By Bruce MacNab
Want to walk in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix? Want to see where Muhammad Ali dropped Sonny Liston with a phantom punch?
Then head for Lewiston, Maine. It’s an easy seven-hour drive from Nova Scotia thanks to the 75 mph speed limit once you cross the US border at Houlton.
We had no problem finding a dog-friendly motel in Lewiston. Our drive-up room had its own patio door, something every dog can appreciate. As a bonus, a snowmobile trail passes within a stone’s throw of the motel so Smitty enjoyed some off leash time in the woods.
Motel manager Raj Patel takes pride in this place, keeping his carpet-free rooms impeccably clean. Out back next to an overflow parking lot, he’s put in an impressive vegetable garden. His room prices range from $50 – $60 a night which includes wifi and morning coffee.
Hotel rooms and food in Maine seem to be half the cost of what’s charged in Nova Scotia, so don’t worry about the exchange rate on the dollar. Moreover, a thirty-pack of beer will set you back only $17.99.
Smitty and I grabbed coffee and breakfast sandwiches at a popular Lisbon Street gas station then headed downtown for our morning walk.
If you explore old Lewiston, try to park near the chimney. You can see this giant stack from pretty much everywhere so you can always find your way back to your car.
The old factories offer a gritty background for photographs of people, dogs, cars or motorcycles. Some of the vintage structures, like the 1877 Music Hall, have been repurposed while others stand empty. Watch for the graceful swallows swooping in and out of the abandoned buildings.
Here are our favorite Lewiston haunts:
- Lewiston Memorial Armory. It’s hard to believe “Fire” and “Purple Haze” once rattled the windows of this sleepy, tree-lined neighborhood. But indeed, Jimi Hendrix played here on March 16, 1968. And this is one storied show. A local legend claims bassist Noel Redding went missing, forcing Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell to play as a two-piece. Another story has Hendrix crashing his car on the way to the Armory. One show rumor is far too naughty to repeat here but you can find it online if you are so inclined. I walked around to the grade level rear entrance and imagined Hendrix making his rock star entrance and exit through these doors. Smitty seemed nonplussed about it all and spent our visit barking at a plump grey squirrel in a tree.
- Civic Center: This arena is now named for a bank. It was here that Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in their controversial rematch on May 25, 1965. The famous Lewiston photo of Ali shouting at his decked opponent is the greatest image in sports history. Smitty and I walked around the building and found a 1958 cornerstone.
- Auburn Riverwalk Bridge and Trail. Halfway across the converted railway bridge you can pause at a viewing platform and admire the majestic Androscoggin River. The trail from the Auburn side of the bridge brings you to Lewiston Falls. Along the way you can try your hand at being a human sundial. Elsewhere you’ll chance upon whimsical art installations like black iron shoes climbing orange-cobbled stairs.
- Roy Hill Mill: If you love history then this 1850’s industrial courtyard will take your breath away. This brick masterpiece had me longing for the Halifax downtown of yesteryear, back when the Nova Scotia capital threatened visitors with character and mystery at every turn.
- Canals: The downtown canals are embowered with trees and shrubs that reflect in the slack water. These channels are always gorgeous, but even more so in the fall. Here and there you’ll find rusted steel footbridges that once clattered with the shoes worn by thousands of mill workers.