Glass-plate negatives offer stroll through Aroostook history

Houlton resident John Bushey discovered a number of old glass plate negatives buried in an attic on Court Street. He has had prints made from the negatives depicting scenes from 1879 to the 1920s from Houlton, Hodgdon and the surrounding communities. Several of the photos are on display at Houlton Regional Hospital.
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Houlton resident John Bushey discovered a number of old glass plate negatives buried in an attic on Court Street. He has had prints made from the negatives depicting scenes from 1879 to the 1920s from Houlton, Hodgdon and the surrounding communities. Several of the photos are on display at Houlton Regional Hospital.
Posted Oct. 05, 2013, at 1:14 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Taking a stroll through the halls of Houlton Regional Hospital during the month of October is akin to taking a step back in time thanks to a display of old photographs depicting scenes from Houlton and the surrounding communities from 1879 to 1920.

The photographs, which were created from glass-plate negatives that were stored in an attic by Houlton resident John Bushey, are from the personal collection of Ed Vail. A bankruptcy referee in Aroostook County for more than 40 years, Vail was born in Hodgdon in 1864 and died in 1948.

“I found four suitcases full of these glass-plate negatives while appraising a home on Court Street,” Bushey explained. “They were in this attic for more than 40 years. I really felt they needed to stay here in Houlton.”

Bushey has spent the past five years making prints of the photos. Because the images were on glass negatives, finding a place to print them was not easy. He found a print shop in Portland that was able to reproduce the images and has slowly been going through the many boxes, making prints of the more interesting scenes.

Ed Vail and his brothers Frank and Anson took all of the photographs, which feature scenes from Houlton, Hodgdon and other communities in southern Aroostook County. Frank Vail owned Vail’s Store in Hodgdon.

“Ed and his two brothers loved the outdoors and when cameras became portable, they became amateur photographers, capturing many camping, hunting, fishing and travel adventures,” Bushey said. “Ed followed in the footsteps of E.B. White and Mr. [Walter] Mansur, who proved how special outdoor photography was.”

Included with the glass negatives were many of the original photographs, detailing what the photos were of or who was in them. Vail also kept a daily journal of events, which Bushey has used to match many of the photographs to corresponding journal entries.

“It has taken a long time to piece all of the details together, but it’s been worth it,” Bushey said. “Many of these photos have not been seen for more than 70 years.”

Some of the scenes include workers clearing a road in 1909 for what would become High Street; parades through downtown Hodgdon; and cedar mills and logging dams from around the area.

The photos can be found in four different areas in the hospital — the gift shop; check-in desk near the main lobby; the hallway leading to the lab; and the main lobby before entering the maternity ward. With more than 500 photos in his collection, Bushey will be changing the photos on display on a regular basis.

“I wanted to display these photos some place where people could come and reminisce,” Bushey said. “I also thought it would be a good way to help raise some money for the hospital.”

All of the prints on display are available for purchase and a portion of the proceeds will go to Houlton Regional Hospital.

For more information on the photos, contact Bushey at jjbushey1@yahoo.com.

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