Canal Workers, Lewiston, ca. 1850
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A stereoscope view of the excavations of the Lewiston Water Power Company Canal. This stereoscope is part of a series, "Views of Auburn and Vicinity," published by the Conant Brothers in Lewiston.
The canal was primarily constructed by Irish laborers brought north from Massachusetts. Construction of the canal was financed by Massachusetts investors, who were seeking to duplicate the success of mill cities like Lowell Massachusetts. The canal, by diverting the Androscoggin River around the Great Falls, was intended to provide the energy necessary to power the many textile mills which led Lewiston to become Maine's lead industrial center in the 19th century.
Most of the workers for the canal were Irish immigrants brought to Maine from Boston. Many remained in the city, settling on land owned by the company. The immigrant district became known as the "Gas Patch", an undesirable neighborhood located by the malodorous Lewiston Gas Light Company (founded 1853). The Gas Patch is located between the Canal and the Androscoggin River.
Later, French-Canadian immigrants would also be invited to work in the mills powered by the canal. These immigrants too settled on company land between the Canal and the River, adjoining the Gas Patch, which became known as "Little Canada" ("Petit Canada"). Relations between the Irish and French immigrants were often contentious, and the two immigrant neighborhoods remained distinct and separate for decades.