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The Wilkes-Barre Glass Negatives - Part 6

The major break in the case of the Wilkes-Barre Glass negatives came from the man who first purchased them.


Whenever I have sought to solve the identity of any of photographs or glass negatives, I always investigate it's provenance. Paul Holbrook who owned a large number of the negatives in the collection knew very little. He purchased them from an eBay seller who said they were of the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area. Hence, the name, "The Wilkes-Barre Glass Negatives."


But as Paul posted the restored images on his Facebook page, a man named William Lewis commented on one of Paul's pictures. We discovered that William Lewis was the person who sold the negatives with his estate sale business. William said that the photographer was believed to be Charles S. Nesbitt of Plymouth, Pennsylvania. Nesbitt is a big name in Luzerne County. A hospital there is Nesbitt Memorial Hospital. I knew this could be an important collection if what William was telling us checked out. I contacted him. He was very pleasant and helpful. He said that the great-grandson of Charles S. Nesbitt gave him information on the images when William was arranging the estate sale.


But I found a problem when I realized that Charles S. Nesbitt died in 1906. Some of the images were dated after that time. And Charles S. Nesbitt himself was born in 1841. Far too old to be the man in the family pictures. He moved to Espy, Columbia County from Luzerne County, so it didn't make sense that his glass negatives were left in Luzerne County. Also, Charles had two children, but the oldest was a daughter and then a son. It didn't seem to be a fit.


I continued to search for the identities of the photographer and his family. But, I hit dead end after dead end. I went back to what William Lewis told me. What if the photographer wasn't Charles, but one of his children?


I built a family tree for the Nesbitt family.

Charles Snyder Nesbitt was the son of John and Lena Snyder Nesbitt. Charles married Elmira Walton. They had two children - Carrie, born in 1864 and Harry Willits Nesbitt born in 1868.


Harry married Mary Elizabeth Ballamy in January 17, 1900. They had a son, Charles Ballamy Nesbitt on October 26, 1900 and a daughter, Margaret on May 6, 1904.


Two children, the right ages apart to fit what I was seeing in the pictures and born in the right time frame to fit the style of clothing I was seeing. Could it be?



Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Then I saw where Harry and his family lived - Academy Street in Plymouth, Pennsylvania! At the same house that William Lewis was tasked with doing an estate sale for.


It had to be them. Maybe some of the earlier photographs were taken by Charles S. Nesbitt, but it seemed that many of the images, in fact, most of the images in Paul Holbrook's collection, were taken after 1900 and after Charles S. Nesbitt's move to Espy and death in 1906. That is how I have determined that Harry Nesbitt, his son, must be the photographer.


Meet the photographer, Harry S. Nesbitt and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Ballamy Nesbitt.




Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Harry Willits Nesbitt was born on April 30, 1868. Raised in Plymouth, Pennsylvania (outside of Wilkes-Barre), Harry had only one sibling. His sister, Carrie, died at the age of two.


Mary Elizabeth Ballamy was born on April 30, 1871 (she and Harry had the same birthday, just three years apart.) She was the fourth child of George Ballamy and Margaret Matters, who emigrated to the US from England before 1870. Mary's siblings, George Henry, John, Emma Jane, Sarah, and William, are believed to have survived to adulthood with the exception of John, for whom no records could be found after his birth in 1863 in Tavistock, Devon, England.


I believe Mary's sister, Sarah, and possibly her mother are in some of the pictures. Since Henry's family was small (he was the only surviving child of Charles and Elmira), and Elmira had died by the time Harry married Mary, I think many of the people we see in the pictures with them are Ballamy family members.


Meet Sarah Ballamy:


Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


I was able to identify Sarah from this picture:



Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Sarah was only two years younger than Mary. She married William F. Harrison, a veteran of WW1 who was a doctor in Plains, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. I believe he is the disinterested-looking man on the far left in the picture above. An article was published about him and this picture:



Accessed at newspapers.com, edited for clarity by Paul Holbrook.


William and Sarah divorced in 1912 and William remarried a few months later. Their divorce was detailed in the newspaper at the time due to Dr. William Harrison's extreme abuse, both physical and verbal, of Sarah. Sarah never remarried and took back her maiden name. She never had children of her own, so I imagine that her nephew and niece were very precious to her.


Harry and Mary Elizabeth Nesbitt first lived in Wilkes-Barre after their marriage and I believe they were on the same street of the family who owned Idle Hours, the cottage on Lake Carey I wrote about in my previous post. Harry and Mary Nesbitt moved to Academy Street in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, between 1900 and 1910, possibly when their son Charles Bellamy Nesbitt was born in October of 1900.

Mary appears to have been a good and loving mother.



Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Harry worked as a clerk in a grocery store for over twenty years, and later at a gas station.

Perhaps this is the store?



Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


The location of the picture above is still unidentified.


From what I can find of Harry Willits Nesbitt and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Ballamy Nesbitt, they were a happy couple who lived a simple life in Plymouth, right outside of Wilkes-Barre. They vacationed at the lake, they hiked waterfalls, they had friends and family around them. They lived, they laughed, they loved.



Photo restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.


Although they were taken over a hundred years ago, Harry Nesbitt's photographs preserved some of their community history, way of life, and family. Harry's pictures of his family also preserved their memory forever. I'm sure this simple twentieth-century family had no idea what joy Harry's pictures would bring to people across the country.


More on Harry and Mary and their children tomorrow!


Photo from the collection owned and restored by Paul Holbrook of Camera Americana. Used with permission.



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2 Comments


Unbelievable detective work! Very sad the account of abuse, but her life did go on and I hope happiness came her way again. Wow! This could be a movie script. Thank you Julie for sharing this with all of us.

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I'm in awe of all you were able to find with such little information. What an amazing story!

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