The two old men pictured above seem almost ghost-like, as if they come to us from a time so ancient it couldn‘t possibly be captured on film. Both men are dressed in black, black felt hats upon their white-haired heads. They appear to be sitting in a general store, bags of cornmeal and boxes of matches on shelves behind them. In the foreground is a wood stove, and John Stewart, on the right, seems to be warming his feet in front of it. Stewart is a handsome man; even his eighty-odd years have not marred his intelligent gaze or striking features. As ancient as Stewart looks, Cathers Drummond, seated on the left, looks even older. His frame is more bent, his gray hair and beard even more scraggly, his eyes more distant. He was, in fact, older than Stewart by seven years.
The photo appears on page 23 of my book, and when I first ran across it at the Farmington Historical Society, I knew I had to use it. Luckily, I found a spot for it since Stewart was the grandson of John Church, an early settler who figures into my story of Supply Belcher.
The picture is remarkable for its slice-of-life quality, a rare approach to photography in the late 1800s. Drummond and Church are not in some studio, are not posing stiffly, are not even looking at the camera. It is an unusually informal shot for the times, revealing the old mens’ age and dignity in all its effortlessness.
No doubt the photographer felt the subjects worthy of an impromptu photo due to their venerable age. Drummond lived to be 96 years old, and when this photo was taken, was no doubt considered to be the oldest man in Franklin County. Stewart, by comparison, was a young 89.
Nearly a century had passed since Drummond had been born in Ireland of Scotch descent. He had immigrated to a farm in New Portland, Maine when still a boy. At the age of thirty, he married Irena Larrabee, a young woman of only eighteen. Four years later, Amanda, their only child, was born. Amanda grew up in New Portland, and when she was 21 she married Farmington physician Lucien Pillsbury. It was no doubt considered a step up for the Drummonds, immigrant farmers, to marry into the well-established and well-educated Pillsbury family. But however humble his beginnings, Cathers had begun to acquire a substantial amount of property by the time of Amanda’s marriage. His investments in farmland and lumbering led him and Irena to move to Kingfield by 1860. In his 60s Drummond retired from active farming and lumbering. He and Irena moved in with Amanda and Lucien in their house on Court Street in Farmington. From there Drummond continued to manage his investments, including a building in downtown Farmington.
Irena died at the age of 81. Cathers outlived her by another two years remaining active until a case of the flu weakened him and he died at the age of 95.
In the photo Drummond shares his spot at the woodstove with John Stewart, and the inscription notes that Stewart is the grandson of John Church. Church had been an early settler, arriving before the town was incorporated and buying the property that soon became the commercial district. You can read more about his contributions to Farmington in the chapter in my book about Supply Belcher.
Stewart was of solid Farmington stock on his father’s side as well, descended from the group of early settlers who had moved to Farmington from Martha’s Vineyard. He continued the family tradition of carpentry as well as farming. When he was twenty-two he married Abby Jones. The couple had ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Stewart was a successful farmer, carpenter and investor, and like Drummond, gradually acquired a large estate. His four daughters eventually married and moved west; one son died in the Civil War; another went to Colorado with the cavalry to fight the Indians but eventually returned to Farmington; Theodore stayed in Farmington and followed his family’s carpentry tradition. In 1882 John and Abby celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
When this photo was taken, Stewart was living at the corner of South and High Streets, in house that has since been torn down. Real estate attorney and local historian Paul Mills speculates that the house was at the site of the UMF’s Computer Center.
Drummond and Stewart would not have known each other growing up. But they shared a work ethic and a talent for investing that enabled them both to find themselves in Farmington enjoying their old age. After lifetimes that had spanned most of the 19th century, they were able to spend their days at the local general store, relaxing in front of a warm wood stove and reminiscing about the century of change they had witnessed. Their age and wisdom earned them attention and respect, and on at least one occasion, the uncommon attention of a portrait photographer.