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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Case of the Blue-Tinted Photograph

The blue-tinted photograph is of a small town, and because of its blue color, the image looks like a view from a dream. It shows a dirt road, and on the dirt road is a man driving a cart being pulled by a single horse. In the back of the cart there are two trunks. He is heading away from the photographer, driving toward the little town. No other person is visible in the photo. A few homes dot the street.

The mysterious denim-colored photograph
I was tipped off about the photo by my friend Lanza Teague, who shares an intere
st in old-time Kerr County photographs. "Interest" might be too mild a word; Lanza and I are a little obsessed with old Kerr County photographs.

This particular image was something of a mystery. Was it of Kerrville? If so, from where was it taken? And when?

There are a few of us in town who collect photographs of our community. Some have amassed large collections (at great expense); others specialize. My own collection is small but special. I love old Kerr County photos, and most of them have been given to me by readers of this column.

I suppose because of my work at the print shop, I have a good memory for images, and can often look at a photo of Kerrville and make a good guess about its age and its subject, and from what part of the city it was taken. It's as if I've built a mental map of our community from the old photographs, a map of a place that no longer exists, and, for that matter, ceased to exist sixty years before I was born.

Dating a photograph is easier when there are automobiles in the image. (Horses are no help in this regard. Each model year of horses looks very similar to other model years.) Sometimes a landmark will be visible in an old photograph, like a building, for which you have a firm date of construction. Sometimes a landmark will be missing, and that helps, too, by letting you know the photograph was taken before a certain date.

Looking at the blue-tinted photo I vaguely remembered another scene from an old postcard, a postcard I had first seen back when the City of Kerrville celebrated its centennial -- back in 1989. Our print shop had printed thousands of copies of the postcard to give away at the centennial celebration; in fact, I had attempted to take a photo from exactly the same spot as the original photo, for a "then" and "now" effect. In the old postcard you could see the Charles Schreiner Company, Captain Schreiner's home, the Guthrie building, and the third Kerr County Courthouse.

The old postcard
The old postcard photograph had been taken from the cupola of the Tivy Hotel, facing northwest, following Main Street toward the courthouse square. Since the cupola was no longer on top of the hotel, I improvised, getting a pole and bolting my camera to its tip. I cannot remember clearly whether I had permission to climb the old hotel, but I certainly remember the climb. Standing up there I remember thinking I could easily fall and break my neck, but I really wanted to get that shot. So, once on top of the old hotel, I hoisted high my camera high above my head, using the pole, setting the timer to click the photo. This was before digital cameras; I shot in film and climbed down from the roof of the old hotel not knowing if any of my photographs had captured the scene. Fortunately one of the many shots was usable, and we printed thousands of copies to give away in 1989.

This new, blue-tinted mystery photograph seemed similar, at least in my memory, to that long-ago postcard. Digging through my files I pulled out the old postcard and was pleased to see the scenes almost perfectly matched.

Tivy Hotel
The differences were subtle: the trees were a lot smaller, and there were no telephone or electric poles in the mystery photo, and St Peter's Episcopal Church was missing something important: its bell tower. Almost all of the homes in the postcard show some alteration from the homes in the mystery photo; porches have been enclosed, trellises built. The mystery photo was also taken from a lower angle: perhaps from the second story balcony instead of from the cupola.

That missing bell tower, though, reminded me of a paragraph from a brief history of St Peter's Episcopal Church, found in the Kerr County Album: "The bell in the church tower bears these words, 'Placed in St. Peter's Church through the efforts of the Ladies' Guild, 1898.'"

That means this image is of Kerrville and was taken before 1898.

If I'm correct, this is the oldest photograph of Kerrville for which I can confirm a date. (The previous record holder was 1903, because the photographer had scrawled the date on the face of the print.) Other images in my collection may be older, but none upon which I can fix a firm date. Yet.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose hobbies include collecting Kerrville photographs and Kerrville ephemera. If you have something you'd like to contribute to his collection, bring it by the print shop on Water Street. You can connect with him at www.facebook.com/JoeHerring

1 comment:

  1. Can you belive the old Tivy hotel is for sale- I hope someone buys it and makes it into a museum of some type- instead of tearing it down.

    ReplyDelete

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