Archives for posts with tag: Transportation

Here’s a sequel to my Richmond In Sight Facebook entry about being passed from person to person. Recently, Dan Bailey, my friend in Washington state, posted on Facebook about a PBS show & said I was mentioned in the credits. Huh. I watched the show, The Race Underground, wondering what my connection was, and then I saw a name I recognized, Daisy Schmitt. Searched RIS emails and there it was.  A year ago, I got an email from an American Experience producer who was referred to me by the Valentine Museum’s Kelly Kirney. They wanted streetcar photos from 1888 which I didn’t have. Harry didn’t come to Richmond until 1909.  I suggested the book Rails in Richmond by Carlton McKenney, Richard Lee Bland, streetcar historian, and Thomas Riddle, a volunteer at Lewis Ginter and a great local history source. A flurry of emails followed, PBS searching for the out-of-print book, stuff like that, and then silence until Dan watched the resulting show and read the credits. It was lovely that they remembered to thank me for the help, amazing that Dan noticed my name, and another example of how my Richmond In Sight project functions (and why we need our own documentary!)

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Excursion “open car”

My journey to identify people & places in Harry Stilson’s collection follows a crooked path. It’s 2017 but internet and technology can be replaced with a storage box of photographs and willing feet. When I started this, I took Harry’s pictures to the streets of Richmond, visiting churches, businesses, and homes. A telephone call would result in an invitation to visit. Richmond is a very small town when it comes to our social network. There’s a reason I wrote in my first book, “Richmond…not six degrees of separation, maybe two.”

028-kids-arm-in-arm-bk

Carlton McKenney is a good example. I’d read his book and noticed a photo similar to one of Harry’s so I tried to find the man the photo was attributed to, and, when that failed,  Carlton McKenney’s family to ask if they knew more about it. There were still phone books back then and I found a McKenney related to Carlton but she knew nothing about the photo so that was that. Or so I thought.  A year later, I was working on my third book, Up & Down Church Hill, and asked my childhood friend, Richard Nolde, for oral history souces within his family, owners of Nolde Brothers. Richard sent me to his brother Ed who suggested Anna Nolde McKenney.  She already knew about my work because I had called her daughter!  I was wondering about the name coincidence (McKenney) and sure enough, my Nolde contact was also my McKenney contact.  And Thomas Riddle, the Lewis Ginter Garden volunteer? He was friends with Carlton McKenney and very familiar with his research. See what I mean? Two degrees of separation at most.

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First & Viaduct derailed, Stilson photo, almost identical to one in Charles W. McIntyre collection

The Richard Lee Bland story is even wilder.  A woman came to one of my presentations and bought Richard Lee a book.  He called me and said that he had seen these pictures before. At the Church Hill Tunnel collapse anniversary, he met a man with a picture of the Tunnel before the disaster. That man gave him the photo to scan at VCU Libraries. Well, that man was my father, Howard Lynch. Richard was still marveling (years later) that someone would loan a complete stranger such a rare photograph. He wanted me to have a tape he’d made of their visit when he returned the photograph. When we met, he also brought me a picture he’d bought since we talked…a Stilson photograph.  He said he’d have bought it because it was rare (an African-American man, identified by a Richmond street sign, and hand-dated) but, because he had just read my book, he recognized the writing and the image as a Stilson photograph. What are the chances of all this happening?  I couldn’t make this stuff up.

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Richard Lee Bland’s Stilson photo, taken day after African-American troops’ parade in Jackson Ward

 

There’s more.  In 2012, I showed Harry’s collection to VCU. I pointed out the Tunnel picture and archivist Ray Bonis said “We have that.” It was in their digital online collection. He didn’t remember how they’d gotten it, though. As Paul Harvey used to say, Richard Bland was “the rest of the story.” He’d taken the photo to Ray all those years earlier. And there’s more…a year after all this, I found a letter in my father’s papers from VCU Libraries. It was from Ray Bonis, dated a decade earlier, after he’d gotten the Church Hill Tunnel picture and asking that my father consider donating his images to VCU. Ray didn’t remember any of that (it was ten years earlier!) but all this goes to show that RIS work and its mysteries are like Richmond: intriguing, exciting, and yeah, a very small network.

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East end of Church Hill Tunnel years before collapse

There are so many instances of these “coincidences”. At the Weinstein Jewish Community Center when I first started what I call “The Great Harry Stilson Adventure,” I heard a voice say “I knew a streetcar man named Stilson. He let me drive his streetcar.” Morris Goldberg knew my grandfather when he was a boy. What are the chances me showing pictures to about 30 random people and hearing a voice in the crowd saying THAT? You can call this stuff coincidence. I think I’m supposed to be doing this work.

