Rockland 1875, via stereopticon

The original 3-D

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jul 18, 2014
Rockland Historical Society has several stereopticons in its collection, including this one made by Monarch.

Rockland — Maine is Vacationland and Rockland, despite its once much more industrial identity, has always been a tourist magnet. Proof of this is offered in a stereopticon slideshow featured this month, and available online forever, on Maine Memory Network, a digital museum or historical items and images.

Maine Memory Network is a project of Maine Historical Society and collaborates with town and city historical societies to gather and display photographs, tax records and more. Stereopticon slides comprise a mother lode of historical information mined by many a society, including Rockland’s.

“They’d been after us for quite a while,” said Ann Morris, curator of the Rockland Historical Society, based in the basement of Rockland Public Library.

Stereographs were taken using cameras with two side-by-side lenses. These double images, printed on cards, were mounted in a hand-held device with magnifying lenses for viewing.

“Because of the magnification and using both eyes, it’s almost 3-D,” said Morris of the popular Victorian amusement.

Some of the RHS members are avid collectors of local stereopticon cards, said Morris, so the society has a good-sized collection. Thirty-three of these cards are in the “Promoting Rockland through a Stereopticon, 1875” slideshow on Maine Memory Network, which has about 100 of the RHS cards in its searchable database. The show begins with a photo of one of the society’s stereopticons, a Monarch made of wood and pressed tin.

Stereo cards were big business in tourist destinations, sold in boxes that visitors could purchase and take home as a souvenir. Cards from Paris, London and New York are still collectible today. In Rockland, Frank Crockett, whose father Enos produced daguerreotypes, expanded the family business by taking and publishing stereo cards of Rockland. He photographed the city’s big hotels of the day — the Second Empire Lynde Hotel, later the St. Nicholas and Rockland (a victim of the 1952 fire); the Thorndike Hotel; and the Greek revival Lindsey House Hotel — as well as commercial buildings, quarries, kilns, wharves, schools, harbors and outlying farmland. Business was so good, Crockett hired James P. Armbrust to take the stereographs.

“Armbrust ended up living on Vinalhaven and had a quarry, the one near Armbrust Hill,” said Morris.

Armbrust’s strength lay in his streetscapes, and Rockland’s architecturally fine downtown and wealthy homes made for good subjects. Perhaps he had an assistant or just a hanger-on, but as his images were being scanned by Rockland librarians Dan O’Connor and Patty King and Rockland Historical Society member Kathy deRochemont, they noticed something intriguing.

“One of them said, the same man is standing in the street in all of Ambrust’s photographs,” said Morris.

The effort was funded by a grant from the Maine Memory Network. The images were catalogued and slideshow created by Morris. While one doesn’t get the stereopticon effect looking at the slideshow, there is a feature of special interest.

“You can zoom in and all around each image, read the signs and things like that,” said Morris.

The materials on Maine Memory Network may be viewed for free and copies can be purchased, as well; Rockland Historical Society receives 50 percent of the proceeds from sales. The “Promoting Rockland” is featured in July, but available on the website “forever,” said Morris. To see it, visit

J.P. Armbrust photographed 1870s-era Rockland’s Main Street looking south from School Street. One the left is office of The Rockland Opinion, a pro-labor newspaper established in 1875, in the Wilson & White Block. On the right is the Pillsbury Block, containing Eben B. Mayo, Dry Goods; and then the William A. Farnsworth building, the three-story Hewett Block and, across Spring Street, the three-story Moffit Block.
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