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Say Cheese: Inn offers chance for ‘historic’ photos

Chester Inn docents Janice Hammett and Gordon Edwards pose for their old fashioned photographs.


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You can enter a photo studio from the turn of the 20th century and have your picture taken at the Chester Inn Museum now through August. 

The exhibit, titled “Capturing Images: Photography and Photography Equipment in Jonesborough,” was assembled by Joe Spiker, staff member of the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. 

If you are going to get your photograph taken, explained Spiker, “Visitors can use their cameras or cell phones to take their own pictures, or ask one of the docents to take it for them.” 

There are also props on hand including hats and scarves that visitors can use in their photographs.

Mary Whaley dons the appropriate garb and expression for turn-of-the-century portraits.

Highlighted in the exhibit is the photo studio of O. L. Hensley. His studio probably started in the area about 1890 and continued through the early 1900s. Hensley’s studio was located on Main Street. He often photographed outdoor scenes in addition to studio portraits. One such picture is labeled “Camping on Clark’s Creek, 1900 – O. L. Hensley Photo.” 

The museum’s “Photo studio” is a photographic reproduction of his studio complete with backdrop, camera equipment, chairs and a couch.

Spiker said he devotes parts of January and February when the Chester Inn Museum is not open to think about new exhibits and how to assemble the contents in the space available. Most of the exhibits in the photography display are from the Alliance Archives including photographs from Volume 14 of the Fink-Dulaney Collection. Spiker believes visitors will be particularly interested in the collection’s box camera with glass plate holders. 

Twentieth century cameras on display include a Kodak Duaflex II, circa 1955; a Polaroid 600 Business Edition, circa 1985, a Nikon Tele Touch 300AF, circa 1988 and a World War I Army Issue Field Camera, circa 1917. Motion picture cameras are also included in the collection with the explanation: “Capturing still images evolved into moving pictures, and photographs technology evolved along with it. Interest in movies and motion pictures exploded in the 20th century, and the appearance of handheld video recorders allowed anyone to record video and audio recordings.”

“The development of photography in the 19th century fundamentally changed human society,” Spiker’s introduction to the exhibit explains. “Photograph technology allowed people to view and understand things in ways that had never been possible.  Other groundbreaking 20th and 21st century technologies such as movies, television, computers and cell phones were built on or incorporated in some way the basic components of 19th century photography.” 

Ginny Whaley dons the appropriate garb and expression for turn-of-the-century portraits.

Examples of photographs are shown in the museum’s display cases under the headings of “Tintype,” “Ambrotype” and “Cabinet Card.”

Each type is labeled on several pictures and then described as follows: Tintype introduced in 1856 is a photographic image printed on thin iron plate.” 

The second tintype in the exhibit is a portrait of Jonesborough photographer L. W. Keen in the early 1860s. Libern Wilkerson Keen (1823-1907), a native of Sullivan County, opened a photographic gallery in Jonesborough in 1847.  This was only eight years after photography first came to the United States.  He remained in business until the end of the century.

Joe Spiker with the Heritage Alliance describes the process of putting together an exhibit.

“Ambrotype was introduced in 1854 and was popular for 10 – 15 years,” according to the Capturing Images Exhibit. “Ambrotypes were printed on glass plates. Later ambrotypes usually consisted of a single, ruby-colored glass plate and were packaged in a small container. . . Ambrotypes were similar to daguerrotypes which are largely considered the earliest form of photographic printing.”

The “History of Washington County Tennessee” (Jonesborough: Washington County Historical Society, 2001) in an article about the scarcity of goods during the Civil War states, “L. W. Keen, noted local photographer, sought photographic cases by offering refunds to those who returned their pictures with cases intact.

The “Cabinet Card” was introduced in 1866 and became popular in the U.S. in the 1870s. According to Capturing Images, “Cabinet cards became one of the most common photograph printings used in portraits. Cabinet cards were popular for photography studios to use like L.W. Keen and O. L. Hensley because it allowed them to display their studio name both on the front and the back.”

“Camping on Clark’s Creek,” an early 20th-century photo from O.L. Hensley.

A segment of the display asks: “What happens once cameras capture their image?”  The answer depends on when you ask the question, according to Spiker. 

“Most modern cameras retain their images directly and use memory storage devices or online transference to retrieve a printable image while in the 19th and 20th centuries the film development process. . .” included a number of devices, some of which are shown in the museum exhibit.

The value of photographs to historians in understanding the past is pointed out in a display case placard. Part of the goal of the exhibit “is to reach out to the community” explaining “while our photographic collection is extensive, there are holes we would like to fill in. In order to tell as much of Jonesborough’s story as possible we are asking for any photographs that you might have of Jonesborough and Washington County, including buildings, people, places, events, communities and neighborhoods of non-main street Jonesborough, and area towns such as Telford, Bowmantown, Limestone, etc.” 

For additional information about the exhibit,  Spiker can be contacted at (423) 753-4580. The Chester Inn Museum is located at 116 West Main Street in Jonesborough.  The museum is open now through October on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.