The temptation is to think of Waterville’s ongoing revitalization as a return to better days. Better days are indeed ahead. But they represent a new, vibrant downtown rather than a return to an earlier one.
I say this having arrived at Colby for the first time during one of the city’s periods of prosperity. Reporting the cover story for this issue, I found myself reminiscing with longtime Waterville residents about the Main Street we remembered. Shopping at Dunham’s of Maine, Sterns, Levine’s. Dining at the Last Unicorn and the Manor restaurants. Nights out at You Know Whose Pub and Silver Street Tavern.
It was all very nostalgic—but not the Main Street we will see very soon.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Waterville, or yours, for that matter. The downtown that is emerging with Colby’s leadership and collaboration is a different sort of community hub, one that we haven’t seen before. Hundreds of tech jobs at one end of Main Street, a hotel and new retail and residences at the other. And the defining piece of this new Elm City: a residential complex for 200 students, smack dab on Main Street, with spaces to share with the community.
In that sense this new downtown may harken to pre-World War II, when Colby was on College Avenue and students, staff, faculty, and alumni permeated Main Street. But just as Colby has changed since that time, so has the notion of just how a college can and should intersect with its community.
A little more than a year from now, capable and civic-minded students will live on Main Street and engage in all sorts of ways with the community. Those students will likely know the city in a very different way than many of their predecessors did. Relationships will become deeper and more meaningful as the communities overlap.
The city they share will be home to new retailers and entrepreneurs. People drawn to good jobs will settle in and shape the city in a new way. Some Colby graduates will choose to stay and be part of this rejuvenated community. The arts will become an even bigger presence. A city that once relied on manufacturing will have a new and diversified economic base. I can’t wait to see it happen.
There’s a grit and determination to this city that is a throwback to earlier times. Just as the city had persevered through boom times and downturns, Colby has done the same. The community that will soon take shape will incorporate the best of the past with the best of the present and future.
Gerry Boyle ’78, P’06