A display of 40 photographs from 1903-1904 will be displayed at the Drennen-Scott Historic Site in Van Buren in May, with a grand opening set for 1 p.m. May 4.
Dr. Ray Wallace, provost and senior vice chancellor at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, discovered a cache of glass negatives dating from the early 20th century in a local antique store in late 2013.
Wallace said he quickly realized that many of these photographs had an Arkansas connection, with shots from Arkansas family life, camping in the Ozarks, railroad scenes from Van Buren and even 1904 World’s Fair photos, again with an Arkansas connection.
“I was excited about this found treasure, and I went to Tom Wing, director of the Drennen-Scott Historic Site, to see if one of his classes could help put together an exhibit of some of these images and at the same time provide the viewing public some historical context,” he said.
The grand opening of the resulting exhibit coincides with the May program in the Crawford County Chronicles series, a series of monthly talks at the historic site. May’s program happens to be on railroads in Crawford County, and some of the exhibit photos include the Van Buren rail yard.
The free Crawford County Chronicles program is scheduled at two times on May 4 -- 1:30 and 3 p.m. -- but reservations are required. No reservation is required to attend the exhibit opening. To make reservations for the Chronicles program, call 479-262-2750 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Drennen-Scott Historic Site is located at 221 N. 3rd St. in Van Buren.
Wing said that many of the images in the exhibit have Van Buren and Crawford County connections, while others are of known landmarks outside the area.
“Additionally, some of the photographs are pictures of extended family from the turn of the century providing insight into the past,” said Wing. “Being able to involve a historical interpretation class in planning the exhibit and researching the photographs makes this yet another real world learning opportunity for our students. While some of the photos have been researched and identified, many are still a mystery. Perhaps some of our visitors can help with additional information.”
Wallace said photographic glass plates preceded photographic film by about 50 years, but glass negative capture faded from the consumer market in the early years of the 20th century when convenient and less fragile films were introduced.
“Therefore, this collection from 1903 to 1904 is a real find,” he said. “Glass negatives are very fragile and can be negatively affected by water, dust and breakage.”
Wallace will discuss the 40 photographs selected for the show during the opening of the display and will tell how he “saved” these images into digital form from their original glass negative form.
“The glass negatives had been stored for decades in a derelict wooden structure in Van Buren,” he said. “And while most had been destroyed by the elements, about 90 were still salvageable.”
He said he was able to digitally scan the salvageable negatives and recover a great deal of detail from them. He then printed photos from the digital negatives he produced.
“These are important historic and artistic artifacts, and anyone who is interested in seeing how people lived in this area in the early days of the 20th century and/or anyone who is interested in glass negatives in general should visit the show,” he said. “The students in Professor Wing’s historical interpretation course have done a magnificent job in preparing for this gallery opening.”
UAFS acquired the Drennen home and acreage in 2005 and received several grants to restore the property and the house, which dates back to the 1800s. The Drennen-Scott Historic Site, which opened to the public in May 2011, serves as a museum and educational facility for UAFS.
John Drennen was a founder of Van Buren, politician, Indian agent, landowner and businessman. Charles Scott was Drennen's business partner who eventually married Drennen's eldest daughter. Charles and Caroline Scott inherited control of the estate after Drennen's death in 1855.
Limited parking is available at the Visitor Center located on the DSHS property. Those attending may also park at the Crawford County Courthouse, which is two blocks from the Drennen-Scott Historic Site.
The exhibit will remain on display through November. The Drennen-Scott Historic Site is open to the public on Thursdays from 1-5 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.