It was a pleasant afternoon in the 1890s when a photographer propped his camera in the middle of the Cushing Corner Road to capture the rustic peace of Freedom Village. Although he probably did not know it, he was choosing a period of slow but certain transition for the town’s center of business activity.
Everything within range of his lens served a commercial purpose in the late ’90s. At the extreme left stood the latest version of Elias Towle’s store. Elias Towle the elder, who lived in a big house at the terminus of Moulton Road, had established a general store beside the house at least by the 1850s, and he rented space in it to Charles Moulton for a harness shop. Elias died in 1881, leaving the entire complex to his son, Elias I. Towle, who had probably already renovated or rebuilt the building with the mansard roof so popular in the 1870s. In the 1890s, the store was also the location of Freedom’s post office.
The big building in the middle of the intersection was the local grocery in the 1890s, run by Joseph Huckins in what had once been another general store operated John Lord and Alvah Davis. The building just past the grocery belonged to Joseph Foster, a manufacturer or tinware, and his son operated a garment factory in the building.
At one time there had been three general stores within 50 yards of each other on the “square,” with Elias Towle’s on the left, Lord and Davis’ in the middle and Ransellear Towle’s on the right, beyond the twin trees. The building at the extreme right, behind the trees, was Ransellear Towle’s hotel during and after the Civil War, where his daughter cooked for travelers while he ran his farm. By the late 1890s, his widow owned both buildings.
Elias Foss’ blacksmith shop, past Ransellear Towle’s store, appears to be doing no more business than any of the stores — and that deserted look inspires the suspicion that the photo was taken on a Sunday. The shadows indicate that it was late afternoon, which would explain the absence of carriages outside the church. A horse and buggy stand waiting in front of Dr. Augustus Merrow’s house, suggesting what might be either an emergency consultation or a social visit; Dr. Merrow was born in southern Maine, but as a graduate of Parsonsfield Seminary, he had plenty of friends in the vicinity, as well as patients.
A Wednesday afternoon in early June 2019 shows no more activity than on a Sunday a dozen decades before. The post office has moved up Elm Street, and if retail exchanges are not conducted on an appointment-only basis, it’s very close to that.