A table in our living room is covered these days with several old photo albums. They’re from a time when photographic portraits were kept in heavy volumes with velvet covers, and pages were thick cardboard frames.

The old photos are spread out there because Judy, my wife, is deep in genealogical research, and the photos that used to fill big trunks in our old house are bringing our history to life.

As Judy discovers unexpected branches in the family tree, and as I continue to do research on our 150-year-old farm and its surroundings, those pictures of people from our past become fascinating links to diaries and old maps.

There were many entries in the 100-year-old family diaries about trips to town, winter and summer, for “picture-taking.” Now, it’s easy to see that the “old folks” placed great value on this extraordinary image-making, and they took care to pass those pictures on.

One of the columns written by my aunt Edith Labbie in the Lewiston Evening Journal (Sept. 11, 1965) describes her fascination with a map of the Twin Cities from 1897.

“Folks must have had a real passion for having their pictures taken, as there were seven ‘photo rooms’ along Lisbon Street and more in the surrounding area,” she wrote.

That map and its business ads were what she called “snapshots” of old Lewiston at the intersection of Main and Lisbon streets, known then as Haymarket Square.

“Like an archeologist who can recognize the era of artifacts by the geological layer it was found in, so can a historian tell about the period a map was made by the listings of the business establishments,” she said.

So, imagining that she was strolling that long-gone downtown, my aunt described the early days of “the head of the street.”

The junction of Lisbon and Main streets was called Haymarket Square for good reason: Around the mid-1900s, there was a large hay storage barn and feed store where the Sears & Roebuck and JC Penney stores stood. That’s near the present site of L.L. Bean and state offices.

“Across the street at 173 Main St., where the Syndicate Clothing Store used to be located, was a large harness factory,” she said. “The broad, open square was lined in the early morning with racks of hay and carts of wood brought in by the farmers.

“In back of Lisbon and Main streets were several livery stables where horses could be put up for the day. In those days, the horses were fed instead of anonymous parking meters.”

She pointed out that blacksmith shops were as numerous at that time as gasoline stations are these days. “Paved roads were destructive to horses feet,” she wrote.

On Bates Street, behind the Dingley School, was a large stable and shed where the city street cleaning equipment and horses were kept, her account said. 

“Sanitation required quite a crew, for horses left very tangible evidence of their presence and ladies of those days wore long sweeping skirts. It was a continual chore to keep the streets clean.”

Lisbon Street establishments noted on the map include the Music Hall, which at street level was later occupied by the Lewiston Hardware Co. The seating capacity of this theater on the second floor was 1,300. A sprinkler system protected the drop curtain.

There were two jewelry stores, two millinery shops and a dry goods store on the street level beneath the theater.

The large George H. Curtis Livery stable was near the Park Street location of Victor News. Ash and Middle streets was the strategic location of Hotel Leo, she noted.

Gone also are the many coal and wood sheds necessary to provide fuel for the thriving city of Lewiston.

So, while the old photographs in fancy albums show us the “who” of many years ago, the maps give us the “what” and “where.”

You have to wonder what will become of the countless photos taken these days on digital cameras. How will future generations identify the people in the images of 2016? And what’s that thing called GPS that guided people from place to place?

Yes, one day, we will be the subject of “the good old days.”

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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