Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: ‘Pictures By the Yard’ in Brookville

Matson Insurance has partnered with Jefferson County History Center to offer readers a look into Jefferson County’s past. Today, the history of “Pictures By the Yard” is highlighted.

[Pictured above: Three “yard-long” photographs, taken by Frederick E. Knapp, show WWI soldiers. The photographs are part of an exhibit about WWI that are available in the second floor Grand Hall. The exhibit includes a case of gas masks in the case below. (JCHS Photograph)]


Submitted by Carole Briggs:

What form are your photographs in? Perhaps you used little black triangles when you mounted the black and white ones onto the black pages of an album—the pictures you took with your little box camera. Or, maybe you put your colored Polaroid pictures into one of those albums with clear plastic covers for each page. Now, you’re most likely using a digital camera and storing your images in your computer, on a memory stick, or online.

In 1843, an Austrian photographer figured out a way to take panorama, or wide-angle photographs, but it wasn’t until Kodak produced flexible film in 1888 that panoramas became popular. We think photographer Frederick E. Knapp began using a panoramic camera around 1915 because that is the date of the earliest “picture by the yard” in our collection.

In April of that year, Knapp set up his camera outside the Methodist Episcopal Church in Brookville, and 229 members of the men’s Bible class trooped outside to pose. Not to be outdone, 120 members of the William P. Jenks men’s Bible class of the Presbyterian Church had their photograph taken in 1922. That same year, 258 Methodist men posed in front of the burned-out shell of their building after an October fire had left only the stone walls.

The last men’s Bible class pictures were taken during the Great Depression. In 1935, 200 Methodist men and women musicians posed for Knapp, and in 1937, 107 Presbyterian men posed for him. Obviously, the Methodists took top honors in this friendly competition!

Studying these long photographs with literally hundreds of people in them may seem tedious. Yet often enough, there are surprises. When counting the number of men in the Bible class photographs, we learned that in 1922, the Methodist class included a Black American man, a band, and a woman. No one is named, but we presume the woman played the piano.

One never knows what a photograph may tell you, or where it will lead you in your identification search!

[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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