Picturing Our Ancestors’ Neighborhoods Back in the Day, Part 1

Summer is almost here and it’s the season of the year that brings on nostalgia for me. Christmas does, too, but summer was the time when school was out and I got to visit with all the relatives in my small family.

As the stories of my ancestors’ lives unfold, I often wish I could step back in time and visit each place they lived when they lived there. it’s actually possible to do, if we are talking about after the invention of photography. The way to visit is through vintage postcards.

I occasionally write about my love of trolling EBay for genealogically related items and postcards is #1 on my list.

Today, I am inviting you to come along and visit Calais, Maine and the small towns around it where my maternal family was living at the turn of the 20th century. My Adams clan was right in Calais proper, the Stuarts were nearby in Meddybemps, the Tarbox family moved into town from Robbinston and the Colemans lived in Red Beach.

My 2X great grandfather, Calvin Adams, moved from the West Isles of New Brunswick, Canada to Calais with his family when he was a teenager, just before the start of the Civil War. Like his father, Daniel, Calvin was a boat builder, a trade which he followed until the era ended in the early 1900s. He built small sailing vessels and a schooner or two with his workshop down on the waterfront.

His children, my great grandfather Charles and great grand aunt Pearl, received their education at Calais Academy, later to be renamed Calais High School. The building that housed Calais Academy burned down many years ago.

As the Adams clan prospered, they bought a house on “The Avenue,” or Calais Avenue, which was “the” place in town to live.

What was a Calais winter like? Snow. Lots and lots of snow!

My grandmother, Hazel Coleman Adams, told me stories about going into “town” (Calais) from Red Beach, where she grew up, to go shopping along Main Street.

I’ve been to Calais and some of those buildings are still standing!

Newlyweds 2X great grandparents Charles Stuart and Elida Hicks settled in Meddybemps in1850 and the family continued to live there into the early 1900s. Meddybemps has never been much more than a village and I doubt it looked much different in 1900 than it did half a century earlier. My great grandmother, Annie Stuart Adams, was born and raised in Meddybemps.

By 1910, her brother, Harry, had a camp on Meddybemps Lake. This is one of my most favorite finds ever!

Heading down River Road out of Calais takes visitors to Red Beach, which today is part of the city of Calais. The Colemans settled in Red Beach in the 1830s and lived there well into the 1900s.

My 3X great grandfather, Thomas Coleman, was a small subsistence farmer. 2X great grandfather William and great grandfather Hartwell Coleman were drawn to sea life, both being boat captains. Hartwell actually became a master mariner.

After Hartwell retired from sea life, he opened a general store called Cappy Coleman’s. My mother said she and her sisters used to love to visit the store because he gave them candy.

3X great grandfather George Tarbox settled in Robbinston in the mid 1850s. He had several careers, first as a small farmer, later as a boat builder and finally became a manufacturer, as the family bought the Red Beach granite quarry and sold stone. 2X great grandmother Nellie Tarbox Adams was born in Robbinston and lived there as a girl until the family moved into Calais, likely because of George’s business concerns.

There is a soldier’s monument in Calais Park which is made of black granite. That granite came from the Tarbox quarry. There is also a small water fountain made from the quarry granite. I have a photo of it we took in 1980, but I haven’t yet found a postcard.

Calais, Maine was in its heyday during the second half of the 19th century and early into the 20th century. However, as ship building came to an end long before the start of World War I, it seems its residents left for more job opportunities in Massachusetts.

I’ve purchased all of these postcards on EBay and, with the exception of the Stuart cottage on Meddybemps Lake (for which I paid way too much), prices were almost entirely under $5.00 each and sometimes as little as a dollar or two.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that there won’t be any photo postcards from the places where your families lived. In 1850, Meddybemps had a whopping population of 254. By 1900, it was DOWN to just 154 souls. If there are Meddybemps postcards out there, there is hope for any place!

Each time I look at these images, I feel like I’ve been able to take a few steps in my ancestors’ shoes. I hope you felt that way, too.

Tomorrow, we will look at my paternal side of the family tree, who were living in a very different environment – industrial Passaic, New Jersey.


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