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, April 14, 2016

Pelham Preservation & Garden Society Is Digitizing Glass Negatives and Lantern Slides of William R. Montgomery Collection

The Pelham Preservation & Garden Society is funding the professional digitization of the Town of Pelham's William R. Montgomery collection of glass negatives and lantern slides.  The first two boxes of glass negatives are being prepared by Brooklyn-based digitization studio DiJiFi located at 1166 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11222.

I have written about the William R. Montgomery collection on several occasions.  See, e.g.:

Thu., Feb. 17, 2005:  The Glass Negatives of Former Town Historian William R. Montgomery.  

Mon., Apr. 11, 2005:  More From the William R. Montgomery Glass Negative Collection.

Thu., Sep. 08, 2005:  Glass Lantern Slides Included in the William R. Montgomery Glass Negatives Collection.  

Thu., Oct. 27, 2005:  The Camera Used by Town Historian William R. Montgomery.

The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham, with the approval of the Town Board, recently delivered the first two boxes of glass negatives to The Pelham Preservation & Garden Society for scanning by DiJiFi.  The negatives are being scanned as archival .TIFFs, rendered in digitized positive format as .JPEG files, and linked with scans of the acid-free archival envelopes in which each is stored to capture bibliographic information handwritten on each envelop.  Initial results are very encouraging as the two images below demonstrate.

Undated Image of The Grape Arbor on the Estate
of The Priory During the 1920s.  Photograph by
William R. Montgomery.  Courtesy of The Office of
The Historian of The Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

Image of the Archival Acid-Free Envelope in Which
The Glass Negative of The Grape Arbor Image Published
Above Is Stored.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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 the very large collection of more than one hundred glass photographic negatives taken during the late teens, the 1920s, and the early 1930s.  These negatives contain images of many historically-significant structures and sites in and near Pelham, many of which no longer exist.

Long after William R. Montgomery's death, then-Town Historian Sue Swanson and Deputy Town Historian Mimi Buckley approached members of his family who still owned the home in which Montgomery once lived to ask about the negative and lantern slide collection.  Through the efforts of Ms. Swanson and Ms. Buckley, the family agreed to donate to the Town of Pelham the entire collection of glass negatives and lantern slides, as well as the camera used to take the photographs, in exchange for having Sue Swanson and Mimi Buckley inventory the entire contents of the attic of the home in which the materials were stored -- a task that turned out to be gargantuan.  Upon completing the task, The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham took possession of the slides, inventoried them, stored them in archival envelopes, and had a number of the more significant slides printed on photographic stock for the Town archives.  The development was significant to save the materials from the heat and humidity of an ancient attic.  

In 2005, I succeeded Mimi Buckley as Town Historian and immediately began scanning the slides and glass negatives.  The scanning equipment of the day was not particularly sophisticated.  Thus, the process of creating usable positive images of each of the slides was difficult, time-consuming, and principally software-based.  Nevertheless, the collection was scanned to .JPEG files and I converted the negatives to positive images for posterity.

Recognizing the importance of the Montgomery Collection, the Pelham Preservation & Garden Society recently offered to fund the professional digitization of the entire collection.  According to the Society, "The Pelham Preservation Society is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in 1999 for the purpose of fostering community understanding and appreciation of the architecture, historic structures, natural beauty and aesthetic character of the Town of Pelham and surrounding areas."  Its Web site provides a wealth of information about the many civic and philanthropic projects sponsored by the organization.  

The quality of the professionally-prepared scans of the Montgomery negatives appears to be quite excellent as the image of The Priory Grape Arbor published above suggests.  The scanning project will take substantial time to complete, but is well worth the effort.  Due to the magnanimous dedication of The Pelham Preservation & Garden Society, images of historic Pelham structures and sites will be preserved for the Digital Age and the enjoyment of Pelham residents.    

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