A Walk Back in Time
Knox County — (Dear Readers, I may only post one picture here. The first picture I mention in this story is of present-day Main Street. Please use your imagination. Sorry, please ignore the caption with this picture. Of course Main Street doesn't look like this today.)
Several years ago they painted some kind of line down the sidewalks on Main Street to serve as a path for a “walking tour” of Rockland. The intention was to direct our summer visitors on a self-walking tour. The experiment didn’t work out too well as I remember. I don’t remember the reason why. Maybe the tourists asked too many questions the business people on Main Street couldn’t answer. Be that as it may, I think we may have the basics of a new walking tour in the works.
We already have a boardwalk left by MBNA and an extended walk along the waterfront in the South End. I think there are also plans in the works to expand that walkway. I would like to see it extended along the old Snows Shipyard, past the museum, and on over to the end of Rockland at its Southern end. Of course we still do have a working harbor, so it may be harder to do than I think.
At the Northern end of town I could see a walkway down at the end of Tillson Avenue perhaps and on up past the old lime works in the North End. I think there were lime kilns all along the waterfront at that time. Now it’s been a long time since I’ve seen what the waterfront really looks like, so I may just be talking out of the top of my head; but some enterprising person could possibly be convinced to work on it. The money being there for the project of course.
We also have a book called A Walk Along Main Street, by Ann Morris of the Rockland Historical Society, which I have reviewed before (see the January 2012 archives). It is a perfect book to carry with you as you make your tour along Main Street. There are also other books I can refer you to which I will list at the end of this blog.
As an amateur historian and known history nut, I have always been fascinated by novels that have to do with time travel. At the present time I am reading a novel by Michael Crichton called Timeline, which takes some people back to medieval France in what amounts to some kind of a telephone booth machine. They land in a place that is absolutely silent. No cars, no airplanes, no motors of any kind. Imagine what a world that would be.
One of my favorite books is Time and Again, by Jack Finney, who becomes involved in a U.S. Army experiment to see if it is feasible to send people back in time via self-hypnosis. The main character, Simon Morley, agrees to go back to the early 1880s in New York City where he ends up living in the Dakota, which actually existed then. What kind of world would that be?
I mention time travel here to project your thoughts towards a Main Street in Rockland, Maine in the 1880s to early 1900s. What would you see, smell, hear if you were suddenly taken back to that time and was standing on Main Street? For instance, take a look at these two pictures I found on the Rockland, Maine History Page on Facebook. The first one was taken in 2005 and the second I think would probably be in the early 1900s, based on what I see. Both pictures I believe are located in about the same place on Main Street.
What kind of world do you see in this picture? First I see the cobblestones and no kind of traffic control whatsoever. Traffic is going both ways. There is a horse and buggy traveling south I believe right in the middle of the street.
I figure the time is probably the early 1900s as it looks like an early motor-driven car is parked the wrong way on the left side of the street. It also looks like there may even be a license plate on the back.
If you were a man on the street this day like these two gentlemen how would you be dressed? It looks like the man in the suit has a bowler type hat on; probably a heavy woolen suit; probably a collar stay along with his bow tie.
Do you think the country fellow with a country-style felt hat on and probably cotton overalls is talking to the man in the suit? How would they know each other? Maybe a farmer talking to his banker? The farms at that time were moving west to “greener pastures.” Rockland was fast becoming an industrial area.
If you were standing on Main Street with these two gentlemen you may smell the smoke from the lime kilns along with the horse manure these horses were contributing.
You would hear the clop of horses’ hoofs on the cobblestones and the occasional putt putt sound from the few cars that were around then. In the sky you would hear only sea gulls, not airplanes.
If you took a walk down Main Street as seen here in the early 1900s you would see stores to cater to your every need. From clothing, shoe repairing, horse stables, farm and hardware equipment, etc. It was a thriving commercial community on the verge of many good times to come and, sadly, bad times also. Would you like to go back in time on Main Street in Rockland, if only for a day, to experience how people in those times lived? I would.
Imagine if you will (with my apologies to Rod Serling) if you were dressed in period clothing of the time and drove a car in the manner of Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future” down the Main Street like that depicted in the 2005 picture. Not as dramatic as Michael’s car, but just a regular car taking you on a shopping trip up on Main Street.
You drive down Main Street and suddenly you drive into the frame of the second picture of the early 1900s. Your car disappears and you have to get out of the middle of the street in a hurry before a horse and buggy runs you over.
What do you have on you in the way of money? There probably isn’t much paper money left from that era which you could take with you. Besides, the look of paper money has changed too much over the years. Coins would have to be dated for the era. The gold standard would probably no longer exist so gold coins would be out. You could perhaps have silver dollars and other modern coins with the proper dates on them.
Of course anything you might purchase wouldn’t cost as much as it does today. However, if your one-day excursion into the past were extended for some reason you would have to get a job right away to replenish your coin stash.
If you are a woman, your choices may be limited. Perhaps a maid or nanny for the wealthy families up on Talbot Avenue somewhere; or maybe a school marm. Jobs in the retail would not be accepted as well as any kind of office work. If you owned your own business, such as a millinery shop, you could be all right.
Let your imagination wander as you think about what the rest of your life would be like in this day and age. The times were simpler to be sure, even though things like “consumption” or tuberculosis existed then too. It would be fun to experience all that age had to offer up until the time you began to miss modern inventions like television and cell phones and the internet. I think it would be worth it though, don’t you?
If you would like to discover more of the history of Rockland, I can suggest several books from the Rockland Historical Society, or sometimes called The Shore Village Historical Society, which is what Rockland was once called. Also, please visit the Society located at the Rockland Public Library. They have many more artifacts and pictures they would gladly show you.
Thanks for listening.
Here are your references:
A Walk Along Main Street, Rockland, Maine, Ann Morris, Rockland Historical Society
Around Rockland, Images of America, The Shore Village Historical Society
Shore Village Album, The Shore Village Historical Society
Shore Village Story, The Shore Village Historical Society
Rockland Area Lime Industries, Courtney C. MacLachlan, David R. Hoch, Paul G. Merriam, Arcadia Publishing
You should be able to find all of the above at the Rockland Historical Society or at local bookstores.
Mechanic Street: Uncovering the History of a Maine Neighborhood, Eleanor Motley Richardson, Red Barn Publishing. Check local stores for this book.
Rockland, Maine’s Tidal Turn, John Bird, Maine Authors Publishing and John Bird, available at local book stores and at www.mainauthorspublishing.com . A more recent history of the resurgence of Main Street and Rockland because of local heroes.