Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Banker

I almost passed this photo up when I came across it in a San Deigo antique store...but in the end I went back for it...there's just something about such a frozen moment in time from the late 1800s, a far cry from today's highly automated banks, and yet, in someways, little different. Original, right, is somewhat faded, but some careful tone mapping and contrast enhancement brings some life back.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Riverboat Grand

Ever since I was a kid and read Mark Twain's adventure stories, I've had a fascination with paddle-wheel riverboats. In an era when the nation was relatively young and the mighty rivers were the main arteries of commerce, the steam riverboats proliferated and were instrumental in the economic development of America. Their age, fortunately, overlapped the age of photography just enough to leave us some record of what life with riverboats was like.

There were thousands upon thousands of riverboats built, and theirs was a hard life, with the typical boat lasting maybe ten years or so. Disciplined industrial safety hadn't been developed yet, and everything was about making money, so boilers weren't always built or operated with the idea of "safety first", so fires and boiler explosions were commonplace, and took a huge toll on boats and passengers. When one ponders what the worst maritime disaster was, the sinking of the Titanic instantly comes to the minds of many, but that tragedy wasn't the worst by far: the record is held by a steam-powered side-wheel riverboat named the Sultana, which was grossly overloaded Union soldiers paroled from Confederate prison camps. Normally the boat could carry 376 passengers, but on the night of April 27, 1865, the two-year-old riverboat was carrying 2,427 people when three of her four boilers exploded, and around 1,800 people died. The scope of disaster ensured that the Sultana's name would be remembered, but so many others sucumbed in less dramatic fashion, and so weren't remembered at all. 

Records of the less famous riverboats are spotty. Starting in 1856, the insurer Lloyd's produced a Steamboat Directory, and more recently, the reference book Way's Packet Directory lists over 5,900 boats that worked on the Mississippi River system, and that list is now searchable at; a Grand does appear in the database as Way's number 2417, but as I don't have access to the book, I can't relay if there's any additional information that would confirm that this is the same boat, or suggest when or where this photo was taken (if anyone has this info, I'd love to hear from you!). The photo itself has no accompanying info about this family who seem to be about to board for a river journey. From the clothes, we can guess that the date was in the late 1800s or the first few years of the 20th century, but even the river that this scene took place on is unknown.

Typical of photographs from this era, the exposure was a long one, and unfortunately the camera appears to have been bumped,
resulting in the details being obscured by motion blur.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Our House - 15

This is a huge house for era, and judging by the folks on the porch, one set of grandparents lived with this family.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Spring of Arrow Rock

For pioneers, homesteaders, and sundry others following the call to head west in early 1800s, one of the most popular routes to get there was over the Santa Fe Trail. No matter who you were, though, one thing was needed more than anything else on such a journey: water. So sites of natural springs, especially ones that had a significant and reliable flow, quickly became imporatant places. Arrow Rock was one of those.

Most sources today recognize Independence, Missouri as the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail, with it ending in Santa Fe, New Mexico (and at the time the trail was established as a trade route, Santa Fe was in the Mexican state of Nuevo Mexico). Independence itself was frontier territory, and travelers departing from St. Louis by land had quite a trek just to get to the beginning. For others, it meant a trip up the Missouri River a ways. Arrow Rock was on the western bank of the Missouri, roughly half-way between St. Louis and Independence, and was a popular jumping-off point because its spring. Travelers would stop at the spring to fill their water barrels before continuing west.

The site has quite a history, dating back to to pre-history. A nearby flint-bearing bluff was frequented by Native Americans from several tribes looking for stone to make arrowheads. Louis and Clark stopped here, noting the spring. On a subsequent trip, Clark noted that the site would be the ideal spot for a town. And one naturally grew up here, starting in 1829.

Today, the site is part of the Arrow Rock Historic Site, and the spring is still there, and still flowing. user BruceS posted a photo, which can be seen here of the spring from a similar angle.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Some Assembly Required (With a Steam Crane)

I have no idea what all this steel is about to become. What I find fascinating about this photo, though, is the steam crane that's about to assemble it all.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Everyone Loves Tugboats

In the marine world, nothing is quite as popular with the general public as the tug boat. Whether it's with young children or old salty dogs, there's something that draws people to them, to the personalities they seem to evoke. And naturally, people over the years have snapped photos of them, including these two anonymous images, taken from a bridge in the 1940s or '50s, of two random tugs hard at work, a momentary slice of marine life during an otherwise ordinary, hard-working day.

Above is the Russel B. of New York, and below is the Frank P. Buchanan. I've not been able to find any information about these or the companies that owned them...if you happen to know anything, please comment!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Winter Swollen River

There is no indication with this photograph of where or when it was taken (it was found in a Chicago-area antique store), but it appears that the river has been swollen by winter rains and is close to flooding (if it hasn't already).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our House - 14

It is a bit harder to get a sense of the architecture with this family photo. It's probably the 1920s, and the trim on the porch is intriguing.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Store Clerk

This kid looks very proud, wearing his tie, at work at what is probably his first job.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cheyenne Canyon's Ramona Falls

Near Colorado Springs is a place called South Cheyenne Canyon, which has been a tourist destination since it opened in the 1880s. One of the prime features is the Seven Falls, a series of cascades which, from a distance, look like one large waterfall.

