How a chance meeting a century ago at 173 Main St. in Waterville launched a career, and lifelong connection, to Colby

As a teenager, Lewis Lester Levine, Colby Class of 1916, stood on the sidewalk in front of what was then the Waterville Savings Bank every Sunday, peddling newspapers. Levine, who grew up in a very modest household in the city’s North End, had regular customers who chatted with him and left him a tip.

One of those customers was Colby President Arthur Roberts, who took an interest in the newsboy who stood in front of 173 Main St. in the rain and cold. “He’d always say to him, ‘How are you doing? How are your classes?’” recalled Judy Levine Brody ’58, Levine’s daughter and former associate dean of admissions at Colby.

Waterville Savings Bank building at 173 Main St., circa 1920.

Architects rendering of 173 Main St.

Top: Waterville Savings Bank building at 173 Main St., circa 1920. Bottom: Renovations are complete at 173 Main Street, future home of CGI’s Waterville office.

Brody said her father replied that he was working hard at Waterville High School, doing his homework. “President Roberts said something like, ‘If you do well, you can come to Colby College.’ And my father’s reaction was, ‘Oh, no, no. My parents can’t send me to college.’ President Roberts said, ‘We’ll make it possible. You work hard and you’ll come.’”

Lewis Levine did just that, graduating from Colby, working as a high school principal in New Hampshire, attending Boston University Law School, and founding a successful law practice in Waterville. When Waterville Savings Bank put 173 Main St. up for sale in 1947, the one-time newsboy bought it and moved his law offices to the third floor. (Joining him for a time were his sons and fellow attorneys Fred Levine ’68 and Julius Levine, and his son-in-law, Judy Brody’s late husband, Morton Brody. Brody went on to a distinguished career as a state and federal judge and is honored with the annual Brody Award at Colby.) Lewis Levine sold the building to Robert Hains in 1986.

“My father loved the building,” Brody said. Levine also loved Colby, and marked his gratitude to President Roberts by endowing the Julius and Rachel Levine Speaking Contest and a room in then-Roberts Union in honor of his parents. “It was really because he felt that that president made it possible for him to get the kind of education that launched him,” Brody said.

The Levine Building, as is still inscribed in a tile mosaic in its foyer (and later the Hains Building), was a thriving office block in its heyday—an anchor for the bustling downtown. Designed by architect William Butterfield, a Waterville resident who went on to a successful career designing buildings throughout New England, the block of gray brick and limestone was constructed on the downtown corner by Waterville Savings Bank. Completed in 1903, it was the first building in Waterville to use reinforced concrete floors and was considered fireproof.

According to documents supplied by Jay Violette ’81, vice president for TD Bank, (successor to Waterville Savings) and president of the Waterville Historical Society, the building opened in 1904, with the bank occupying the north side of the first floor. A variety of professional offices filled the upper floors, including, over time, doctors, a dentist, accountants, a beauty salon, a billiard parlor, the YMCA, and the Christian Civic League, among others.

 

A printing business operated in the capacious basement; one of the original presses is still there. Elsewhere in the building historic details remain, including the ornate bank vault, wood-paneled stairwell, and a steel-gated elevator once operated by an attendant, all preserved during Colby’s renovation of the property.

Brody recently toured the building with Colby Director of Commercial Real Estate Paul Ureneck, exclaiming as she observed a hand-lettered sign that listed the building’s occupants, including her father’s law office, and the modern iteration of the redesigned office and retail spaces.

“This,” she said, “is beautiful.”