Of all the wonderful reference questions we field in the Community Archives Room, some of the most engaging involve identifying photographs and their subjects, relative to Gardiner history. Often people bring in photos of family members or local buildings and want to know just where or when or why a photo may have been taken. We have wonderful historic maps and directories, as well as many already-identified photos that help with picking out clues to solve the mystery. And, inevitably, every “solve” brings out new and enlightening details of our richly historic town.
Recently, a mystery came our way electronically. Someone had noticed an image for sale by auction on eBay and it struck up lively conversation on Facebook, with folks wondering just where in Gardiner the photograph had been taken. The auction has since ended, but the image is still view-able online (simply Google: Gardiner bridge 1904 eBay, or click this link: http://goo.gl/dazhU8). The photo shows a young woman standing on a bridge, alongside intricate metal balustrades and a tall railing, with many wooden buildings on the waterfront behind her; writing on the back noted that it was taken September 1904 on the Gardner [sic] Bridge in Maine.
The photo offers some wonderful close-up details, but was taken from a perspective rarely seen in our collection and was not instantly identifiable. It was not surprising that questions and discussions arose about the location, as Gardiner has at had least four to six bridges that have changed architecturally over time (Gardiner-Randolph, Bridge Street, Winter Street, New Mills, as well as those on Maine Avenue crossing both the Cobbossee and the Causeway). Only by following each clue and connecting the right dots, could the location be pinpointed.
|Many still recall the old Gardiner-Randolph Bridge (c.1933) with concrete railings and balustrades at either end.|
|New Mills Bridge (with trolley arriving, c.1910) was one of Gardiner’s metal bridges for decades, but also lacked the intricate details shown in the mystery photo.|
|Commonwealth Shoe factory, along the Kennebec, c. 1910. The Causeway bridge in the foreground has the same metalwork and balustrades as in the mystery photo, but has different buildings in its vicinity.|
Close inspection of the mystery photo shows small rosettes in the ironwork. Many will recall similar rosettes that were removed and sold as souvenirs when the old Gardiner-Randolph Bridge was dismantled in 1980. According to the details in the photo above (if you really zoom in), they also ran along Maine Avenue.
Sometimes it takes finding just the right image, taken at the right time of year (e.g., after the protective wooden sidings of winter are taken down) and, of course, in the right year (e.g., after 1896 when the 1850s bridge washed and was replaced, but before the concrete sidings were changed in the late 1920s-early 1930s) to make the solve. The image below was contemporary with the mystery photo and it showed ironwork matching the 1904 railings.
|An older photo of the Gardiner-Randolph Bridge, c.1905, showing the metal balustrades and railing that match those in the photo, as well as background buildings that appear to be on the Randolph side of the bridge.|
The final clue came by matching the above photo with a period map of Randolph. The buildings on the north side of the bridge match those in the background of the mystery photo. By 1910 (not shown), some of the buildings in question were already gone.
|1903 Sanborn Map detail of Randolph, including the wooden buildings on the north side of the bridge, matching the those in the mystery photo.|
At last, it was safe to conclude, without a doubt, that the mystery photo was taken on the northern Randolph side of the Gardiner-Randolph Bridge. Although the process sounds a little tedious and drawn out, our marvelous collection led to an answer in under 15 minutes!
Of course, in true form to all our research discoveries here in the Archives, no sooner is a mystery solved than a new and exciting detail — or further mystery — crops up! A few days later, when browsing microfilm of Gardiner newspapers to pursue a completely different question, a note about the Gardiner-Randolph bridge caught my eye in the July 20, 1906, Weekly Reporter Journal caught my eye:
Apparently some of those small details were not so small after all!
Of course, we still don’t know who the lady is. If you have any idea — or if you have more Gardiner photos (mysterious or otherwise) — please share them with us!! We love a good Gardiner mystery!