My research indicates that near the weekend of August 12-13, 1911, Lewis Hine traveled by train to Eastport, Maine, most likely from New York City. According to several local historians I talked to, he probably would have arrived at the railroad station on Washington Street. It has since been demolished, and its location is presently occupied by an IGA grocery store. It’s likely that Hine took a room at the Riverside, a downtown hotel on Water Street that overlooked the Passamaquoddy Bay and Seacoast Cannery factories #4 and #5. The hotel is also gone, the location now being occupied by the Motel East. Hine would spend almost a week in the city, taking more than 50 photographs of child laborers cutting and packing fish, and then he would board the train and head to New Bedford, Massachusetts to photograph children working in textile mills. He would continue this work, with few interruptions, for another six years.
On Sunday, August 8, 2010, just one week short of exactly 99 years later, my wife and I drove to Eastport from our home in Massachusetts. On Monday afternoon, we checked into the Kilby House Inn, just a few blocks north of where Hine had stayed. I was visiting Eastport for three reasons: to make a presentation at the Peavey Library about the Lewis Hine Project, to meet some of the descendants of Eastport child laborers I have researched, and to walk in the footsteps of the great Mr. Hine.
As soon as we unpacked, I grabbed my camera and headed to the city’s tiny downtown. Having seen many pictures of Eastport on the Web, and of course the Hine pictures, a lot looked familiar. But there’s nothing like being there to give you a sense of scale, to hear the unique sounds of the environment, and to feel the ground under your feet. It was amazing. There I was looking down Sea Street, where Hine frequently staked out the territory, waiting for young cannery workers he could capture with his camera.
One of the first things I wanted to do was find the house at 1 Eagle Street, where 8-year-old Phoebe Thomas was living the day she ran home screaming from work because she had cut her thumb badly. Somehow, Hine was right there when it happened. He caught her on Sea Street, just below what is now Motel East. In the photo, it looks like she was turning to head up Shackford St., which would have taken her to Water St., where she would have made a left and scampered down to Eagle Street. So that’s what I did. It took me two minutes, but I wasn’t running and screaming. I found the house and knocked on the door so I could let someone know that I wanted to take a picture of it. A woman opened the door.
“Hi, I’m Joe Manning,” I said, and I…” “Hi, Joe,” she interjected. “I’m Sally. I know who you are. I’m coming to your presentation tonight. I was just reading about you. Come on in.”
I spotted a copy of Counting On Grace on the kitchen table. That’s Elizabeth Winthrop’s book about Addie Card, a mill girl that Hine photographed in Vermont. That’s what got me started on this project. I told her why I wanted to photograph the house, and she was excited to learn that Phoebe Thomas had lived there. She had already seen Hine’s photos of her. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I went out and took some pictures. “See you tonight,” she said. A couple of minutes later, I found the house where Phoebe was living in 1920.
My wife and I walked around for a while. Eastport is very small, but it has a lovely downtown. Most of the buildings were built in 1886, after a fire in 1885 nearly destroyed everything. The city is very near Canada, either by taking a boat to Campobello or Deer Island, or crossing the border 25 miles north in Calais. One of the biggest attractions is the tide. It rises higher than any in the world, changing every six hours from way high to way low.
On the recommendation of our host at the Kilby, we got dinner at Quoddy Bay Lobster, a takeout place on Sea Street. The food was great. We sat and ate by the bay at one of their picnic tables. I took my first bite and noticed that I was looking directly at the exact spot where Phoebe was standing when Hine photographed her running home.
After dinner, I took a quick drive up to Hillside Cemetery, where many of the child laborers and their families are buried. I turned left onto a dirt road off Clark Street and realized it was a dead end, so I turned around in someone’s driveway. I looked to my left as I pulled away, and staring right at me was the gravestone for Albert and Sarah McCutcheon, the parents of James McCutcheon, one of the child laborers I was researching. I knew that he had lost his father when he was boy, but I didn’t know when. Now I knew it was 1909.
Then I headed back, changed my clothes, and walked down to the library for the presentation. By the time it started, it was very crowded, and I had met many of the descendants I had interviewed on the phone over the past several years. One of them, the great-niece of Anna (Nan) Gallant, drove all the way up from southern New Hampshire with her mother and several other relatives. She had never been to Eastport. They rented a place nearby and were staying for a week. It was a wonderful evening.
After a big breakfast the next morning at the inn, we walked around a long time, and I took lots of pictures, and also looked for more of the houses that the child laborers had lived in. Many of them were gone, and several appeared to be remodeled beyond recognition. But I found a few.
We were back at Quoddy Bay Lobster for lunch. While we were eating our fish chowder, some folks at a nearby table spotted a whale in the bay, and everyone stopped to watch. A few minutes later, we overheard a conversation in which one lady invited another lady to spend the afternoon with her. The answer was, “Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got to run over to Canada for a little while.” Such is life in Eastport.
We visited Helen Archer after lunch. She is the recently retired city clerk who has provided invaluable assistance in my research. Then one of the descendants took me down to the south end of the city to show me where her father was living when he was photographed. After a tasty dinner at the Eastport Chowder House, we tried to call one of our daughters, but we couldn’t get cell phone service. Someone told us that the only place to get it was at the IGA, so we drove up there. The store was closed, but we drove into the empty parking lot…well, not quite empty. There was a man talking on a cell phone. It worked.
On Wednesday, we walked down the path along the bay that extends from Sea Street. It used to be a road in the old days. When we got back, we met two of the owners of the empty American Can Company building on Sea Street. They run a beautiful crafts shop on Water Street. They showed us their plans for renovating the building into shops, a hotel, and living space. If all goes well, it should be completed in a year or two.
We also drove up to Calais and had a fine lunch at Karen’s Diner. We must have looked like outsiders, because as soon as we sat down, one of the customers came over and said, “You’ll like this place. Everything on the menu is good.” While we were strolling around the town, we ran into a group of four women who had been at my Monday night presentation.
In the afternoon, we toured the Barracks Museum in Eastport, run by the Border Historical Society. I saw an exhibit of some of the Hine photos, accompanied by a detailed insurance map of the city from 1911. I was surprised to learn that there were about a dozen fish canneries in Eastport then, six of them owned by Seacoast. That explains the notations in some of the Hine captions, such as “works in Seacoast Cannery Factory #2.”
Just about everyone we met had recommended the Pickled Herring for dinner. It’s in a smartly decorated storefront downtown, and pretty fancy for Eastport. It turned out be one of the highlights of our visit, and a pleasant way to spend our last evening there. We drove out the next morning, vowing to return soon. I wonder if Lewis Hine felt the same way when he left on the train for New Bedford.
*Story published in 2001.