We all hear it, and it’s boring to everyone unless they’re the one doing it: cranking on about how the old hometown has changed so much and it’s not as good as it was in the good old days.

Augusta has changed over the past four decades. More on the outer fringes than the inner core.

The litmus test I use for true Augusta change is my first Kennebec Journal paper route area.

While the good old days of my 1970s childhood have some fond Augusta memories, a lot of the changes in that microcosm are for the better.

The area, roughly bordered by Laurel Street, State Street, Winthrop Street and Water Street, is one of the city’s older sections. Not a lot of development or new things there, because there’s nowhere to put it.

The housing stock is aging. The wooden apartment houses and little bungalows were already old when I delivered papers there 42 years ago. When Augusta city officials, landlords and residents met Tuesday night to talk about improving code enforcement in the city, that area came to mind.

In the past few years, there have been several fires on my old paper route, including two major ones right on the corner where I picked up the bundle of papers in the morning at Laurel and State.

There’s been a high-profile homicide — Justin Pillsbury is charged with stabbing Jillian Jones — the November 2013 killing still dragging along in the courts.

The stabbing happened on Crosby Street, and as I’ve written before, anyone who thinks Augusta is worse now crimewise than in the 1970s wasn’t paying much attention back then. Crosby Street hasn’t changed much.

Other things have. I delivered papers to the YMCA on the corner of Winthrop and State streets.

If someone had told me 40 years ago that the Y would go out with such a fizzle, I never would have believed it. The impressive brick building commanded that corner, even though it competed with the classic beauty of Lithgow Library and the stately Kennebec County courthouse.

But once the new Y was built on Union Street behind Capitol Park (the outer fringes of my second paper route), the vacant building couldn’t find a taker and was finally torn down two years ago.

I also delivered papers to correctional officers at the Kennebec County jail. They always tipped well and were full of jokes.

Also missing from the route is the Capitol Theater, which was upstairs in a block of buildings at the edge of Market Square at the corner of Winthrop and Water streets. I used to throw the rolled-up newspaper up the art deco black and yellow-tiled staircase. I loved that staircase.

I delivered downtown’s newspapers, including to Lamey-Wellehan shoes and department stores including Chernosky’s and Farrell’s. Sometimes I’d sell “extra copies” to millworkers who were either going to or leaving the Edwards mill farther up the street.

This time of year, I also always think about the yearly spring river flood and how my brother and I one morning stood on the wooden staircase down to Front Street next to the post office and rode it like a bronco as waves from the river bounced it up and down.

My route ended on Water Street, and I used to finish up by buying a Boston Globe at the little store that also was the city’s Greyhound station. While the store isn’t there anymore, there’s a happy ending. Visage salon occupies the space, and it’s where I get my hair done.

After buying the paper, I’d go across the street to Arlyne’s Bakery, a storefront that’s now part of Augusta Pawn and Jewelry. I’d buy a half-dozen chocolate chip cookies and an orange soda for breakfast — who says kids don’t make good food decisions? — before climbing up the Water Street hill back to home on Green Street.

Kids don’t deliver newspapers anymore; that’s changed, too.

While it’s probably for the best, today’s kids will never know that feeling of being out when the rest of the city is asleep. Feeling like you owned it, and watching it wake up.

As great as that was, there was one spot that always gave me the willies. No, not Crosby Street. The crumbling parking lot behind the court house with a rickety wooden staircase that went down a heavily wooded embankment to Water Street. Sometimes I’d shortcut down those stairs, depending on how I was doing the route that morning.

There were often people there. Sleeping under the stairs or lurking, watching in the trees.

No one ever bothered me, but I was 12 and old enough to know they could if they wanted to.

One of the best changes on the route is what’s happened to that spot.

Monday, behind the courthouse, the new Capital Judicial Center opened (knowing Augusta, we’re already just calling it the “new courthouse”).

The beautiful thing is they’ve kept the stately old courthouse, and the new addition brings Kennebec County justice into the 21st century while still fitting in with the 130-year-old courthouse.

The effort to make it more than just a government building brings it over the top.

With a push from the Maine Arts Commission, four artists are being featured, the highlight a mural by artist Christopher Cart.

So this isn’t one of those old-timers’ columns about how everything was so much better 40 years ago and lamenting all the changes.

The view of Augusta from that old paper route still looks pretty good, maybe even better.

Maureen Milliken is news editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected]. Twitter: @mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.


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