The mystery photograph
by Julie Jeffery Manwarren, November 29, 2021
This post is dedicated to Paul Holbrook, who overcame so much in the past year and whose rescue of another glass negative was perfectly timed by God to be yet another a miracle.
I remember the first time I saw it. Described as another Floyd Ingraham glass negative, it appeared on eBay - this one too expensive for my friend Paul Holbrook or myself to purchase. But Paul wanted it badly.
I was instantly enchanted with the image of the village church and it's charming steeple in a picturesque setting - the perfect backdrop for a train coming down the tracks in what I guessed must be the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Original glass negative, circa 1900, courtesy of Paul Holbrook. Used with permission.
Even though Paul couldn't purchase the glass negative and include it with others by photographer Floyd Ingraham for our book, I still wondered where that little village was in the mystery picture. I wondered if the church was still standing.
Paul and I continued to keep an eye on the glass negative when it was again listed on eBay and held our breath as the price began to drop. I researched the picture, trying to determine where it was taken.
In the meantime, Paul battled cancer. Our book, Floyd Ingraham's Springwater: A Finger Lakes Hamlet was published and then, not long after being told his cancer was in remission, Paul contracted Covid-19 and was hospitalized. I prayed for his health and safety every day.
The mystery picture showed up on eBay again. Again, I tried to research it. I considered buying it as a gift for Paul, the friend I have never met, (Paul is a glass negative collector and photographic restorer from Ohio. I live in Pennsyvlania) but when I looked for it, it was gone from eBay. Had it sold?
To distract my mind from my fears over Paul's health, I researched the picture along with others that I had placed in a 'mystery' file. Even though the book was finished, I couldn't feel settled until I had located and identified all of the Ingraham photographs that I possibly could.
I searched for historic churches in an around Floyd Ingraham's home town of Springwater, New York. I poured over old post card images and maps, looking for churches to Google, praying that there was an image out there somewhere that would match the location shown in the glass negative Paul longed to own.
Paul miraculously recovered. He had published a book, beat cancer and recovered from a bad bought with Covid in one year!
And then another miracle happened.
The glass negative image of the train with the church in the background was offered at a price that was much more affordable. On August 9th, 2021 Paul messaged me the news that he had purchased it! He got to work restoring it and it was just as beautiful as we could have hoped.
Picture courtesy of Paul Holbrook, from original glass plate. Used with permission.
Again, I started researching the image. Still nothing. Once Paul posted the picture online, members of the Springwater Webster Crossing Historical Society commented and some thought it may be Cameron Mills, New York. But once I looked at pictures of Cameron Mills, I decided that it wasn't a match.
Photo accessed online at Steuben County Historical Society Facebook Page.
I didn't see houses in Cameron Mills that looked like what is seen in the mystery picture owned by Paul Holbrook. The Cameron Mills County Line Church had only three windows and the church in Paul's photograph had four. The church steeple wasn't a match either.
Picture on left courtesy of Jane Schryver from her personal collection, used with permission. Picture on right courtesy of Paul Holbrook, from original glass plate. Used with permission.
I started from scratch and gathered as many clues as I could from the picture. The church was a major clue and I noted not only the steeple, but the shape of windows. I also was drawn to the train and decided to focus my research there. I discovered that it appeared to be a steam engine built in the 1800's with an oil headlamp. I learned that the men on the front, riding on the pilot (or cowcatcher), were probably a breakman and flagman. I found a site online of 1800's train enthusiasts and they were so helpful!
First, they noticed that it appeared to be a light engine locomotive on a narrow gauge track. They pointed out the link on the front and the pin couplers. One woman suggested that maybe the engine was dispatched to rescue a train that was stranded up the line due to flooding.
Picture courtesy of Paul Holbrook, from original glass plate. Used with permission.
I saw the water in the ditch and realized that parts of the railroad in the region where Floyd Ingraham lived ran near the Cohocton River.
I looked again at the photograph and studied the landscape. The hills were very distinct. I searched through old railroad maps and found a section of railway that followed the Cohocton River that had steep elevations on one or both sides. I felt that it was possible I was looking for a small village between Bath and Cohocton, New York. It took me days, but I went through every town on the map that was along the railroad, located close to a river, that also had steep elevations nearby. Then, I did online searches for vintage pictures of churches in those locations. But I couldn't find one that had the church or homes seen in the picture.
I posted the photograph on other history sites for western New York and one person commented said that the picture was of Wallace, New York, south of Avoca. I was thrilled. This was the right region, and I knew that it was close to the river, and had steep elevations. But I could find nothing online with a church in Wallace that looked like the church in the mystery train picture. The position of houses and the landscape that I was seeing in old pictures of Wallace from the early 1900s didn't line up with what I saw in the mystery picture. Another dead end.
I was about to give up. I considered taking a break from my research and putting it off until after Thanksgiving. After all, I had pies to bake. Then a notification popped up that I had more feedback from the online group of pre-1895 train enthusiasts!
Stephen Boothroyd responded, "The cowcatcher and stack look Pennsylvania to me. The domes look Baldwin LW, Pennsylvania bought a lot of Baldwins.
Locomotive is fitted with deadblocks, (protruding from the pilot) which indicate service as a pusher or rear end helper, which would go along with the extra brakemen riding the front of the loco."
Then Robert McGlone commented, "That looks like a 'built in the 1870's' Pennsylvania RR locomotive based on the stack, headlight, domes and cab. Unfortunately, the Penn RR had a really complicated numbering scheme and I can't help with that. My guess for it traveling alone is for the 2 men in the front to check out the shape of the roadbed after a heavy rain or flooding. One man checks left and the other right."
