Tamaqua treasure trove
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua Historical Society President Dale Freudenberger examines samples from boxloads of late 1800s plate glass negatives depicting the Tamaqua-Panther Valley region. The collection arrived at the museum late Tuesday night.
The extraordinary collection of Baily photographic plate glass negatives has just grown by about 2,000 and local historians couldn't be happier.
On Tuesday, Pat and Karen Davison of Tamaqua donated four boxloads of historic images, most taken by David Baily, founder of historic Baily Studios, the town's leading photographer.
The images will be added to the original Baily collection which had been donated by the Davisons 14 years ago.
The entire collection was salvaged by the Davisons before the 1980s razing of the Baily Studios building, West Broad and Berwick Sts.
The Baily collection consists of tens of thousands of pictures, although most are in plate glass negative form and are in need of preservation, cataloging and printing. Some have been produced for viewing in celluloid format by Pat Davison, a project he undertook shortly after securing the negatives.
"He read about it and talked with Jack Cassidy, who taught him how to do it," said Karen, the former Karen Mundy, recalling a time 25 years ago when she and her husband feared the collection was about to be discarded.
To save the images from being destroyed, the Davisons hauled the heavy boxes down three flights of stairs, a project taking months.
"They were covered in soot. Everything up there was covered in black," said Karen. The studio featured large windows and skylights which may have drawn soot from passing steam engines. A branch of the rail line once existed just steps away from the building.
"We are extremely grateful for the Davisons' insight in saving these from the abandoned third floor studios before that entire block of buildings was demolished," said Dale Freudenberger. "We're thankful for their foresight in knowing the value of what they found."
The images, depicting the post-Civil War era until the early 1940s, showcase Tamaqua, Hometown, Coaldale and Lansford. Among them are vintage photos of old businesses, houses, coal breakers, underground mining scenes, mine hospitals, pump rooms, miners and their garb and equipment, school class photos, bands, sports teams, churches, confirmations, billiard rooms, clubs and barrooms, dairies, hotels, Christmas displays, orchestras, death and funeral photos including many images of deceased children, images of the PPL Hauto power plant under construction and photos of Hometown High Bridge under construction.
The "newest" images are the icing on the cake for what is an extensive and valuable part of local heritage, Freudenberger said.
"I believe the Tamaqua Historical Society has the largest repository of local historical photographs in the region."
In addition to the David, Elmer and Clarence Baily collection, the society's holdings include about 150,000 photos by the late Roy Ackerman, chief photographer for the Tamaqua Evening Courier, along with 5,000 to 10,000 individual photos donated by area residents and former residents.
The Tamaqua Historical Society Museum now features a recently completed, climate controlled repository. In addition, an aggressive renovation program is under way which, when completed, will result in an all-new regional museum when it reopens in a year or two.
In the coming weeks, the TIMES NEWS will take a closer look at the extensive Baily collection and its priceless record of times gone by in the Tamaqua-Panther Valley area.