Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Our Versatile Photographer

knappMatson Insurance is partnering with Jefferson County History Center to offer readers a look in Jefferson County’s past. Today “Frederick Knapp” is being showcased.

[Photo: Brookville photographer Frederick Knapp himself sat for a formal portrait.(Courtesy Brookville Heritage Trust)]


We’ve processed many of Fred Knapp’s photographs over the years. Formal portraits of local businessmen, buildings around town, rail-road sidings, automobile wrecks, hunters with their kill, and even glamour shots of local young women―all taken between 1898 and 1945.

He was indeed a versatile inquisitive photographer with a sense of humor. Born in Pinecreek Township in 1869, Knapp was the great-grandson of Moses Knapp, Brookville’s first settler of European descent. He went to the local schools, then farmed and did stone masonry until 1890 when he went to work in the studio of photographer E. C. Hall.

More than a thousand years ago people knew how to use a pinhole camera to produce an optical upside-down image. Someone published information about this process in 1600 and men like Vermeer, the artist featured in the film The Girl With the Pearl Earring, used it to assist with accuracy as they painted. Daguerrotypes appeared shortly before the Civil War, followed by other processes like calotypes, ambrotypes, ferrotypes, and glass plates. Then in 1884 George Eastman invented the film process that predominated during much of the 20th century.

Knapp grew up with these changes in photography. Hall most likely taught him to use a large view camera and glass plates, but Knapp recognized there was more to learn about the process of making pictures and went to Pittsburgh for eighteen months to study and gain experience. When he returned from Pittsburgh he bought the studio of J. S. Vasbinder.

In his new studio and for the major part of his career Frederick Knapp used a view camera and glass plates. The History Center, through a partnership with Historic Brookville, Inc. cares for a collection of about 700 of them. Their rescue is a story in itself.

Following Knapp’s death in 1945, the studio was cleared out and much of his work transported to the town dump. Editor H. E. “Pud” McMurray heard what was happening, recognized their historical significance, and rescued as many of the glass plates as he could. For many years they were stored at the offices of the Jeffersonian Democrat.

During the 1990s, editor McMurray’s sons, Don and Bruce, approached Historic Brookville, Inc. and the History Center about the preservation of Knapp’s glass plate negatives. They now are owned jointly through the Brookville Heritage Trust and have been pre-served and documented at the History Center through a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Today visitors can use the computers at the History Center to view digitized images of Knapp’s photographs, photographs well worth a look.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.


Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.

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