Help Save Historical Photographs From Destruction

Railroad station

This circa 1905 photograph shows both the Baltimore and Ohio station, which was torn down in the mid-1930s, and the railroad switch control tower, which stood in Galatea, Ohio, until the 1980s. Tower operators controlled train traffic through the Galatea crossover on both the east/west running B&O tracks and the north/south running New York Central tracks. A Society member donated a copy of this photograph to the North Baltimore Area Historical Society.

Old photos such as the one above are extremely useful to historians, building preservationists, genealogists, and others researchers. What may seem at first glance to be just another family photo may actually have significant local historical value.

Photos provide information about individuals, human activities, landscapes, buildings, and events that frequently cannot be found in other sources. When historians and genealogists use historic photographs in combination with maps, legal documents, newspapers, and other written accounts, they are better able to understand history. Many old photographs display old buildings in their backgrounds or are images of everyday activities of past generations.

Unfortunately, many of these old photographs are lost each year due to neglect or deliberate destruction. When stored in attics or basements, photographs are easily damaged by heat, mildew, insects, and exposure to wet weather. Many 19th and early 20th century photos are deteriorating due to the age of the photographic paper upon which they were printed. Acids and other chemicals in the pages of photo albums penetrate photos, darkening the images and causing the photographic paper to become brittle. Frequent or prolonged exposure to light will also cause images to fade.

Many interesting and historically valuable photos are often found in private collections that are not available to historians or the public. Unfortunately, many of these photos are discarded when their owners must downsize their possessions when they move from their homes into retirement facilities or relocate to other parts of the country. Children may not be interested in their family’s genealogy or want only selected pictures, thus forcing an individual to dispose of their life’s photo album collection in the trash. All too frequently, photographs are lost when the heirs of deceased individuals throw out pictures when settling an estate and cleaning out a house.

Before resorting to the destruction of historic photographs, please consider donating them to one of the following organizations:

If you are unsure of the historical or genealogical value of a picture or photographic collection, please contact the Wood County Historical Museum, the Center for Archival Studies, or the North Baltimore Area Historical Society. They will be glad to look over your pictures and give you advice on which organizations might be interested in acquiring your photographs.

Comments are closed