In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Early Maine Photography

Landscape Photography

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.

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.

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.

Taken in 1845 or 1846, this view of buildings on Exchange Street in Portland is one of Maine’s oldest datable outdoor photographs. The handsome Federal style block in the center was built for the Maine Fire and Marine Insurance Company in 1803-04 from plans by Alexander Parris. Lowell and Senter’s jewelry was located on the first floor and the Bank of Cumberland on the upper two stories. To the right was the printing establishment of Thurston, Foster and Company. Everything in this scene was destroyed twenty years later in the Great Fire of 1866.

This ambrotype captures a sunny winter day on Middle Street in Portland during the 1850s. Merchants display their goods in front of their shops, and sleighs are parked at the sidewalk. Brick commercial blocks at the right are dominated by the new Mussey’s Row near the corner of Temple Street. Built by merchant John Mussey to replace an earlier block of the same name, this handsome four story brick building with cast iron fronts and window caps was constructed in 1852 from designs by the local architect Thomas J. Sparrow. The view up Middle Street ends with City Hall in Market Square, now the site of the statue in Monument Square. At the far left is seen the tower of the Free Will Baptist Church on Casco Street and Commodore Edward Preble’s house at Congress and Preble Streets prior to its expansion into a hotel in 1859. This photograph was taken between the completion of Mussey’s Row in 1852 and the alteration of the Preble House in 1859.

An ambrotype of Richmond’s Island in Cape Elizabeth shows the newly constructed retirement home of longtime Portland physician James M. Cummings. The doctor built this island farm in 1856. The previous year Solomon Hanscomb and his two sons discovered a jug filled with fifty-two sixteenth and seventeenth century gold and silver coins and a gold wedding-signet ring while plowing the island’s northwest slope. Historian William Willis assigned original ownership of the treasure to the seventeenth century Richmond’s Island trader Walter Bagnall, and the precious artifacts were acquired by the Maine Historical Society. This ambrotype of the island by the Portland photographer George M. Howe provides an excellent view of Dr. Cumming’s property and commemorates a major historical discovery.

Communities beyond the Portland area are also represented in the Society’s early outdoor photographs, as reflected in street scenes in South Paris and Athens. A South Paris tintype of about 1860 shows eleven members of the Bemis family standing adjacent to the store of merchant Hiram Hubbard. In contrast to the tidy appearance of Main Street, South Paris is the frontier quality of Athens’ vernacular commercial buildings with a barn under construction in the background. Prominent in this ambrotype are the one story shop shared by harness and saddle maker J. B. Tuttle and boot and show maker G. L. Jewett and the two and a half story establishment of E. B. Dunton, a millinery and fancy goods dealer.

Two Maine related outdoor images in the Collection were taken out of state. In 1853 the White Mountain guide Joseph A. Hall proposed to Abner Lowell, a Portland jeweler and mountain enthusiast, a plan for a carriage road to the summit of Mount Washington. Eight years later in August, 1861, the Mount Washington Carriage Road Company opened the road to the top. This rare glass stereo view shows Abner Lowell seated atop Mount Washington at the center of a group of visitors to the summit. Given that glass stereo views were made in America between 1854 and 1862, it is possible that this view was taken during the August, 1861 opening of the road.

A daguerreotype of a white columned Greek Revival house is believed to be the Mobile, Alabama home of Kiah Bailey Sewall and his wife Lucretia Bailey Sewall, the daughter of Portland merchant Ezekial Day. A Bowdoin educated attorney, Kiah Sewall practiced law in Mobile for two decades before the Civil war. Despite financial loss and personal risk, the Sewalls chose to remain in Mobile during the war as Union loyalists.