Main Street, Searsport

PMM General Collection

The earliest known view of Searsport, Maine, depicts Main Street looking north. If you walk out the front door of Penobscot Marine Museum’s Whitcomb-Pendleton building and look to the right, you will see the same scene. Many of the buildings still stand, though the streets are now paved and telephone and electrical wires cross the street above. This photo was most likely taken in the 1850’s and is a daguerreotype. It was unusual for photographers to make daguerreotypes of landscape scenes, instead using them primarily for portraiture in the more controlled environment of the photographer’s studio.

The street seems almost deserted save for a few horses and wagons, but if you look carefully, you can see the blur of someone who paused just long enough to be captured in the long exposure. You can clearly read the signs on the store on the right advertising “Ready Made Clothing” and “Drugs and Medicines”, which should give a clue that something is not right with this image. A daguerreotype is a direct positive process and produces a mirrored image (reversed left to right), which should make the lettering appear backwards. Apparently this is a “copy daguerreotype”—in other words, a daguerreotype of a daguerreotype.

Why Main Street, Searsport?
The oldest known photograph of our home town is special indeed. The rarity of landscape daguerreotypes reinforces the decision.

Audio Commentary