Our photo, probably taken in the late 1890s or early 1900s, shows the very uppermost of the falls, Ramona. A vintage graphic showing the full seven falls can be found here, and a graphic showing the names can be found here. In both of the links, near the top you can see the bridge that replaced the rickety one shown in our photo (and the ricketyness suggests that our photo is very early in the period of the falls' commercial development).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Main Street, White, South Dakota

If there's a place in the mid-west the epitomizes "out in the middle of nowhere", it's the lovely town of White, South Dakota. Stuck over on the eastern-most side of the state, White (today) covers 0.99 square miles with a few houses, several churches, an ag coop and a bustling population of 491 people. It was founded in 1884, and named after W. H. White, the area's first settler.

Our photo is a real-photo postcard (AZO 4-triangles-up, a code on the back meaning that the paper was produced sometime between 1904 and 1918), and someone took the time to note that the it was taken on Hallowe'en. The view is looking east along unpaved Main Street, and not a single automobile is in sight, everything is still horse-drawn.

The oddest part, though, is the large harvester parked on the street.

And hiding in the shadows is an old horse-drawn rake.

Here's a Google Maps view of White....just not much there!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Desert Depression Shooting Club

When the whole country's in a Great Depression, there's nothing like a little desert shooting expedition in New Mexico to help one escape from the troubles of life.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Our House - 13

This month's "Our House" photo is another very faded albumen print from the 1880s or 1890s, and depicts an elderly couple (the husband is wearing styles from the 1870s) posing in front of their home. Note the gingerbread decorative touches at different places on the house...someone clearly put a lot of labor into this place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Parsonage in the Snow

This winter street scene in what appears to be a western town (sparse pine trees and rocks in the distance suggest a scene typical of New Mexico or Idaho) is accompanied by a puzzling pencil inscription: "Parsonage first, Bullis in distance." Presumably, then the nearby house is some church's parsonage, and the house farther away belongs to a family with the surname Bullis.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mining Phosphate

Today we have two completely independent photos that appear to show the same thing, mining phosphate to be processed into fertilizer. The first image is a thin snap-shot, without any indication as to where it was taken. It shows a crew of laborers digging and loading their shovel-fulls into small rail cars. At first, I thought that it might be peat that they were digging, but then after acquiring the second photograph, I realized that it instead might be phosphate.

Shortly after acquiring the above photograph, I found the stereoview to the right, titled Mining Phosphate near Columbia, Tenn. This card is one of a series published in 1927 that dealt with mining and industrial development of Tennessee and the South in general. Most of the text on the back of the card is a general discussion of the importance of fertilizer to agriculture, but the last paragraph describes the process:
Phosphates are formed about decayed organic bodies in layers of rocks. In Tennessee the phosphate deposit is in limestone. Beds of this mineral are found in many places in the South, especially in Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. Here you see how phosphate is dug out and loaded on cars. these cars are run to a nearby factory, where the mined material is manufactured into fertilizer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Building an Overpass

There's a tremendous amount of activity and detail in this photograph from the 1920s. Construction crews are using a steam crane and a cement mixer to mix and pour concrete for an overpass. As of this writing, I have not been able to identify the location, but there is reason to suspect it might be in or near Scranton, Pennsylvania (more on that below). The photograph itself is in poor condition, and is starting to deteriorate, having suffered water damage at one point.

A team of horses stand waiting as the crew operates a cement mixer.

The only reference that I could find to Globe Stores was to a rather famous one in Scranton, PA; however the railroad station does not appear to be a Pennsylvania one.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Main Street, Anytown USA

Once upon a time, an early photographer decided to snap a photo looking down this street. I have no idea why, maybe he just wanted to record a moment in time on an ordinary day. Not an automobile is in site. One can almost imagine that this is a sunny, warm, muggy July day, the sky is blue, the trees are green, it's rained recently and the street is still muddy.

The image in this albumen print has faded drastically, but below an enhanced copy brings out details.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Our House - 12

House portraits typically feature the whole family, so where it the husband in this one? Since such photographs were typically shot by traveling photographers who went door-to-door at time when the whole family could be expected to be home, maybe the husband was simply away on business. This print is broken, with the lower left corner being found in a whole separate bin in the antique store, and then rejoined digitally in photoshop.

What I find most curious about this photograph, though, is the unusual windwheel which appears behind the house and above the roofline (below). This appears to be a Dempster Vaneless model, inwhich the sectional blade segments collapse as wind speed changes in order to regulate the mill's speed. A good video that describes and shows this type of windmill in operation can be found here on YouTube. A restored one can  be found at this web page.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Steam-Powered Lumber Mill

Since this is an outdoor lumber mill, I would presume it is at the site of some big construction project, rather than a permanent commercial business. That being said, judging by the size of the pile of sawdust in the foreground, this crew has been milling a lot of logs!