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Images of a romantic era
By Lynn Ascrizzi   - 04/22/2008

Kennebec Journal

Viewing stereo cards was a popular pastime in Victorian American parlors.

The cards were made of two photos of the same scene, side by side. When viewed through a stereoscope, the image appeared three-dimensional.

One of the hundreds of Maine photographers who marketed stereo cards from the 1860s through 1880s was Henry Bailey of Augusta.

Raised as a Quaker, Bailey was a man of modest means. Fortunately for us, he was also a prolific photographer. About 300 of his stereo views still exist, half of which depict Augusta. The rare photos give a marvelous glimpse of the state's capitol, its public buildings, homes, churches, parks, hospitals and citizens, and also of summer retreats in coastal regions of the state.

Now, 200 of his photos, along with 25 other vintage images, can be seen in the pictorial history, "Victorian Augusta," released last month by Arcadia Publishing.

The book was written, compiled and designed by Maine's state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., who, for more than 30 years, has been director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in Augusta.

"It gives a critical snapshot in time," Shettleworth said of photos that capture Augusta during the 20-year period following the Civil War.

"The camera was still fairly young, then . . . I wanted to show the work of one photographer and how a community could be illustrated through the eye of one person," he said.

Most of the Bailey photos came from the collection of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, stereo views once owned by the photographer and his family.

Besides the intrinsic value of the photos, readers will appreciate the fabulous attention Shettleworth has paid to his well-crafted photo captions, a virtue lacking in some Arcadia titles compiled by authors who were not historians.

Ferreting out needed historic facts took effort on his part, work he did on evenings and weekends.

"They (photos) were barely identified -- just a line of information on the back. Some were unidentified. I had to drive all over the city, hoping a house was still standing," he said.

The result is descriptive captions that sum up whole neighborhoods or lives -- each one, a mini-history lesson.

We learn, for instance, that by 1880, (Deane) "Pray's success as a clothing merchant on Water Street allowed his wife to furnish the formal family parlour with a costly piano and a display copy of the famous John Rogers statue, 'Going to the Parsons' on a marble-top center table."

Shettleworth points out the family Bible resting on that table and "a spittoon for chewing tobacco" standing by the table leg.

Besides turning to period histories and other resources, Shettleworth garnered a great deal of his material from old newspapers, namely The Maine Farmer (a now-defunct weekly) and The Kennebec Journal, which became a daily paper around 1870, he said.

"I sat down and read the newspapers from the whole period -- 20 years' worth -- and took notes. I would find a passing reference, date or name -- information that precisely aligned with the photo, and take notes," he said.

The newspapers also helped identify photos by Bailey that featured local current events like parades and train wrecks, images that filled a hunger for journalistic pictures "in a time when newspapers could not reproduce photographs," Shettleworth said.

"Victorian Augusta" can be found in local bookstores; copies are also available at the Kennebec Historical Society, 61 Winthrop St., Augusta, 622-4706.

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