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Anecdotes and Adventures from the Then and Now Photo Project

The photo project for the Historical Society brought me to parts of Littleton that I, as a life-long resident, had never seen. It also put me in touch with various people— friends and strangers— all of whom showed enthusiasm for the project; I felt encouraged at every step. It also brought my deductive powers into play and I discovered how much fun it could be examining old photos and unlocking their secrets.

One secret involved the Jonathan Whitcomb inscription on the granite ledge off Whitcomb Ave. Comparing the old photo to the current day reality made it clear to us that the inscription in the photo had been painted to bring out the letters. Another puzzle was from where one ardent Littleton photographer, Albert Robbins, had photographed two very snowy views of Tahattawan Road. As it turned out, it was from the north and south upstairs windows of his home, now, fortunately, the residence of the Muellers, who graciously allowed us access to these windows in the wintertime. It was amazing how grown up the landscape had become, but the telltale bend in the road showed it to the identical location to Robbins’ original.

One photo was of men building a stonewall along a dirt road. There was much debate as to what stonewall it was until I found in the background the rooftop of a barn I knew on Foster Street, making the location Starr Hill Road. After much searching, my colleague, Andrea, and I decided we had found exactly the right section of wall because of the similarity of the stones. Later we realized that the original photo was actually taken at a leafless time of year, so we discarded the shot we took and returned to the site several months later. Much to our consternation we could not relocate the rocks of the photo, it was if they belonged to Brigadoon and not Littleton!

Also on Starr Hill, Dr. David and Mrs. Bea Smith were very gracious in welcoming us to their property, several pictures of which appear in the Society’s collection. Dr. Smith knew exactly where the old cabin, a summer house, had stood and been photographed some ninety years before we were there with our camera. The summer house had been a log cabin. Dr. Smith went on to explain that the people there had built several of these log cabins, but when they built a sumptuous fieldstone and shingle house, the rustic look of the cabins didn’t match. Accordingly, they had had them recovered in shingles. Sure enough, on examining one of the ruinous, shingled out buildings, it was clear that underneath the veneer there were walls of logs.

While out on Mill Pond trying to get a photograph of the site of the old dam, which is now built over by Interstate 495, Andrea and I noticed an older gentleman cutting wood outside his house, one of the old summer cabins on Mill Road. Every now and again he’d look up and try and figure out what we were doing. After extricating myself from one of Andrea’s kayaks, I went up to his door to introduce myself and explain what we were doing and to ask if he knew anything about the old ice house on Mill Pond. Well, his face light up like Christmas; it seems he, Mr. Simmons, had actually worked in the ice house and could not only point out exactly where it stood, but went on to explain how the ice had been dragged from where it was cut on the main pond, through a sluice in the road, which was still there, and up a ramp to be stored for use in the summer. He even had an old postcard of the summer camp his parents had rented and finally bought almost 60 years ago. It was delightful talking with him and learning more about Littleton’s history.

It wasn’t always easy to find people to pose in pictures where there were people present. Hannah Pratt was volunteered to be the girl in the photo of Great Road down by Beaver Brook. Callum Cochran was made to be the child in the photo of a mother and child entering the library, but he had to slump a little as he was so much taller than the original child. The mother was Andrea Curran, who also posed as Margaret Drury with a cup of tea in the reading room of the old library. Recreating the Victorian librarian and patron in another library photo, we simply turned the Victorian mannequin towards the counter and had then Historical Society Administrator, Cynthia Haley pose on the other side. Fortune was with us when we went to take a photo of Fay Park. On the distant swing set in the original were a pair of children. As we pondered this, Meg Low and Don MacIver, who lived up the street, happened by. We had them pose as the children and at the right distance you could hardly tell they were adults.

Adventures were many and varied, and some can only be told with discretion. Such is the tale of the day we did most of our water shots—photos that had been taken from boats in one of Littleton’s great ponds. It was a glorious summer day, hot and sunny, and Andrea and I hauled her kayaks in and out of her pickup truck at Long Lake, Mill Pond, Spectacle Pond and Lake Matawanakee (Forge Pond.) It was at the third of our stops that I noticed the culvert exiting Spec Pond was large enough for me and my kayak to descend to Gilson Brook—I do not recommend anyone attempt this. Andrea declined the offer to join me, but, instead, took possession of the digital camera. All was well for the first hundred feet—the angle of the culvert made for a rapid ride—but then due to multiple factors, my kayak swamped and jammed across the pipe. Andrea’s version is that she couldn’t see what was happening but could hear my hoots echoing up the culvert. She couldn’t help but notice these whoops of glee suddenly turned into a wail of pain. But I lived.

Should circumstances allow, I would like to undertake this project again in, say, thirty years time. It will be an additional lesson in how a town changes over time. And there will be new adventures in rediscovering these places; it is, however, unlikely that I will kayak through any culverts.