Rich Hill commented and agreed it was a Pennsylvanian locomotive. He thought it may be for the Lehigh Valley Railroad and discovered that they built an 1869 series numbered 123, 124, and 127-135. Someone else felt it may be an engine built by Altoona. Even with some conflicting opinions, all agreed that it appeared to be an 1869/1870 series Pennsylvanian built locomotive.
Pennsylvania? I was confused. I assumed this picture was from the western Finger Lakes region of New York like the others in the collection being sold on eBay. But a quick search for 1870's era Baldwins for the Pennsylvania Railroad proved Stephen and Robert may be right.
Accessed on Wikipedia.
Lehigh Valley RR Baldwin Locomotive, accessed at NortheastRailFan.net.
I also saw a lot of similtaries with the locomotive in my mystery picture and an 1869 series lomotive built by Lehigh Valley Railroad. This one is numbered 234 but is quite similar to the engine in Paul's picture.
Lehigh Valley Railroad #234 locomotive, accessed at New York Heritage: Digital Collections.
Looking at Pennsylvanian locomotives jogged my memory. I remembered that a few glass plate negatives sold as Floyd Ingraham's were actually of places in Pennsylvania. One of the glass negatives that was sold with the other Ingraham glass plates pictured the Pittston Iron Works, in Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, near where I live. And it had handwriting on it that I believe matched Floyd Ingraham's, leading me to believe Floyd may have traveled to the Pittston, Pennsylvania area. Since Springwater and surrounding communities purchased coal from northeast PA it seemed plausible that Floyd may have traveled down to negotiate pricing of coal or to visit the Iron Works.
Could the little church in the mystery picture be from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania? It was a long shot. But with the way the last two years were going, long shots were going Paul's and my way.
One Google search is all it took. I simply typed in "Historic churches of Luzerne County." And this picture showed up:
The first thing that caught my eye was the shape and design of the windows. Even though the bell tower was missing its steeple, I knew this was IT! As I reviewed the Google search findings, I found two area news channels had covered stories on this little church.
I clicked on the links from the news broadcasts from May of this year. I was overjoyed!
(click on picture links below to see what I saw!)
Accessed on November 22, 2021 at pahomepage.com. Originally published on May 15, 2021.
Accessed on November 22, 2021 at wnep.com. Originally published on March 29, 2021.
I can't tell you what I felt at that moment. Everything came together and then the realization hit me: after all this time, and all that searching, the mystery church with the train tracks behind it was only 30 minutes from my house!
The church in Paul's mystery picture was none other than Slocum Chapel in Exeter, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
Photo is a cropped image that is courtesy of Paul Holbrook.
I so badly wanted to get right over there. However, it was Thanksgiving week. And it was a Monday and Mondays are usually a pastor's day off. I called the church phone number and held my breath. Pastor Guy Giordano answered.
I'm sure at first Pastor Guy was confused why a woman who was a historic researcher was calling him and opened the conversation by telling him about a Finger Lakes New York photography collection. But then I explained that I had a photograph from an original glass plate negative owned by my friend Paul Holbrook and that I believe the picture was of his church, here in Pennsyvlania.
He became just as excited as I was and invited me to come meet him at the church!
The most amazing thing is that Pastor Guy Giordano, his wife Barb, and their congregation had looked everywhere for a picture of how the building looked originally. None existed in the local historical societies. All they had was a newspaper clipping from the 1900s of the side of the building. They were in the process of remodeling and preserving the 131-year-old church. This past spring the church held a fundraiser for a new steeple. They had no pictures to show what the original steeple looked like, so they had an architect develop a rendering for them of a standard pointed steeple with a cross on top. The church was about to make a payment to have the steeple rebuilt when I called them.
Picture on right, courtesy of Paul Holbrook from original glass negative. Used with permission.
The timing couldn't be more perfect and everyone, Paul and myself included, believe God orchestrated this whole thing.
If I had researched historic churches in Luzerne County back in 2019 when Paul first saw the glass negative, it is doubtful that a picture of Slocum Chapel would have even shown up on the first page of my Google search. But because of the May 2021 news story and the church's efforts to do renovations and restoration of their historic building, Paul's purchase and my research resulted in us getting to be a part of a perfectly timed miracle.
When I pulled up and walked in the doors of Slocum Chapel in Exeter, PA my eyes filled up with tears. This little congregation had preserved something so special. What's more, it felt sacred. I thought of how many buildings, churches, schools and homes are torn down each year. So much history is lost as records are thrown out and buildings are torn down. Pastor Guy shared that a beautiful mansion had been left in a state of disrepair and was just torn down across the street from the church. Guy and his wife Barb were determined not to let that happen to Slocum Chapel.
Slocum Chapel from the rear, looking over PA Route 92, Exeter, Pennsylvania.
Several years ago, a new roof was put on. The congregation takes good care of the inside of the church and it has most of it's original woodwork, all of its windows, and even some original hinges and knobs. I found treasures everywhere and a tour of the little church was everything I hoped it would be.
Then I got to climb up to Slocum Chapel's bell tower. There was a precarious climb up narrow stairs and a chance of encountering mice or bats, but it was so WORTH IT!
It is the original bell and it still rings every Sunday.
So, at long last, Paul Holbrook is home from the hospital and doing well. The glass negative of the train and the church tucked into a hillside has found it's home within Paul's beloved collection. And the photograph he created from the negative has found it's way home too - to the people of Slocum Chapel where plans are underway to have Paul's photograph of their church hanging in the vestibule. A new steeple will soon be placed on top of the 131 year old bell tower.
When the bell rang out the Sunday after Thanksgiving at Slocum Chapel there was so much to be thankful for! My heart is bursting with joy and I cannot wait to go back and visit again.
To learn more about the history of Slocum Chapel, go here.
#historydetective #photopreservation #historicpreservation #slocumchapel