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July 10, 2020

Museum L-A moves forward on plans for new site, reopens with Androscoggin River exhibit

A delapidated brick industrial building with a smokestack and a sign that says future home of museum L-A File photo / Maureen Milliken The former Camden Yarns building, at 1 Beech St. in Lewiston, will house Museum L-A.

Museum L-A, which is reopening today after being closed for months under the COVID-19 shutdown, is also moving forward on its plans to move from the Bates Mill to larger space in the former Camden Yarns mill in Lewiston's millyard.

The museum had finalized architectural plans and exhibit designs for the 1 Beech St. space early this year.

"We were focusing on fundraising and moving into the quiet phase of our capital campaign when COVID-19 hit," said Audrey Thompson, executive director.

The museum focuses on the working and community history of the Lewiston-Auburn region and the new space, in one of the city's first textile mills, will allow it to expand its offerings focusing on the city's manufacturing history and more, museum officials have said.

"So many in Lewiston-Auburn and beyond are excited about a museum of this caliber in the area," Thompson told Mainebiz this week. "They know it will be an important part of the riverfront revitalization, as well as a way to drive tourism and economic development. We have every reason to believe that we will be successful in raising the funds necessary to realize this important vision and be a community anchor for Lewiston-Auburn."

The museum bought the sprawling former Camden Yarns mill in 2009, and has been working toward moving for the past decade. In July 2019, a fire and vandalism set plans back a little. But Rachel Desgrosseilliers, museum executive director at the time, told Mainebiz that the $13 million renovation was still moving forward.

"Unfortunately, the high estimated costs of the damage were not included in the museum’s budget," she said.

The building, constructed in 1864, has been vacant for decades, and much of it is in disrepair. The museum has already put $1.5 million into the renovation, razing 17,000 square feet and stabilizing other parts. The renovation will be 15,000 to 20,000 square feet, with design by Auburn-based Platz Associates and Paul Designs Project, of Portland.

A young woman hanging a photograph on a wall
Courtesy / Museum L-A
Emma Sieh, curator of Museum L-A, prepares for today's museum reopening, which will feature an exhibit on the industrial history of the Androscoggin River.

Androscoggin River economic impact celebrated

As the plan for new space moves forward, the museum is re-opening today with a new exhibit celebrating the Androscoggin River. “Our Working Waterway" looks at the river and its effect on development of manufacturing centers in communities along its path.

At 178 miles long, the Androscoggin is the state's second-longest river, after the St. John, with headwaters in Lake Umbagog in New Hampshire and flowing to Merrymeeting Bay, in Bowdoinham. Along the way, the river runs through Bethel, Rumford, Lewiston, Auburn, Jay, Livermore Falls, Lisbon, Topsham and Brunswick, among other towns.

Photographs and archival collections from 10 historical organizations throughout the state are featured in the exhibit. The museum said not only the economic history, but the natural beauty of the river will be on display.

“School groups and visitors alike are always curious about how these massive textile mills were powered by the river here in Lewiston, but that story is shared by many communities founded along the river," said Emma Sieh, Museum L-A’s curator. "We felt it was time to create a new exhibition that describes how this amazing waterway shaped history and inspired entrepreneurship and ingenuity throughout our entire region of Maine."

The museum is also a partner in several major community development programs, including the new Franco Trail L-A project, which promotes Lewiston's and Auburn's historic sites, particularly those related to their Franco-American history, and also ties in with a New England tour that stretches to Rhode Island.

Following state guidelines new policies and procedures about cleaning, masks and social distancing are in place at the museum, which is also limiting hours to three days a week for public health reasons. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

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