I must make a confession. Since the mid-1980s I have been involved in a love affair with the CCHS Photo Collection. When I first saw the collection, it was located in a small windowless vault that contained a large oak, 20-drawer filing unit, four units of metal shelving, a file drawer unit for 3 x 5 cards, and a folding table and chair. This is where the adventure began.
My first large project was to organize the collection. I remember that the folding table was covered with glass negatives and prints that had been taken from the shelves and not refiled. So things were put in order and an inventory of the collection was made. Not long after, I was hired for a grant project to work on the A. A. Line Collection of glass negatives. This experience opened my eyes to what Cumberland County looked like from about 1860 to 1920. I never looked at the county in the same way after that. It expanded my view of my environment and answered many questions about how things were, and why things are the way they are.
The years have moved rapidly and the changes have been constant. The photo collection has undergone a number of growth spurts, and the number of images now numbers somewhere in the three million count. If one photo is worth a thousand words, just think of all the stories that the CCHS photo collection has to tell.
What is so exciting about photographs is that they can be used in so many different ways for so many different purposes. Just walk around the historical society or attend a society event and you will see how the many branches of the historical society make use of photos. I love being part of this process and always look forward to what may be just around the corner.
When I first worked with the Carlisle Indian School Collection, I remember thinking that it would probably not grow, and that interest in it would be sporadic. I certainly was wrong about that. It has been constantly an area of interest and it seems like someone, somewhere, is always coming up with a new slant on the story. One of my greatest joys has been to find a photo for a Native American whose ancestor they have never seen before. I’ve also been moved when a patron finds a cache of photos of their ancestors in our collection. Quite a few family reunions have taken place in the CCHS Photo Archives.
I have many wonderful memories of life in the Photo Archives. What started as a tiny vault has become a center of activity generated over the years by many wonderful and dedicated volunteers who each have left their mark on the collection. I also often think of all the photographers whose work we house in our collection. I feel they would be pleased to see that their life’s work has been saved, cared for, and is being used by the current generation.
So now I feel better that I have made my confession. I hope my reflections have been of interest to you. Come to CCHS and enjoy all that we have to offer. I think you will find something that you will love too.
Richard Tritt, Photo Curator
Featured Photo: Richard Tritt among a group of campers in 1963 at Camp Michaux (36A-07-02). In the Cumberland County Historical Society Photo Archive.