It happened at breakfast.

One moment I was talking to Joanne and the next I was down in the South End at the Cobb Butler Boatyard. The year was 1907 and they were launching a 295-foot 6-masted schooner. I had never seen a wooden boat that big. There were between 6,000 and 10,000 people according to The Courier-Gazette reporter writing in his notebook next to me. The Rockland Military Band was aboard this massive vessel playing a song everyone knew (except for me).

I asked a well-dressed gentleman from Stonington the name of the boat. He smiled and said, “She is the Mertie B. Crowley, and is the finest kind.” The next thing I knew every steam whistle in Rockland went off in unison, and the Crowley slid down the ways, slick as a smelt.

Suddenly I heard Joanne tell me about Franklin Street. I was back at the breakfast table. Safely back from my little trip. What took me away was one of seven remaining giant photographs that have ended up scattered around our fair city.

In the 1970s the Sampson’s Grocery store on Park Street (where Walgreens is today) gave way to Ted’s Save More. This all-new store was set apart from every other one by eight grand photos from the 1870s to early 1900s, blown up to 5-feet tall and 4-feet wide. All were ruggedly framed in white oak. As Rocklanders shopped, the giant photos looked down from up high. Imagine reaching for a dozen eggs and ending up in the Cobb Butler Boatyard for a moment.

The photos were made from large format negatives, which allowed very high resolution. When the images were created for Ted’s in the 1970s they easily blew up to 5-foot-tall images that were still highly detailed. When Ted’s closed the eight giant pictures were scattered around the city. Four of them were in the balcony of the Reading Corner (now Loyal Biscuit) for many years.

Here is my account of the seven photos that remain. (One was lost to a leaky roof and was beyond saving.)

City Hall Chambers: Two photos.

A rooftop image of a very muddy Main Street looking north past the steeples of the First Baptist Church, and just beyond it the Congregational Church. At the very top of the photo you can make out the Rankin Block. We know that Main Street was paved in 1899, helping to date this image.

Also in the Council Chambers is a photo of the Custom House Block alongside the telegraph office. Horses hitched to wagons line the streets. Judging by the streets, these pictures were taken in the same era as the first photo.

Rockland Fire Station meeting room: One photo.

A picture of a horse-drawn fire wagon with helmets lined up across the top. It is in front of the Americus H & L Co. (hook and ladder) on Spring Street, now Museum Street. A solemn teamster has the reins of a pair of horses, one a handsome dapple gray.

Americus Hook and Ladder Company

Rockland Cafe: Four photos.

The first picture you see is one taken in later times, with paved streets and a trolly line down the middle of Main Street. This photo is taken from the intersection of Park and Main and shows the Hotel Rockland’s bold portico, and beyond it the Spear Block East. These two great structures have never been seen by many of us as they were destroyed in the great fire of December 12, 1952.

The next photo looks south from the Thorndike Hotel with the Singi Block on the left and on to the Berry Brother’s stable further on the left.

The third photo looks back the other way from the Singhi Block back toward the Thorndike Hotel. Streets of mud.

The fourth image is the launch of the Mertie B. Crowley. This amazing photo is dated for us: August 24, 1907. There is so much going on in this picture. I must go back…

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

Launching of Mertie B. Crowley.