With a few minutes to kill earlier today, I reached for one of the boxes of oversized photographs that sit on top of our file cabinets. As you might expect, these pictures are awkward to deal with. Not only are they big, they’re also kept in individual envelopes which means you have to pull them out one at a time until you get either bored or distracted by something else. As long as we’re being completely honest today, I may as well admit that I’ve never looked at most of them just because of the hassle.
I’m not sure what moved me to open one up this morning but I was instantly glad I did. I found several envelopes marked with the name of a photographer: “Townsend,” who signed each image on the bottom right corner. No one in the Woodson knows anything about him, not even his first name. The pictures are not dated but they were clearly taken before World War II, possibly in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Not “early early”, but “medium early.”
They’re beautiful but more important, they’re interesting. Some are taken from unusual angles, letting us see things that are hidden in most photographs.
This is the one that really stole my heart. You can see H.A. Wilson’s shed behind the physics building so clearly! Also visible is the parking lot across the street from Physics and the girls’ tennis courts beyond that.
They aren’t, as I mentioned, dated. But on the reverse side of each one is a note that is not without interest. I might not know when they were taken but I do know that our old friend Pender Turnbull took them out of Edgar Odell Lovett’s things and put them into the photo collection in 1965.
Bonus: Here’s one more. Two things strike me. First, the diagonal path to the Administration Building and second, the experimentation with alternatives to the Italian cypresses.
The car in the photograph with Wilson’s shed appears to be a model A Ford, about 1928±2. That would be my guess as to the age of the photos.
I hate to disagree with Dr. Sass, but I must. The car nearest the camera is indeed a late-20’s car but the grille shell is too “broad-shouldered” to be a Model A. Probably a ’28 Dodge or something Chrysler-related. Over where Bonner Lab will be there is a ’32-’36 Ford, with its distinctive curved front bumper, and another mid-30s car, maybe a Packard. Hard to tell from the picture. So the pic is no earlier than 1931.
The thing that strikes me about the photos is the absence of live oak trees along the road between Chemistry and Physics (either Laboratory Road or Pitman Road, depending on whom you ask). That should provide another bound on the date.
Also, notice how boxlike the hedges look; they have been trimmed in a more formal way than current practice.