Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Black and White Window into our Local History

This article was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz by Betsy Port- a long time resident of Longmeadow. 

Photo Credit: Cory White
The Longmeadow Historical Society is a real treasure trove of antique furniture, American decorative arts, documents and memorabilia. A special collection of glass plate negatives by Paesiello Emerson, give us each a chance to reminisce and relive past days in rural Longmeadow. This budding photographer was born in Hopkinton, Mass in 1832.

Mr. Emerson loved photography and took his camera along as he explored the world around him. Our area was bursting in the early 20th Century when he moved here. In 1900 there were slightly more than 800 residents here. It was the age of the American Industrial Revolution and the end of the British Victorian Era.  By 1920 the population had tripled due to the farmland transformation to suburban home development. The family car was not commonplace, but soon it would be. The streetcar trolley made commuting into Springfield possible. The railroads had come to Springfield and big social and economic changes were happening rapidly. The Jazz Age was around the corner.

Builders saw opportunity to make money and help the new residents find places to live. Open space in the northern part of Longmeadow soon became ripe for construction. Paesiello Emerson was almost 70 when he came to Longmeadow in 1900. His activity may have started as a hobby or science experiment but it soon filled his hours. In 1923 Center School was completed and ready for students! By 1925, St. Andrew’s Stone Church was built! The First Church was remodeled and it was an exciting time to experience these first buildings. In 1925 the photographer received the gold-headed ebony cane that was and is traditionally handed to the eldest in the community.  By that point he had been capturing Longmeadow images for a quarter of a century. He passed away at age 95 in late December of 1927.

His legacy today is over 1500 glass plate negatives of our town stored in the LHS vault. You can see the Longmeadow Country Club in 1924 and The Community House with an early car in front during the Spring of 1923. He took photographic images of 214 different locations. A trip to Bermuda at age 80, took him out of the country, yet most of the images are New England locations.. Today we are reminded of his name when we visit Emerson Road, which had been named Depot Road previously. Thanks to his half sister Annie, who lived at 476 Longmeadow Street (corner Emerson Road), for she donated all his work to the LHS after he was gone.

If you are interested in this topic, please go to the Longmeadow Historical Society website for further information about his life and work. He had been a wounded Civil War veteran and a boot maker in the eastern part of the state. The Digital Commonwealth also has links to these photo resources. I googled his name and was directed to a great site called Lost New England which was full of fascinating street scenes in our area and present day comparisons. Enjoy the nostalgic images shown here, and there are plenty more on the website.  You may have seen an exhibit of the photographs at the Storrs Library, and I hope more images will be printed and exhibited soon. Jim Moran, a board member of the LHS has organized the photos and using a map from 1920, placed images in their locations.  This project is called Through the Lens- Longmeadow 100 Years Ago. All of the Emerson glass plate negatives were digitized by the Massachusetts non-profit organization, Digital Commonwealth. This service was provided free so we can browse online and see how Emerson viewed the world.

Betsy Port