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Finding Fort Andross: A closer look inside Brunswick’s former textile mill
Sitting squarely at the end of Maine Street, Fort Andross anchors our town’s commercial district.
Bowdoin students don’t make too many trips to the Fort. We go for the flea market—some for the farmers’ market—and often to Frontier for movies and coffee. But throughout the building, one finds over 100 of businesses of all types. It might be Brunswick’s premiere office building—but it’s also mixed use, home to artists’ studios, a soda manufacturer, three exercise businesses and a multi-floor self storage business.
We are fascinated by the mill’s present residents but also by the mill’s history and its continual role as an economic engine in our community. In this issue, we hope to bring you inside the Fort. You’ll find stories that cover the scope—profiles of businesses, spaces and artists, a visual timeline —but don’t cover everything. There’s so much to explore.
We hope this special edition sheds some light on this important element of our community.
A special thank you to all those who helped make this possible. We would like to acknowledge Anthony Gatti and Coleman Burke of Waterfront Maine, Scott Hanson and the everyone who works in Fort Andross and keeps it a lively place.
Four floors of evenly-spaced windows tower over the Androscoggin River. The faded brick structure stands firm, bookending Maine Street just before Topsham. Though unassuming from the exterior, Fort Andross is a place bustling with motion – hundreds of individuals enter and exit every day, each with a unique purpose.
For many, Cumberland Self Storage signifies transition: a temporary place to store belongings. But for the past 11 years, Manager Steve Howe has been a constant friendly face to greet and help customers.
“A lot of people think it’s dull and boring—you just sit on your butt all day long and don’t do anything—but that’s not the case.
Every Saturday from November to May, vendors selling goods from freshly-harvested mushrooms to homemade body lotions shuffle in to fill the first floor of Fort Andross with their colorful stalls. This is the Brunswick Winter Market, where the vendors are as eclectic and versatile as they are passionate about their craft—whether it is cheese- and butter-making, coffee roasting or knife sharpening.
Next door to the Winter Market is the Waterfront Flea Market. In fact, customers have to walk past the flea market to get to the winter market. A lot of people pause before the flea market, look, a bit confused and intrigued, at the couple of mismatched chairs out front, but many just continue to the other market.
John Bisbee has exclusively welded nails for the past 32 years.
“I thought it was just a little phase, and it wasn’t,” said the artist in his riverside Fort Andross workshop, where he has worked since 1996.
Leaning back comfortably in a well-worn chair, Jim Bleikamp describes how he has gone “über-local.”
The president of Radio 9 WCME, housed in the heart of Fort Andross and found at AM 900, he says, “You could tune in to the station every hour and figure that the Northern boundary of the world is maybe Rockland and the Southern boundary is Freeport.
With a median age of 44.5 years, Maine is the oldest state in the United States. An aging population presents a variety of challenges. Brunswick itself has three senior housing facilities, one of which is Mid Coast Senior Health Center.
Any north-facing windows at Fort Andross provide a full view of the Brunswick dam, a massive concrete structure on the Androscoggin River with a capacity 19,000 kilowatt-hours, according to the Maine Governor’s Energy Office. Today’s dam is hydroelectric, owned by Brookfield Renewable, a subsidiary of the international asset management company, but dams have shaped Brunswick’s development for centuries—the first was built in 1753 to serve the town’s sawmills.
Deborah Todd crafts every one of her colorful ceramic tiles by hand, from start to finish, through a process she invented at the start of her career 37 years ago as the apprentice to a potter in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Hidden in the basement of Fort Andross, First Class Fitness & MMA is easily overlooked by many of the Fort’s visitors.
“Fort Andross is such a giant building that a lot of people don’t really know we’re there,” said owner John Raio.
Rather than continuing to work in biology laboratories post-graduation, Ian Trask ’05 opted to pick up trash. After winding his way through various jobs, he ended up as a groundskeeper at a hospital in Massachusetts, cleaning parking lots and he ultimately deciding to use trash as a medium for art.