|The display room of the Archives at the MTM Center on School Street, Lisbon Falls, displays many artifacts of the area.|
Brief History of Present-Day Lisbon
The area we now know as Lisbon was part of York County until 1760 when Lincoln County was formed. Lisbon was part of the Town of Bowdoin until 1799. If you consult a map of the Town of Lisbon and, with a ruler, using Edgecomb Road as the approximate dividing line, draw a line to the Town line of Lewiston, the area north of this line was the approximate dimensions of the Town of Lisbon in 1799 when it was incorporated as the Town of Thompsonborough. Lisbon was much larger then, extending to Sabattus Pond, its northern boundary on a line with Bowdoin's north boundary. In 1802 the name was changed to Lisbon.
In 1808 the Town of Lisbon annexed the area south of this line, on both sides of the Sabattus River. This area extended to Lewiston on the west, and Little River on the east and the Androscoggin River on the south. The annexed area was all called Little River Plantation, although the area between the Sabattus River and the Lewiston line for a period of time was called merely "The Gore" and was controlled only by Lincoln County. The annexed area between the Sabattus River and Little River was called the Town of Little River, originally termed the Little River Plantation. In 1845 the Town of Webster was formed and took the north half of Lisbon. Webster is now called Sabattus.
When Lisbon was established is more difficult to determine, depending on what a person considers "established". The Town of Lisbon for many years has proclaimed that it was settled in 1628; however, I believe that they are stretching the known fact that Thomas Purchase had a fishing camp below the present power dam at Lisbon Falls. This was only seasonal and really cannot be termed a settlement. The fishing camp existed for many years.
What brought the settlers were the abundance of water power and timber. Many had small farms and raised corn and grain as well as working with timber, and, of course, raised a variety of farm animals.
Actual settlement did not begin until at least after 1750 and probably not until 1766 when Benjamin Whitney and his family moved from the New Meadows area near Brunswick to near the junction of Little River and the Androscoggin River where he was the miller and half-owner of a grist mill. Between 1766 and 1800, several small water-powered sawmills were in operation at the present Worumbo Falls and the smaller falls near the mouth of Little River. Sawmills were in operation on Little River itself, plus a grist mill.
On the west side of the Sabattus River, James White, in 1781, was the first purchaser of land from James Bowdoin, although he may have been living on the property prior to that date. Bowdoin usually required the purchaser to live on the property for 12 years before he could purchase the land, which would place the year of first occupancy as 1769.
Sawmills were established, at present-day Lisbon Village and further upstream, between 1780 and 1800. Shortly after 1800 a wooden woolen mill was operating where Farwell Mill Apartments now stand. In addition, over 100 homes in the general area had looms that made basic fabric from wool and cotton and sold to the mills for further processing.
A variety of small mills associated with the wood industry, and industries associated with wool and imported cotton were in operation until the very large expansion in the 1860s when the large brick Worumbo, Farwell and Farnsworth mills were erected, employing hundreds of workers. As many of you know, Farwell Mill is now Farwell Apartments, and the Farnsworth Mill was recently torn down. Worumbo employs only a few, compared to the number once working there. A stable but smaller industry has been the large mill near Little River bridge, where they process wood. A mill has been in operation at that site for nearly 200 years, although its size and ownership has changed many times, as well as the finished product.
Lisbon now has a smaller but a much more diversified industrial base and does not depend on one or two industries for employment in our town.
Lisbon has a wide range of nationalities represented by its citizenry - English, French, Slovak, and German being the major ones; however, there has been a great mixing of the population over the years. The large mills were responsible for bringing the French, Slovak and German families to our area, and they each brought interesting customs and food selections. They were referred to as "ethnic groups" and for decades tended to keep to themselves.
An old joke is that a marriage between someone from the Lisbon Village area and the Lisbon Falls area was called a "mixed marriage" because of the rivalry between the two areas. The rivalry is nearly non-existent now, although there are still some diehards.
Before the advent of television, local people had to provide their own entertainment and there were several buildings, both in the Lisbon Village area and in the Lisbon Falls area that had dance floors. Most also had a stage where they put on plays and musicals. The ethnic groups also had bands that put on recitals or marched in various parades. The groups also put on large suppers, primarily for their own members. The Grange was prominent both in Lisbon Village and Lisbon Falls, and was originally formed by farm families for both educational and family entertainment purposes.
Schools evolved over the years from many one-room schools that housed several grades, to the present consolidated schools with each grade in its own room, or in a specific classroom for study. Many of you are aware of the yellow Ridge School, the last one room school to be used in Lisbon. Lisbon was a hotbed of baseball for many years, even more so than today. A local American Legion sponsored baseball team composed of Lisbon area high school students won the New England championship in 1929 and went to the semi-finals in Washington D.C. where they were eliminated. Lisbon also had a semi-pro baseball team, the Worumbo Indians, who went to the national finals in Kansas. Eddie Waitkus, who played for the Chicago Cubs for years, first played for the Worumbo Indians. Their ball field, complete with a covered grandstand, was near the present white Worumbo Mill and the river.
This is only a brief history of Lisbon. Stop by and visit the Historical Society's collections.
Bill Barr - March 18, 2005