The building shown here represents the life’s work and livelihood of a lonely man. In its present condition it reflects a gloom that may have long lurked within its walls.
Henry Harvey Burnham was born in Bridgton, Maine, on May 4, 1865. His father was a carpenter, but Henry — as he was known for most of his life — preferred finer work and apprenticed with a watchmaker. By the early 1890s, when he was ready to open his own business, he chose the Fryeburg, Maine, market. Watchmakers were really only watch repairmen by then, fixing and regulating factory-made pocket watches that were still fairly expensive, and worth fixing. In a town of 1,400 people there were not that many watches needing repair, and the population was declining when he arrived, so he took up the similarly close work of selling and repairing jewelry, like most other watchmakers of that era.
He brought a young bride with him — the daughter of a Norway, Maine, grocer, who either did not like Fryeburg or did not like Henry. They had no children, and by 1900 he was boarding with a family on Portland Street while Blanche, his wife, had moved back in with her parents in Norway. Both still claimed to be married, but when the census marshal asked Blanche how long she had been married she said seven years. Henry thought it had been nine years, so perhaps he found Blanche trying, too. Unlike his ex-wife, he lived alone the rest of his life. Well, maybe he had a cat.
Judging from the vintage of the building, he probably built it specifically for his business, a few years before or after the turn of the century. Crime must not have been much of a consideration in Fryeburg at the time, given the broad extent of glass in the front and the easily accessible side windows. The twin upstairs windows barely fit within the roofline of the attic, suggesting that he may have wanted enough light to use that space for living quarters. Subsequent renovations hint that the upstairs was too cramped for anyone but a solitary man.
As his sign indicates, later in life Henry H. Burnham became H. Harvey Burnham. That had a more elegant ring to it, but he still had to shovel the sidewalk in front of his store, and carve a path for customers who parked on the road. He was doing that after a heavy spring snowstorm when the photo at left was taken, late in March of 1940, some six weeks before his 75th birthday. People were tougher then, and they had to work longer, for Social Security was only a few years old, and Henry — or Harvey — maintained the store until the end of his days. He was born just as Maine’s Union veterans started coming home at the close of the Civil War, and he died as the last of Maine’s soldiers arrived home after World War II, on Dec. 16, 1946. That saved him from spending another Christmas alone.