Photographing Portland, Maine

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photo credit: Roebot

The Portland Press Herald has  several stories today about various efforts to photographically archive the architectural history of Portland, Maine.

The first story we can relate to since it involves one man’s efforts (Ted Oldham) to take a snapshot in time of Portland’s architectural history:

Inspired by Portland’s collection of 1924 tax record photos, Ted Oldham has been busy taking pictures of every single building in the city today.

That’s 20,000 photographs.

Oldham, 72, has already photographed 13,000 buildings and hopes to finish his self-appointed task this spring.

He’s been at the solitary quest for nearly three years. Oldham wants to create a research tool for future historians and a learning opportunity for city residents who want to know what Portland looked like a decade into the 21st century.

His images may not have much value right now, he said, but that value will grow with each passing year. He plans to donate the collection to the city when finished.

Oldham, a semi-retired architect, walks 10 miles a day when working on the project. He said he is amazed how people choose to express themselves through decorating and maintaining their houses.

“Our buildings are a physical expression of what our values are,” he said.

We completely agree with Ted’s sentiment about the importance of our buildings. We find it ironic, and sad, that with today’s technology we choose the “easy button” of vinyl windows and siding. Yet, when many of the architectural gems of the past were built they didn’t have a fraction of the conveniences of modern construction machinery.

To us, this shows the heart and soul of the builders and owners of these structures and a key reason why the need to be preserved . . . to show the next generation that caring involves more than the size of your bank account.

Moving on . . . the second article details the ongoing efforts to digitize a treasure trove of photographs of Portland, Maine as it existed in 1924:

Stored in the city tax assessor’s office for nearly 90 years, a remarkable collection of historic photographs of more than 10,000 Portland buildings is now being digitized so they can be readily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

The historic block of buildings along Fore Street at Boothby Square, with 340 Fore St. at the far right in the 1924 archival image.

The three-year project, involving thousands of hours of work, is expected to be finished this summer. In the meantime, with more than half the images already online, the city is launching the new website,

The photos were taken in 1924 as part of a citywide tax revaluation. At the time, reform-minded politicians wanted to show the public that property valuations were being done in a fair and transparent manner and that nobody was getting any special favors.

The good-government effort left a legacy — a remarkable snapshot of Portland in the prosperous 1920s, just as the city’s status as Canada’s main winter port was beginning to slip and Portland’s port began to decline in importance.

The assessors also recorded the use of each building, the architectural style, the number of units, building materials, neighborhood and owner. In addition, they drew a sketch of the building’s footprint. In some cases, they recorded the name of the builder and architect.

All this information is being manually entered into a searchable database, the first of its kind on the Maine Memory Network, an archival website operated by the Maine Historical Society.

In the comments, we found a link to another amazing website (actually a Facebook page) that is also archiving pictures of Portland, Maine called: Portland Maine History 1786 to Present

We are glad to see folks tackling one of the largest cities in Northern New England. Our policy, for now, has been to photograph the smaller towns and villages in Northern New England since they are also the most threatened, especially in northern Northern New England. So far we have 39 towns and around 1,200 pictures on-line with several more in the hopper (we have a long way to go to equal Ted Oldham’s 13,000 pictures 🙂 ).

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