Athol Daily News – A page in North Quabbin history: Glass plate negatives capture life at the turn of the last century


For the Athol Daily News

During the winter months, local historical society buildings close for the season. However, the work of these societies continues, including at the Narragansett Historical Society in Templeton. Among their winter projects is organizing their large collections of glass plate negatives

“In total I guess we have easily collected over 1,000 glass plates, we are in the process of arranging them in a shelf where we can see them all in one place,” said the president and curator of the Narragansett Historical Society Brian Tanguay. . They are currently stored in several locations.

The glass plate negatives and photos developed from them are the work of three local photographers: Oren Williams in Baldwinville, Wallace Underwood of East Templeton, and Albert Phelps of Templeton Center.

“Most of the negatives were developed by the three men and we have these original prints; some are on cardboard and some are on photo paper. They have compiled photo albums and we have them on display right now. The others will be developed and printed to be inserted into the new photo albums with a digital version on our computer,” said Tanguay.

“Fortunately for us, these men captured life around the turn of the century, some dating back to 1888 and as far back as 1915. They showed factory views, riverside angles, homes, farms, people at work and at play, and horse-drawn carriages. A fine collection of the three men that gives us a glimpse into their lives,” Tanguay said.

When he wasn’t taking pictures, Williams was a fire chief and worked for the EL Thompson Chair Co.; in his later years he was city clerk. Underwood was an artist and painted pewter chairs and dishes for local stores and for himself. It’s unclear what Phelps did for a living. “I believe Oren and Wallace knew each other, and Oren lived a long life and must have known Albert in his later years,” Tanguay said.

The photos depict both scenes from the past and people from that era.

“Phelps took many family photos on the township in front of the Templeton Inn and adjacent to it. Williams depicted views of the city and Underwood focused on his family and friends with very unusual scenes depicting them performing,” Tanguay said.

Images of local buildings and scenes are also included in the collection and show how the town has changed over the years. “Most of the time the factory buildings have been destroyed by fire or flood so the landscape has changed that way, but there were also fewer trees and now the forests are cultivated and the views have The one I enjoy the most is Profile Rock on Norcross Hill (private property), which was once just a field with the rock profile overlooking Baldwinville. Now the trees block the view and everything you see is Profile Rock,” Tanguay said.

Regarding the organization of the photographs, Tanguay said: “We start with 16 binders, four for each district (of the city), but I’m sure it will become more, some to present factories, others to present the 1938 stream.

“I think almost everyone who visits the building ends up going through our photo albums; they take you back to that ‘simple time’, but we all know it was much harder for our ancestors,” he continued.

Filers will find a home in the museum building on Boynton Road in Templeton Center. “We keep a nice selection of albums in the main museum to view and rotate them as we introduce new highlights to our collection, like last year when we introduced the wartime collection civil,” said Tanguay.

He added that other projects the company is working on include the renovation of the Grange Hall. “It will be a gold star in our cap once it opens again.” The hall, when completed, will house exhibits, monuments, the stained glass window of Trinitarian Church and the miniature model of Templeton Inn, among other items.

It will be an exciting time to visit Templeton, to see what has been hiding behind those doors (Grange Hall) for so many years,” said Tanguay.

The Narragansett Historical Society reopens to visitors on Tuesday evenings from April and Saturday afternoons from May. More information about the society can be found at

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