Robert Henry Gay was born August 29, 1865 in East Concord, New Hampshire to the Reverend Joshua H. Gay and Sarah (Jordan) Gay. His mother, Sarah, was of the very oldest Biddeford stock, being a member of the venerable Jordan clan and daughter of Captain Rishworth Jordan, a sea captain in the old Maine style. In 1883, when Robert was 17 or 18, the family came to live with his maternal grandfather in Biddeford, at the old family home at 303 Pool Road (which still stands, but is now 3 Decary Road). Gay’s father preached at the First Congregational Meetinghouse, and Gay attended the Biddeford High School for 2 years. He had his portrait taken with the 1887 class, although no records indicate that he received a diploma. After leaving school, he began a three year apprenticeship in watch and clock repair with the Biddeford jeweler James Fenderson, whose shop was located at 139 Main Street (the first storefront in the Thacher Hotel block). He traveled around New England plying his trade and making a living.
One summer around 1905, unemployed and at the Biddeford homestead, he discovered photography. He would take the ferry down the Saco River to the beaches around Biddeford Pool and Fortune’s Rocks, and take photos of the rich (and sometimes famous) summer people, their cottages and their play grounds. He would then take the boat back to his home up river, where he had set up a darkroom in an unused room. He developed the glass plates and then produced post cards and prints, which he could sell. He did well enough that he gained a fine local reputation as a photographer, and was hired to photograph various society gatherings, families and famous personalities–including President Taft when his visited the Pool in 1910.
Gay photographed in the Biddeford area and beyond for a period of about 15 years, until shortly after his marriage to Ruth Marr of Waterville. The groom was 53 years old. At that time the new Mrs. Gay turned the Pool Road darkroom into a dining room for the new family, and Mr. Gay ended his prolific amateur career. He donated his photography equipment to the Good Will-Hinkley Home near his new home in Waterville, and his prints and negatives to the McArthur Library in Biddeford. The Gays spent their winters in Waterville and their summers in Biddeford; he always regretted that the Biddeford house had no central heating so that he could live there comfortably year-round. He was a Mason for more than 50 years, and at the time of his death the oldest member of the Second Congregational Church in Biddeford. He died January 19, 1962 in Waterville at the age of 96.
“We Hail: Robert Henry Gay”. Biddeford Journal, August 1950.
“Robert Gay marks 94th birthday on Saturday”. Biddeford-Saco Journal, Aug. 27, 1959.
“Obituary: Robert H. Gay”. Journal Tribune, Jan. 22, 1962.