Historic Photos Taken by Steamboat Captain Now Available to Public
In the 1890’s, Kennebec River steamboat captain James E. Perkins taught himself to take photographs with a 4”x 5” view camera using glass plate negatives. He often set up his tripod and large wooden camera with its squeeze-bulb activated shutter on the deck of his steamboat. These photographs, many of which were taken from the deck of a steamboat of views that a shore-bound photographer could never have made, make this collection unique.
“Capt. Perkins loved Popham Village where he grew up. He wanted to capture the feeling of the place and the era of steamboats, which took people to Bath, Boothbay, Boston and Augusta. He could see this way of life disappearing during his lifetime,” says Penobscot Marine Museum Photography Curator Kevin Johnson. “He sailed up and down the Kennebec River and photographed crowds waiting at the dock for a steamboat, harbors full of boats, houses filled with Victorian furniture, the shoreline, musicians, people swimming, cats sleeping, dogs barking, men plowing with horses and his friends and family. He wanted to create a record of the way life was. And he did.”
At age fifteen, Captain Perkins was hired as first mate on the steam tug ADELIA. The next summer he became the first mate on the PERCY V, and in 1889 he became its captain, making Perkins at age 22 the youngest captain on the Kennebec River. He later became captain of the DAMARIN, EL DORADO, ISLAND BELLE, WINTER HARBOR, ISLESFORD, and, finally, SABINO, before retiring. The SABINO is still in operation at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, where it is preserved as an example of a large steam-powered watercraft.
Captain Perkins died in 1935, and his widow Sybil stored his negatives in their attic for the next ten years. Sybil’s niece Jane was interested in photography and when she was entrusted with the glass plate negatives she enlisted the help of Dr. Allen Milbury, Director of Educational Media from the University of Maine who taught her to print them. Most importantly, after printing the negatives Jane researched the images, identifying the people and places, and their historical significance. In doing this she preserved knowledge of the area and its people that would have otherwise been lost. In 1974 she published the photographs in the book One Man’s World: Popham Beach, Maine.
In 2012 Penobscot Marine Museum received this collection of over five hundred, mostly glass plate negatives, and now this visual historic record of the people and places of Popham Beach and the Kennebec River is available online to historians, researchers, students and the public at www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org. The photographs are also available for purchase.
For more information contact Penobscot Marine Museum at 207-548-2529 or go online www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org.