Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Glass Negatives of Former Town Historian William R. Montgomery

William R. Montgomery served as Historian of the Town of Pelham during the 1920s and 1930s. He had an intense interest in, and abiding respect for, the history of Pelham and surrounding areas.

One of Mr. Montgomery's lasting legacies is a very large collection of glass photographic negatives taken during the 1920s. These negatives contain images of many historically-significant structures in and near Pelham, many of which no longer exist.

An Example of One of The Montgomery Images

Image Courtesy of The Office of The
Historian of The Town of Pelham, NY

The image that appears immediately above is created from one of the many, many glass negatives created by William R. Montgomery. It is an example of an image that documents a rich part of the history of Pelham that no longer exists. It shows Coles on Boston Post Road. This building that no longer stands was created in part from the Little Red Church that served as the first church building of the Huguenot Memorial Church.

The Little Red Church was built in 1876. On April 14, 1915, the congregation of the Church authorized a committee to investigate the construction of a new church building. The following year the little wooden church building was sold to a developer who moved the building across the street to 4768 Boston Post Road -- essentially where today's Getty Station stands not far from the intersection of Pelhamdale Avenue and Boston Post Road. The developer rather haphazardly built additions onto the structure and turned it into apartments above street level stores. The building stood for thirty years until it was razed in 1948. It stood on lands owned by Joseph Kennedy of the Kennedy Clan who served as America's ambassador to Great Britain, among other things. To learn more about Coles, see Old 'Red Church' In Pelham Manor Is Now Just A Memory Of The Past -- Building Which Was The Original Huguenot Memorial Church Edifice Was Razed This Week; Had Been Used as Apartment House for Last 30 Years, Pelham Sun, Dec. 16, 1948.

William R. Montgomery's photograph of Coles that appears above shows the structure on May 18, 1924. If you look closely, you can actually make out arched windows from the original church building near the top of the structure. The two signs are easy to read in the original photo that has been reduced in size for inclusion in this Blog. The smaller sign reads "Pelham Manor Drummond Real Estate 17 East 42nd Street, N. Y." The larger sign reads "Drummond Real Estate". There is a Model T garaged near the base of the building and another partially obscured by the smaller of the two signs. There is also an unidentified man standing on one of the two exterior porches at the back of the building.

The Provenance of The Montgomery Glass Negative Collection

Mr. Montgomery maintained meticulous records for each of his photographs. For this particular photograph, his notes indicate the following: "BUILDINGS: BUSINESS: COLES on Boston Post Rd. - formerly part of the Red Church" and "Wm Montgomery 5/18/1924".

Thankfully, William R. Montgomery's glass negatives are stored archivally in the collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham. Mr. Montgomery, it turns out, was quite an organized pack rat. Upon his death, his family contacted then Town Historian Susan Swanson and then Deputy Town Historian Mimi Buckley asking for their assistance to organize and index certain material discovered in the attic of his home. The two historians agreed to assist with organizing and indexing books and papers to prepare for an estate auction in exchange for a promise from the family to donate the glass negative collection to the Town. The family agreed and, after many, many days of long and arduous work, the effort was completed and the negatives were donated to the Town.

Ms. Swanson and Ms. Buckley placed each glass negative in an acid-free archival envelope designed specifically to store such items. On each envelope they wrote bibliographic information copied directly from Mr. Montgomery's records. The negatives inside their individual envelopes were placed in several acid free archival storage boxes and stored in accessible steel cabinets for further study and analysis.

Recent Efforts To Digitize The Montgomery Collection

For the last year or so, representatives of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham have been engaged in a volunteer effort -- at no expense to the Town -- to digitize the Montgomery Collection of glass negatives. The process is described below.

Each glass negative is placed on a flatbed scanner belonging to one of the representatives of the Office. A transluscent white panel is laid across (behind, so to speak) the negative and a goose neck lamp light source is shined onto the negative through the panel. The negative is then scanned at 300 dpi to create a .TIF image of the negative. The image is assigned a control number (e.g., the image above is 00000095-B) and the control number and all bibliographic data is logged into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet so that it can be imported into a database at a future date.

The .TIF image of the negative (designated as 00000096-A in the example above) is then opened in a software program known as Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 and is "inverted" (i.e., converted from a negative to a positive image). The software is used to enhance the image, improving contrast and brightening or darkening the image as needed. The "positive" version of the image is then saved separately and designated as the "B" version of the control number (e.g., 00000095-B).

William R. Montgomery's legacy extends well beyond the photographs that he took of historically-significant views in and near Pelham. His photographs, however, are a tangible reminder of his labor of love given the difficulty in those days of carting his photographic equipment around the area and then arranging the development and printing of the negatives.

Editor's Note: On April 11, 2005 I published an additional posting on this topic entitled "More From the William R. Montgomery Glass Negative Collection".


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