That’s why I share Stilson images in presentations, books, online, whenever and wherever I can. I’ve met folks whose relatives are in Harry’s pictures. I’ve had people recognize tiny bits of buildings and that information identifies dozens of pictures. And that 1888 streetcar image that I couldn’t provide to PBS’ American Experience? I couldn’t do that but I do have pictures of the apartment of the man who collected the first nickel fare on the first Richmond streetcar run in 1888, along with pictures of the miniature streetcar he built to recreate an incident on that first run…and I’ve met and shared those images with that first streetcar conductor’s grandson, Walter Eubank. Even took him on a visit to the Valentine to show him that miniature streetcar on display. He had seen it as a boy visiting “a museum” but never knew that his grandfather built it. Now he knows. All because of Harry Stilson’s photography, Richmond In Sight, and Richmond’s “not six degrees of separation, maybe two”…and my storage boxes of pictures.

Harry Stilson labeled the picture (left) “Bo Eubank’s miniature car to  represent the first  run in Richmond Virginia in 1888 on which it ran over a cow, two goats and a horse.” (right) Walter “Bo” Eubanks’ grandson, Walter, at the Richmond Valentine Museum by the miniature streetcar his grandfather created

 

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0161 Road work

Contaminated water in Flint, Michigan and failing systems across the country are in the news and my mental image of those aging infrastructures may be more accurate than others. That’s because, like a lot of ‘ordinary’ work in my great-grandfather’s life, Harry Stilson took photographs of utility work along his streetcar route and in his neighborhood. Everything from cobblestone repairs to power company linemen caught his eye and, for Harry, that meant he captured those scenes on film.

Cobblestones

Richmond had a state-of-the-art water system in the early 1900s, so impressive that it was a streetcar destination for tours. The Pump House, an early multi-purpose facility below Dogwood Dell, supplied the city with water while dances were held upstairs. From all over the country, people came to admire our water plant. I also have pictures of Harry’s grandchildren at the “settling basin” but here’s the Pump House in the 1920s. Its restoration is a project dear to my heart but seemingly out of reach with current budgets. Don’t you think it would be great to hold dances in that historic building once again?

118 pump house  119 interior

Harry took hundreds of pictures in that area because his family lived on Chaffin Street, now Grayland Avenue, located between Carytown and the Downtown Expressway. Heading downtown on that highway, look to your left and you’ll see the church shown below. Back then, Park View Church overlooked Fountain Lake in Byrd Park. See where the vehicles are parked? Today we drive in that space. The hill was cut away and the Park separated from the church area in order to build the Expressway.

018 Park View church,

The installation of curbs and gutters on Harry’s street was big news and he documented the work with several photographs. The picture below is labeled “all in” which expressed his satisfaction at the completion of the project. I have utility bills and a plumber’s bill so the expenses we incur today were part of family budgets in the early 1900s.

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091 back gas,water bill

 

Cobblestoned streets are an iconic part of Richmond. In oral histories, I’ve asked about riding bicycles on cobblestones and heard Aleck Mollen’s response repeated often: “Not on cobblestones! It would take a better bike rider than I was to ride on THOSE!” We love our charming cobblestoned streets even though they require a lot of maintenance. They did back in Harry’s day, too.

044 cobblestones Leigh St

This picture was a puzzler for two reasons. The streetcar man seemed dark-skinned and we wondered if he was perhaps the Indian man Harry wrote about on a postcard. He reported that his daughter had gone to visit an Indian woman whose husband worked on the streetcars, that they were good neighbors and that he wished “all white folks” were like them. Well, we were wrong. The streetcar man’s daughter contacted me to identify the man as her father and he’s not Indian. The lighting (or Harry’s developing) must have been flawed. The other mystery was the equipment beside him. Randy Jordan’s research determined that it was a water cultivator. Why a water cultivator was required at “the flats” on Leigh Street in Jackson Ward is still a mystery!

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I mentioned that Harry took a picture of a lineman, “Joe Pace up a pole.” That also was a mystery. I used to be a telephone installer in Church Hill, Oregon Hill, Shockoe, & Fulton so I was searching for a man hooking a pole. Nope. One day we noticed the safety belt around this man’s hips. Not exactly “up a pole,” Harry, but this is Joe Pace, lineman for Virginia Power, the company that ran Richmond’s streetcars. By the way, when I hooked poles in downtown Richmond, none of “us guys” wore suits, ties, and hats, unless you count hardhats!

Joe Pace et all lineman

These are just a few of the men at work, specifically utility work, captured by Harry Stilson’s camera being preserved, restored, and shared by his great-granddaughter,  Kitty Snow, and Richmond In Sight. This blog is part of the RIS project and donations are tax-deductible. If you enjoy these snapshots of Richmond back when streetcars rumbled along our cobblestoned streets, go to www.richmondinsight.com and purchase a book of Stilson images and stories, schedule a presentation of his images, or make a donation.