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Early Maine Photography

Landscape Photography

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The Maine Historical Society Collection includes several major examples of outdoor photography. Of these, four daguerreotypes and an ambrotype of Portland streets scenes of the 1840s and 50s rank among the earliest photographs of the city.

Firemen’s musters and parades were important public events in nineteenth century Maine cities and towns, in which local fire companies created pride in their purpose by displaying their new equipment and handsome uniforms. Such an event in Portland was recorded by the camera on September 30, 1846. The next day the Advertiser reported:

The firemen paraded yesterday as previously announced. The apparatus of the department appeared to be in good order, and the personnel are certainly most promising. A more invincible body of men could not be readily found. Several of the companies were subjected to the daguerreotype – with what success we have not learnt.

Daniel Fox building, Portland, ca. 1850
Daniel Fox building, Portland, ca. 1850Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Three views taken that day survive. The original daguerreotype of Casco Engine Company No. 1 is shown here, while the images of Niagara No. 9 and the entire muster exist in later copies. Photographers George S. Hough and Charles J. Anthony, then at 112 Middle Street, almost certainly made this remarkable series of daguerreotypes. Dated to the very minute by the presence of a clock, they not only record an event in Portland history, but provide detailed photographic views of what was then the city’s principal thoroughfare. Middle Street’s small frame and brick houses and buildings, the domed granite Merchants Exchange, and the Second Parish Church have long vanished, but their images remain in this set of pictures.

Ruins of the Merchants' Exchange Building, Portland, 1854
Ruins of the Merchants' Exchange Building, Portland, 1854Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

One of the finest views of an early Maine commercial building is the daguerreotype of the Fox Building at Middle and Exchange Streets in Portland, which was taken by Samuel L. Carleton before the fire destroyed the structure in 1851. Probably built by the Fox family in the 1790s, the two story wooden hip-roofed building housed the grocery business of Daniel Fox and his son Daniel Fox, Jr. At the time of this photograph, the Foxes leased ground floor space to attorney Charles Harding and Dr. Luther Finch, Jr. The Fox family replaced their old building in 1852-53 with a four story brick commercial block that burned in the Great Fire of 1866. The site is now occupied by a small park.

Considered the finest Greek Revival public building north of Boston, the Merchants Exchange was built at Middle and Exchange Streets in Portland from designs by the Boston architect Richard Bond. Local businessmen conceived this elegant $135,000 granite structure with its Ionic columns and saucer dome as a new state capitol that would bring state government back to Portland from Augusta. When this failed, the Excahnge became the city’s U.S. Custom House. After standing only fifteen years, the Exchange burned on January 8, 1854. Shortly thereafter, Samuel L. Carleton made this stark record of its gutted stone shell so damaged by the heat of the fire that demolition was the only alternative. Between 1854 and 1965 two more Federal buildings would occupy the site, which is now Post Office Park.