In Rockland, all that is old is new again

Posted:  Monday, June 3, 2013 - 11:30am

There are many things I like about Rockland and, yes, a few I find annoying. One of my favorites is to look at old photos of Main Street, from a hundred years ago. These photos are traditionally taken south of Winter Street and look north toward the Ferry Terminal. If you don't know the date of the photo and can ignore the yellow that comes from age, you will be able to identify the facades with ease.

The former Singhi Building in the right foreground of the above photo houses Dowling Walsh Gallery. The brick building was erected in 1858 and served as a photo studio. Take a side trip on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon to the Rockland Historical Society to see the wall of photos, stern men all, photographed by Singhi. The ghost sign that identifies the former Senter Crane Department Store (tall building on the left of the photo) is the home of the Island Institute.

In the boom days of the lime business small banks dotted the street, some of them grand unlike the utilitarian branches that the dot the landscape today. The former banks are perfect examples of how enterprising practitioners of the creative economy have transformed these spaces while maintaining their integrity. In Good Company, our first wine bar, uses its former vault for wine storage. The next time you enjoy a glass of wine or have a cheese plate look around at the moldings and plaster work, notice the high ceiling. These details designed for Rockland National Bank add ambience and charm to today’s popular meeting place. Remember the photos, taken by Singhi, of stern men. Each of those men was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and they met in the space above In Good Company.

Harbor Square Gallery, a thirty-three year presence and anchor of the art scene, uses its vault to spotlight exquisite pieces of handcrafted jewelry. It was built as Security Trust Company and over the decades it moved, changed names and morphed into Key Bank. Maxfield’s Emporium, a relative newcomer to the street sells antiques and displays small wares in the vault once used by Rockland Savings Bank.

Today, Rockland is identified as a town of art galleries and restaurants. Our economy is rich with both of these business types, but other businesses can thrive because of this identity. Visitors and new residents are drawn for the culture and diversity they offer while also being drawn to a Main Street that honors its history as an ongoing asset.

Lorain Francis, director of Rockland Main Street Inc., likes to say the street is “authentic.” Authentic is not a word you want to see in a listing for a house, but for most of Main Street, Rockland, it works.

What is annoying is the handful of Main Street building owners who treat their buildings as if authentic equates to neglect. You know the store fronts that remain empty for long periods of time and turn over at a rapid rate. If you have not had a reason to visit some of the second floor businesses in the neglected buildings, do. You will be shocked by the condition they are in. If current owners can’t or won’t invest in their real estate or in the town, then they should sell at a realistic price. Allow new blood to refurbish the buildings and make them useful again. The buildings were built for multi-use: retail and services at street level, offices on the second level and residences on the third floor. It is a plan that worked and still works today. When the entirety of Main Street can be authentic in the best sense of the word, Main Street Rockland can reach its full potential.


Lee Heffner is a writer, teacher, writer's coach and resident of Rockland.