Lewis Hine caption: Five year old Preston, a young cartoner in Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #2. I saw him at work different times during the day–at 7 a.m., in the afternoon, and at 6 p.m., and he kept at it very faithfully for so young a worker. Location: Eastport, Maine.
The first time I saw this photo, I said to myself, “Well, little Preston sure looks proud of those sardine cans.” In August of 1911, Hine took about 50 known photos in Eastport, so he must have hung around for a few days. I vacationed in this area a few years ago around the same time of the year, and it’s a great place to be in the dog days of summer. Eastport is in upper Downeast Maine, on Passamaquoddy Bay, and used to be one of the hotbeds of the fish canning business.
Hine took three known photos of Preston, and mentions in one of the captions that he saw him at the cannery, morning until evening. He must have been one tired little boy by the end of the day.
Preston Alonzo Knowlton was born in Danforth, Maine, October 24, 1905. His parents were Elmer Knowlton and Adelia (Anderson) Knowlton, who were married in 1898. They had seven children, Preston being the second. Elmer was a “woodsman,” and also worked in a lumber yard. The family apparently moved about 80 miles south from Danforth to Eastport shortly before Preston was photographed. Given the seasonal nature of the sardine industry, it’s possible that the Knowltons were living temporarily in Eastport for the summer to work in the canneries. In the 1920 Census, they are in Danforth again.
Preston married Grace McLaughlin on February 21, 1926, and they were living together, childless, in Danforth, in 1930. He was working as a waiter in a restaurant. Preston Knowlton Jr., their first child, was born in 1931. Several years later, they separated, and son Preston was to see his father only a few more times. In 1946, father Preston married Vera Sprague, of Corinna, Maine, and the couple moved to Southold, New York, which is at the northeastern tip of Long Island.
Lewis Hine caption: Some of the young cartoners in work room, Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #2. Five year old Preston working also. Location: Eastport, Maine. Lewis Hine, August 1911.
Most of Preston’s family stayed in Maine, and lost touch with him, so it was very hard to find anyone who had much to say about him. No one even knew what kind of work he did. I talked to his grandson, the son of Preston, Jr.
“My grandfather left my father when he was very young. Dad never really thought much of him. My father worked all his life on the railroad, the Maine Central. He started as a trackman, then a foreman, and then a supervisor. He finished high school, but didn’t go to his graduation because he didn’t have a suit and his mother wouldn’t buy him one, and he would have been embarrassed. He was the top student in his class.”
“Those pictures of my grandfather are amazing. I never knew anything about my grandfather’s childhood. I worked on the railroad for 27 years, and worked for a while around Eastport. Looking at the pictures, I can visualize the sardine cannery right there beside the tracks. I used to go in there and get some cans of sardines with mustard sauce, and it’s funny now to think that my grandfather would have worked there long ago.”
Preston Alonzo Knowlton died in Corinna, Maine, in 1990, at the age of 85. He outlived his son, Preston, Jr., by seven years. The following is from his obituary in the Bangor Daily News:
Preston A. Knowlton, 85, died Nov. 26, 1990, at the Waterville hospital. He was born Oct. 24, 1905, at Danforth, the son of Elmer and Adelia (Anderson) Knowlton. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was a post commander of the American Legion Post in Southold, N.Y., and in Corinna. He is survived by his wife, Vera (Sprague) Knowlton, of Corinna; two stepsons, one stepdaughter, one sister, 11 step-grandchildren, 20 (step) great-grandchildren, and two (step) great-great-grandchildren.
The grandson I interviewed was not mentioned.