The children stare obediently at the photographer as if they have been interrupted at play. Behind them, smoke rises from brick chimneys atop square, squat buildings. The camera is too far away to tell how the the boys and girls feel about having their picture taken.
Photographer Lewis Hines did not set up his camera in 1911 to take photos of children at leisure. Instead he captured their images as they were either on their way to or from work at one of the many sardine canneries that dotted the streets of Lubec and Eastport more than a century ago.
Hines shot the children in front of the American Can Co., the first mechanized tin can manufacturer in Lubec. His framed photograph is one of 33 taken throughout Washington County in the first half of the 20th century gathered in a traveling exhibit.
Called “Washington County Through Eastern’s Eye,” its first stop is the Cherryfield Public Library. Next month it will move to Steuben and be shown in other Down East towns throughout the year.
The pictures were gathered from the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Co. ’ s collection of 50,000 glass plate negatives preserved by the Penobscot Marine Museum. The photos were shot to be used as postcards from 1909 through the 1950s, according to Kevin Johnson, curator and photo archivist for the collection.
“In both Washington and Aroostook counties at the time Eastern was doing business, towns often were much bigger and busier than they are now,” Johnson said Friday. “There were jobs, mills and factories. They were more vibrant in a way than they are now. When you look at these photographs, it’s almost like time has stopped.”
Washington County is the third of Maine’s 16 counties be featured in a traveling collection of photographs, according to Johnson. The first one featured Waldo County, where the Penobscot Marine Museum is located in Searsport. That show was so successful that local funds were raised to create a similar exhibit of images taken in Knox County.
Funding from the National Endowment for the Arts helped finance the Washington County exhibit. That money also will allow photographs from three more counties — Hancock, Aroostook and Cumberland — to be printed, framed and displayed in those counties, Johnson said.
Research for the exhibit was conducted by museum volunteer Liz Fitsimmons, who worked with individuals and historical societies from virtually every Washington County community to create captions for the photographs, Johnson said. Many explain what happened to the people and buildings depicted.
Ed Hart’s caption tells the story of a Steuben building known as the “Willows.”
“The ‘Willows’ was an old home adjacent to the Wharf Road,” he wrote. “Built in 1785 by Dr. Ebenezer Handy, it was considered the oldest home in Steuben before it was destroyed by fire. Early owners of the home were Alonzo and Ellen (Moore) Smith.
“The date of this picture, based on the Model T Ford, is 1909 or 1910,” he continued. “The driver is Arthur Morris; in the front seat is Maurice Whitten and in the back seat, Ruth, Marion and Norma Davis and Janet Kelley, who was [two] years old. The car is significant because it is very early for Ford. The first Model T cars were built in 1909.
“Unfortunately, the house fell into disrepair and was destroyed in a controlled burn by the newly formed Steuben Fire Department at the Steuben Town Picnic and Fourth of July celebration in 1971,” he concluded.
The contributions of the local historians such as Hart cannot be emphasized enough, according to Johnson.
“The pictures are wonderful, but the captions are what really put meat on the bone,” he said.
Johnson will give an illustrated talk on the photos at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cherryfield Public Library, 35, Main St. The photos will be exhibited there through March 30. For information, call 546-4228. To view the entire collection online, visit http://penobscotmarinemuseum.org/eastern-illustrating-publishing-company/.