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Historic Baker-Barber photo slideshows entertain, inform in library



 The famed McCrary Twins. World’s Heaviest Twins. from ’67.


By Pete Zamplas-The new weekly slideshow series in the main public library in Hendersonville launches onlookers on a voyage into events, places and people of yesteryear.

The main initial purpose is for people to help better identify historic Baker-Barber Collection photos’ who, what, when, where and why. In the last dozen years, merely 4,000 of over 40,000 photos have been identified and/or scanned and cataloged. A.F. Baker first photographed locally 130 years ago, when opening Baker’s London Art Gallery in 1884. Many glass-plate negatives are marked from 1884 to 1915. There are also acetate negatives and photo prints.

The photo-identifying should in coming months result in many more photos online for free viewing, with optional purchase of better-resolution versions for non-commercial use, avid genealogist Ron Partin said. Photos online will be both ones substantially identified, and those needing more data or its confirmation.

“We’re gradually unlocking the mystery to these photos,” Partin said. He estimated about one in five photo gets identified significantly, at least as a star, and often with referrals to people linked to the subjects. In each session, about 20 people with a “passion in history” are participating and more are encouraged to help. Partin foresees historic photo exhibits and traveling slide shows. Partin is professor emeritus of Bowling Green, and taught high school social studies. He and wife Jan have lived here throughout the new millennium.


Ron Partin coordinates the photo identification project, as chairman of the Community Foundation of Henderson County’s Communications Committee. Helping him are committee members Keith Dalbec, Stan Duncan, Charley Rogers and Kaye Youngblood.

Special Collections Librarian Mark Burdette joins Partin at slideshows each Thursday from 3:30- 5 p.m. in the main library in Hendersonville. Shows are downstairs in the Morris Kaplan Auditorium, except March 20 when upstairs. The series began Feb. 27, and continues indefinitely. This coincides with the library’s 100th anniversary. The main branch is at Third and Washington.

In addition, Burdette displays about 20 Baker-Barber photos on a wall in the library reference section. He changes the photos every few months. People can pass on information about these photos to Burdette. The library stores and maintains the Baker-Barber collection. Egerton “Jody” Barber (1923-2001) willed it to the Community Foundation of Henderson County. The avowed purpose is to “provide cultural, educational, historic, and civic enrichment for the community.”

Partin said that, generally, 50 to 100 photos are shown in each slide show. Some are “low-hanging fruit,” more easily identifiable such as in recent decades when onlookers grew up, Partin said. He randomly selects folders of slides, for each week. The first session showed mostly decades-old photos, the second one largely from the Sixties, and the third session more of a mix including a cluster from the 1967 King Apple Parade.

When each image is on screen, the audience can volunteer information about it. In the first session, the Oleeta Falls grist mill was identified. Typically, one person leads and others chime in. Last Thursday, Boyd Auto patriarch Cam Boyd pinpointed years of cars in background of photos to narrow the time frame. Noted historian Dr. George Jones, sitting in front, knows much about historic sites from a century ago or so and since then.

HistPhoto3Blizzard1941_orig RS

The blizzard of March, 1941 triggered youthful memories that brothers Harley (now age 82) and Ken Blackwell (now 79) shared with The Tribune, after the latest slideshow. Harley, 10 at the time, recalled Edneyville School let out early as snow fell and swirled in high wind. Gusts drifted snow to four feet high outside their front door up Bearwallow Mountain, and 17 feet high elsewhere on the mountain. They were marooned for four weeks, until state-operated bulldozers cleared their road. But the fun part was as snow iced up and hardened, they could walk on it, feet barely imprinting in the snow. They went uphill, then slid back down. They recalled other severe local blizzards in 1938 and 1993.

HistPhotos4TwoBoys RS

Do you recognize these children from the Sixties?

Two boys are in a go-cart, in Boyd Park during a King Apple Parade in the Sixties. People can help identify subjects of these photos, at a weekly slideshow in the library. Baker-Barber Collection. Courtesy of Community Foundation of Henderson County, and Henderson County Public Library.

The book A Pictorial History by Jody Barber and Louise Bailey shows many identified local photos. The Baker-Barber legacy began at First Avenue East and Main Street, upstairs in the M.M. Shepherd general store that is hailed as the first local store. The photo shop moved along Main, to Fourth Avenue West then Sixth Avenue West where First Citizens Bank and the fountain are now. Each move was to be on the north end of town, Orr noted. This was to enable soft natural light to sift through a large window, to light the studio.

The photo images vary in condition. The artistry and persistent quality of many are impressive. Arthur Farrington (A.F.) Baker apprenticed under Alessandro Bassano, leading royal society portrait photographer in Victorian London, Orr noted. The Baker brothers emigrated to America in 1880. Four years later, A.F. Baker opened photo studios in Chester and Rock Hill, S.C. and one here that was part-time then full-time by about 1900, according to UNC-Asheville library data.

Baker did dry-plate processing. He used state-of-the-art cameras, such as a Premo Jr. 2A in 1914. He took early aerial photos of downtown. “Uncle Baker” took on relative Armitage Farrington “A.F.” Barber Sr. (1889-1980) as a partner. He turned the business over to Barber in 1930, amidst the Great Depression. Orr said Baker’s studio had as backgrounds a stage, with detailed scenes painted on canvasses. They hung from the ceiling. The chosen one was lowered to the stage.

For more about the slideshows or to otherwise help identify local historic photos, call Ron Partin at 698-2763. To view a sample of the photos, check this site:

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