Recollection Wisconsin recently added the Brodhead Historical Society’s online image archive to our search engine. This digital collection features more than 1300 photographs from Brodhead and neighboring communities in south central Wisconsin.
Pat Weeden, president of the Brodhead Historical Society, provided more details about this ongoing project in an email interview.
When did you start digitizing your photo collections?
Pat: We started digitizing in the spring of 2009 with the purchase of a professional scanner that would handle both prints and film negatives and slides. A friend of our organization created a custom database and Computer Know-How of Brodhead hosted our website and searchable database for free. We partnered with Brodhead High School, where the seniors are required to complete a community project before graduation, and a couple of students spent time scanning and entering metadata for each image. We were using an older, donated computer and the process was very slow, so not a lot of progress was made the first year. In 2011, we were awarded a Wisconsin Historical Society mini-grant toward the purchase of a new computer and Photoshop software. Once these items were in place, things really took off and we now have over 1,300 images digitized.
You run a “Picture of the Week” in the local paper. How did that start, and how do you choose those photos?
Pat: I approached the Brodhead Free Press about running the Picture of the Week as a general interest item, and they were all for it. They sometimes even give us a full color spot! The Free Press goes out to some 8,000 addresses in the region so we get a lot of coverage. Each week (sometimes less often) we select an interesting image to run, usually one that has missing information, such as a group photo without the names. We then ask people to call or write us if they can fill in the blanks.
As the feature took off, I found that we got a much better response if I used an image from the 1940s through the 1970s, since many people have direct memories of that era or with a little digging, can find images of their own that match ours. The really old images are neat to look at, but we rarely get feedback from them. With the broad reach of the newspaper, I try to include images from surrounding communities, like Juda and Orfordville, Wis., and Durand and Davis, Ill. People get a real kick out of it.
Have you learned anything intriguing from the “Do you know more about this image?” comment feature in your database?
Pat: One thing I have learned is that sometimes the information we have on file for a particular image from the original donor is not correct. People will write in and say we have a date wrong or a person misidentified. If the information submitted can be verified, we’ll update our records. Of course, the opposite is true as well. People will occasionally submit information that we know to be incorrect, so we have to be careful. But it is nice when people can help us out like that.
We get some neat comments, like, “This is the Brodhead Junior High Band in 1962 at the Homecoming Parade. I am the Drum Major…..I still have the baton!”
Do you have any favorites from the collection?
Pat: My favorite images to scan were a batch of 14 Kodachrome slide carousels full of color images from the early 1950’s through the early 1980’s. They were all taken by Mr. Truman Olin, a lifelong resident of Brodhead, and he took pictures of everyday, seemingly random things around town, like all the buildings on each side of Main Street and the cars in a parking lot and people at a concert in the park. He would go into businesses and take pictures of people working. He took a picture of every float in Brodhead’s Centennial parade in 1956. Just common things that most people would never photograph, but it is really rich content 50+ years later. He preserved a great piece of history by taking those snapshots, and they’re all in color.
Anything else you want to share about the project?
Pat: Sometimes I look at the number of images we have in our museum and think we’ll never get through digitizing them. It can be a daunting task for an all-volunteer organization and it will be many years before we come close to finishing. But I’m glad we started because it has generated a new level of interest in our historical society and its something that people can participate in from their homes, no matter where they live. That outreach is part of our mission and beyond the educational aspect of it, the visibility that the online database provides has actually generated new donations and revenue that allow us to keep our physical museum in good repair. I would encourage other museums to start digitizing if at all possible. There are plenty of resources available to make sure it is done right.
To explore the collection, head to http://www.brodheadhistory.org/archive-search.html