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Urban Archeologist: Positive About Negatives

Peering deep into the glass to find the past.

It may be obvious, but after discovering the glass negative from I have been fostering a small obsession to learn more about them.

Thanks to a mutual friend, I have known Nancy Zorena for several years. Remembering that she was connected with a historical society led me to getting in touch with her. Nancy, who has been a past president of the Monroe Historical Society, and is now currently a volunteer, met me in the History room of the on a warm Saturday in January. I was there to see what I had been searching for: a large collection of glass negatives in the historical society’s archives.

Nancy explained that the town was fortunate to have had an avid early photographer as a resident; Frederick Sherman was a schoolteacher and then a town clerk who lived from 1869 to 1941 and photographed many buildings, gatherings and landscapes during his life. After he died, it was said that among the many antiques in his collection were thousands of glass negatives. Sadly, most of these were sold at auction and little documentation exists for the few hundred stored in the library. With permission, I was able to borrow three slides for processing.

Half the fun of looking at old items is the opportunity to try to discover something new about each one. To do this I needed to refine my original plans for transferring them. Having started with a scanner, I discovered that some of the detail was lost in its poor contrast resolution. A little deeper study on some photographic forums and I found myself building a light box from cardboard and an old picture frame. Using my DSLR camera I now had a higher resolution for a deeper look at the images.

The images displayed above show a similarity in Sherman’s photographic interests, lone buildings are the focal point and Ed Coffey, Monroe town historian explains, “He shot scene after scene in many Connecticut towns some of which were made in to postcards.”

They are masterpieces frozen in time. The old Monroe town hall, long torn down; the , likely taken around the 1920s as they prepare for their annual “Karnival” — it still stands today; and the Riverside Methodist Church, which once sat where lake Zoar is today on the border of Monroe in a section referred to as “Old Oxford.” This negative was in bad shape, but it may be the only photographic record of this building in this long gone location.

Thank you, to Nancy Zorena and Ed Coffey for loaning me the negatives and allowing me to dig in their archives and their memories for the rich background in this article that I could only touch on. The Monroe historical Society welcomes volunteers and anyone interested in researching and learning about the history of Monroe. Students are especially welcome and have accessed the History room for source material for their projects. The History room is commonly open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

For an interesting history on the Stanley Plate box above, visit the blog.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story.  You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

Bob McGarrah January 12, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Remarkable detail for such old pictures. Nice job! Maybe folks will check their attics and turn up some more.
Nancy Zorena January 12, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Well done! Thanks for putting our glass plate gems in the spotlight.

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