Preserving photographs from Baker's past

October 21, 2001 11:00 pm
Lynea Adams and Gary Dielman examine a photograph from the Hawley collection. Archivists determine as much about the photo as possible before entering it into the collection.  (Baker City Herald photograph by Christina Wood).
Lynea Adams and Gary Dielman examine a photograph from the Hawley collection. Archivists determine as much about the photo as possible before entering it into the collection. (Baker City Herald photograph by Christina Wood).

By CHRISTINA WOOD

Of The Baker City Herald>

Treasures come in many forms.

For Gary Dielman, its the 6,000 photographs taken by Baker County residents since the late 1800s housed at the Baker County Library.

Better known as the McCord Collection, the photographs document in black and white just how much Baker County has changed over the years.

Not to mention how much it has stayed the same.

We just keep coming back, year after year, Dielman said of the Baker County Historical Society members cataloguing the collection and making it available to the public.

The originial photographs are put in acid-free folders and kept away from strong light to protect them from fading.

But reproductions are bound by category and available for the public to view in the Oregon Room.

Each photograph carries a code that corresonds to a slide image of the photograph, which can be checked out so that library patrons can have copies made by a photo shop.

The process of cataloguing the photographs is a labor of love for a group that includes Pearl Jones, Grace Lewis, Lynea Adams, Laura Hayes and Howard Brooks.

The late Dorothy York spent many years with the group. She died about a year and a half ago.

Each member brings strengths to the group and a true love of history. Dielman said they sometimes get lost in the photos, enjoying the stories behind them.

I like seeing the pictures, Adams said. Were kind of history nuts.

Many of the volunteers are senior citizens who have lived in this area, some of them all their lives. Those memories help make cataloging the collection possible because there are few scenes they cannot identify or add to the information provided.

Brooks, the newest member of the group and a retired geologist with the State of Oregon, also brings his extensive knowledge of the geological and mining history of Baker County. A great number of photos in the collection concern mining, equipment and the methods used to extract minerals from the earth.

McCord Collection

The greater part of the collection was taken by Oliver Hazard Perry McCord. Olivers father, S.B., was the first mayor of Baker City. Oliver was an early day insurance agent, real estate and investments broker with a strong interest in photography.

His collection went to his son, Robert B. McCord, who died in 1981. Roberts widow Neva L. left the collection to Baker County. When the present library building was being built, a section was set aside to house the McCord collection for the use of historians. The recent remodeling added more storage space for the now expanded collection which is kept under lock and key until it has been cataloged and copies made for general use.

Seven years ago a second large collection of photographs taken by Brooks Hawley was added. Hawley left instructions in his will for the collection to go to the library according to Dielman.

Hawleys collection duplicates some of McCord's work, but is often better recorded. Much of his work is in albums with written descriptions and some dates.

Other, smaller collections some found in attic trunks, some few found in trash have been given to the library for safe keeping.

Some of the smaller, personal collections have contained some of the most important information we have on day-to-day life for those early settlers and those who came after, Dielman added.

Dielman said some of the photos come with information, usually written in pencil on the backs but other photos are of subjects and times that archivists can only guess at.

A broad collection

The collection includes maps, family histories, ledgers from the Baker City Fire Department meetings, from 1909 to 1942, old Grange records and other bits of historical note that help place the photos in their respective places.

There are many photos of the gradual growth of the town with street scenes ranging from mule teams pulling freight wagons to the ever present automobiles after World War II.

In addition to mining there is the lumber industry, farming and ranching, manufacturing and industries. The military is well represented, sports, organizations, churches, schools, transportation of many kinds, and, of course, the fire department.

The project was originally spearheaded by Jones, now 83, but the younger Dielman now takes the lead while Jones lends her considerable knowledge of local history to the efforts.

Sometimes we dont get much done except for fun, Jones admitted. Its a big challenge to find out what, who and when.

While all members of the team are volunteers, the project has received some funding from grants to buy folders and pay to duplicate more than 700 photos and negatives.

They have also received the support of Aletha Bonebrake, head librarian for the Baker County Library.

Aletha has provided invaluable assistance with providing our facility and the room to work in, Dielman said.

Meanwhile, the group meets nearly every Monday afternoon in a back room of the library overlooking the Geiser Pollman Park and the Powder River. Both are scenes of many early day photos in the collection and individual trees can be identified that still stand today.

The old swing set is still there, too. The historic swing, which was once in danger of being removed because it was a hazard, still thrills children today just as it did nearly a century ago.

Anyone interested in donating photos or copies of photos to the library may do so by calling Dielman at 523-6760 or bring the photos to the library during regular hours of operation.

The library is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.