The vintage picture here was taken 79 years ago this month. The photographer, Marion Post, was standing in front of what is now Trumbull’s Hardware on Portland Street, in Fryeburg, Maine. At the extreme left in her photo is the corner of what was then the Fryeburg post office, and just beyond that can be seen the pediment of the Masons’ Pythagorean Lodge No. 11. On the left of the road in the distance, above the roof of the parked 1939 Plymouth (and visible only with magnification) stands the world-renowned doughnut tree.
Ms. Post (then known as Miss Post) was touring northern New England on behalf of the Farm Security Administration — documenting how rural Americans coped with harsh weather conditions. Actually, they still coped pretty well, at least this far north of the Massachusetts border. With four-wheel-drive unavailable on the civilian market, a man who wanted to move a cumbersome homemade saw rig right after one of those heavy spring snowstorms simply fell back one generation in locomotion. All he had to do was hitch the woods pony up to the equally homemade trailer and head into town. Snow tires had not caught on yet in the U.S., but the heel- and toe-caulks on that horse’s shoes are keeping his hoofs an inch or more over the pavement, providing plenty of traction.
The skinny tires on the 1930 Ford at left in the old photo would not have given that car’s 40-horsepower engine much advantage over the lone horse. The 1940 Dodge behind it has somewhat wider tires, and the treads are doubtless deeper on so new a car, but they would lack the transverse grooves that might increase the odds of making a hill in a storm.
Salt does not appear to have come into general use by Maine highway departments yet, either, and people had to be pretty careful about how they drove. Thanks to the environmentally deadly quantities of road salt used today, drivers don’t pay any more heed to caution in the winter than they do in summer, and there aren’t many horses docile enough to negotiate modern traffic. In 1940, the road agent relied mainly on sunlight melting the remaining snow from the blacktop, and Old Sol seems to be cooperating here. Just emerging in the middle of the road is what remains of the solid white line with which Maine used to mark no-passing zones. In the 1950s and ’60s, the first two things a traveler noticed when crossing the state line into Maine were the change in the color of the lines and the frequency of potholes in the road.
Comparing these two views yields the gratifying realization that all the buildings visible in the 1940 image are still standing today. There’s a new one, just past the Masonic lodge, but nothing has been torn down. That extent of architectural continuity is hard to find on our side of the border.