County, Maine .. Boston: W.A. Fergusson &. Auburn, Maine
Lewiston (Me.), . Annual report of the municipal officers of the town of Lewiston, Maine. Lewiston, Me.: The Town.