This past April, the historic Wiseman Bridge, which spans 72 feet across the canal at Chestnut Street in Lewiston, was closed for $52,000 in scheduled maintenance.
According to the National Bridge Inventory Data Sheet submitted by the Maine Department of Transportation in 2011, Wiseman Bridge is extremely rare, one of only three known remaining reinforced-concrete, tied-through rainbow arch bridges in the entire state.
This bridge and others like it were designed by renowned state bridge engineer Llewellyn Edwards. In addition to his innovative use of the cast and built-up steel shoe, the Chestnut Street bridge also reflects Edwards’s avant-garde approach to bridge engineering aesthetics, where form and function merged to create structures both attractive and utile.
According to the Maine Department of Transportation Bridge Survey conducted in 2004, the other two Maine rainbow arch bridges are located at Norridgewock (circa 1928) and Blue Hill (circa 1926). A fourth example in Farmington (circa 1928-1929) was destroyed in the 1987 flood.
The rainbow arch design, also extremely uncommon nationwide, is distinct from other concrete deck arch bridges for revealing its lovely curves to those who cross the bridge, not just those who pass beneath it… Which, in this case, would require a shallow rowboat and probably earn you a citation for trespassing.
The bridge was built in 1927 after then Mayor Wiseman and Lewiston alderman deemed the previous wooden bridge unsafe. It officially opened in 1928, after a particularly fierce winter, to much public fanfare. Today, after a month of repairs, it is once again open to both foot and vehicle traffic, and remains eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
When crossing as a pedestrian, you might notice a bronze plaque on the portal arch ribs that face Canal Street.
This plaque is the official dedication notice, which was placed on the bridge Thursday, May 17, 1928, to honor Dr. Robert J. Wiseman, Lewiston’s first Franco-Canadian mayor.
Dr. Wiseman, born June 26, 1871 at Princeville, province of Quebec, Canada, was the son of Anne (Thomas), of Irish descent, and George A., an esteemed baker originally from Scotland. Reports claim he was orphaned young and lived with his sister, receiving his early education in the Lewiston public school system.
Wiseman started working in local mills at age 13, but still managed to earn his bachelor’s degree from Bates College. He married Rose Cyr, also of Lewiston, on May 15, 1893 and together they had five children. In 1903, at the age of 32, Wiseman earned his medical degree from Bowdoin College and subsequently started his own medical practice, becoming a prominent local physician. He and his family lived at 81 Pine Street (at Blake St.) in Lewiston.
In 1914, after two unsuccessful campaigns in 1911 and 1913, Wiseman was elected mayor of Lewiston as an independent (then called the “Fusionist Party” which meant different things in different states but has an interesting history in Maine politics). He went on to serve as mayor of Lewiston for nine, two-year terms in 1914, 1925-29 and 1933-35, and he focused on public works and the economy.
One example of his public works projects can be seen in a proclamation he published in the Lewiston Evening Journal on April 27, 1927, sponsoring a Clean-Up, Paint-Up Week. In the article, he outlined 11 programs to improve property values and business development and foster community spirit: The article urges Lewistonites to repair their homes, mow and improve vacant lands, and renovate and renew public buildings, among other civic initiatives. His ideas mirror the Broken Window Theory 55 years before social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published it in The Atlantic Monthly in March 1982. Unfortunately, he is no longer around to debate the efficacy of his clean-up program.
In November 1942, Wiseman went into St. Mary’s General Hospital for an abdominal growth and never recovered. He is buried at St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery on a small rise with a gorgeous view of the Androscoggin River, along with many other members of his family.
Coe, H. B. (1928). Maine, resources, attractions, and its people; a history. New York: Lewis historical Pub.
Kirk, G., & Barrows, G. (1982). Historic Lewiston: Its government. Auburn, ME: CMVTI.
To Name Wiseman Bridge at Elaborate Ceremony. (1928, May 14). Lewiston Evening Journal, p. 12. Retrieved May 21, 2016, from https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=oQQVFBP0nzwC&dat=19280515&printsec=frontpage&hl=en
[National Bridge Inventory Data Sheet]. (2011). Unpublished raw data. HistoricBridges.org
Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers and Maine Department of Transportation, “Maine DOT Historic Bridge Survey, Phase II Final Report & Historic Context. 2004” (2004). Transportation Documents. Paper 33. http://statedocs.maine.gov/mdot_docs/33