Coming of age in Dover, NH

In 1918, Woodrow Wilson was President, women did not yet have the right to vote, there were 48 stars on the American flag, the United States had entered World War I, the automobile industry was in its infant stages, and in a small New Hampshire town, an American family lived quietly with a Kodak folding camera.

The delicate negatives are in poor condition, with signs of water damage and scratches. There are nearly 200 negatives varying in sizes from 2 1/4 x 3 and 3 1/4 x 5 1/2–very large negative sizes compared to the commonly known 35mm film, which is a mere 24 x 36mm. Based on my expertise, I believe that the camera that could have been used to take these photos was the Kodak 3A pocket camera, which was introduced in 1903. At this time, prices varied from $20 to $60, depending on the model; in 2019, that would equate to approximately $600 to $1600 US dollars.

As I browsed through the photographs, I recognized indicators that it was a folding-type camera; in one of the pictures, I could see one of the boys holding a leather case, which appears to be a carrying case for a folding camera. I also spotted the girl in the center of the photo holding what appears to be an unknown model Kodak Brownie.

The boy on the left holding a leather folding-camera-shaped case.
Girl in center holding a Kodak Brownie

All these photographs provide a glimpse into the daily lives of this American family during the 1910s. When I think of photographs from this time period, they are rigid portraits and with stiff expressions. These, however, are different; they show real people living their lives: watching a parade, playing outside, enjoying the beach, hiking, posing with something that needed to be documented.

I spent a good deal of time researching to find where exactly these photos were taken. I looked for clues, like in the photo pictured below, in which a girl is standing on a train platform that says, “Spring Haven.” I discovered that this station was located in West Alton, New Hampshire. This is not far from the northeastern state of Maine, where this roll of film was located before I acquired it.

Spring Haven train station, West Alton, New Hampshire

In another sequence of images, there is an apparent parade celebration occurring, possibly celebrating the Fourth of July. In the image below, a parade float on the left side of the frame appears with the word “Dover” on the top. Google Maps helped to confirm that this image was taken in Dover, New Hampshire at the intersection of Hale and Locust Streets. The buildings in the background are the public library and government office, which are still standing today.

See the street view HERE.

In the far left, a parade float displays “Dover” on the top of the tent

Another image from Dover, pictured below, captures the buzz of the downtown area. Several early automobiles are parked on the side of the road, along with one that is in motion. The large building stands in the center of the frame decorated in 48-star American flags. At the bottom of the photograph, there is a lone traffic pole in the center of the street with the words “Washington Street” at the base. A scan through downtown Dover on Google Maps led me to 83 Washington Street, where the building still stands today and is the home of several law offices and a bar called the Thirsty Moose Tap House.

Click HERE to see the Google street view.

The traffic pole to the right displays “Washington”
83 Washington Street, Dover, New Hampshire
Enjoying Cracker Jacks on the lawn

The location is only the beginning of the story, but it helps to give the photographs some context. It’s a bit eerie to think about the people in these images and the mystery of their lives. There are several adults and children in these images, and the images appear to span a time in the latter’s adolescence. Perhaps they lived their lives as any other family did; Mom and Dad took pictures of their kids playing with their toys in the front yard, playing with the water hose, and having picnics with boxes of Cracker Jacks and sodas. Over the Fourth of July holiday, perhaps they went downtown to see the parade before they drove their 1918 Dodge Brothers Coupe to Lake Winnipesaukee in Spring Haven. At the end of summer, the parents captured pictures of their kids on their first day back to school.

I printed a few of the negatives using my Omega DII enlarger and a makeshift negative carrier. I think the results are acceptable and will look nice with a white beveled mat. Both images were exposed at approximately 15 seconds at F/22 with a contrast grade 3 filter with some burning on the edges. If nothing else, this roll of lost film lets us recognize the humanity of regular people like us who lived a century ago.