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Maine – The Way Life Once Was

Maine - The Way Life Once Was

Of his life work, Maine photographer George W. French ’08 (1882-1970) once said, “I hope to leave a sort of monument to a life devoted to picturing the beautiful side of the great out-of-doors, as well as preserving in pictures the dignity and charm of everyday folks and their ways of life.”

As the official state photographer from 1936 to 1955, French took thousands of black-and-white photographs for the Maine Development Commission, the state agency then responsible for promoting Maine’s economic and recreational potential.

Having grown up in the rural, southwestern Maine town of Kezar Falls, French had an eye for a romantic way of life — “the way life should be,” as the sign now says when you drive into Maine from the south.

In other French photos, however, like the one above showing the smoky, stinking pall hanging over the Rumford paper mill, there are also hints of the intrusion of the modern world. That tension, between an idyllic life as it should be and the reality of life as it is, was also being explored by regional Maine writers like Gladys Hasty Carroll ’25 (see article beginning on page 32) at the same time French was capturing it on photographic paper.

The photographs that follow were printed from negatives held by the Maine State Archives in Augusta. Readers wishing to purchase any of the following George French prints should contact Bates Magazine for more information.

The Oxford paper mill darkens the Rumford sky, 1941.

The sun sets on the historic Poland Spring Hotel, 1941.

A Maine fish house — haddock is the catch of the day — unknown date.

A lone elm stands sentinel over a farm’s haying operation in the northern Maine town of Houlton in 1945.

Shucking clams in New Harbor, near Boothbay Harbor, in 1947.

A Blue Hill blacksmith at work, date unknown.

Once upon a time, only hunters wore the now-ubiquitous L.L. Bean boots.

Harvesting blueberries, shown here in the Down East, Washington County town of Columbia.


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