I'm Peg Giles. My husband Bob and I have finished scanning all the historic pictures from the 50-or-so identified towns. All of the approximately 5,000 glass plate negatives that belonged to my grandfather, Frank H. DeMars are now on this web site. When his oldest daughter, Martha Ruth DeMars Richards, (pictured with her father in hammock) died in 2009, we found the negatives in the attic of the family home.
The colorful palette with the words “The Art Store – Artistic Picture Framing etc.” is a copy of the little sticker that Frank DeMars put on the back of all the pictures he framed when he had a store on Main St. in Winsted, Conn. between 1904 and 1914.
When we cleaned out the attic in the family house, we found the sticker on the back of several of the framed prints.
Frank H. DeMars lived in northwestern Connecticut. He was born in 1872 in the Robertsville section of Colebrook. He spent most of his life in Winsted and died there in 1942 at the age of 69.
“Like so many of the small entrepreneurs of the period, his background was eclectic. While in high school, he made and sold paper pads and Burpee seeds. … He helped in his father’s garden from which they sold vegetables and fruit and … kept a garden of his own. …He worked at the Boston store in Winsted from 1890-1892 and did odd jobs as far away as Norfolk, like painting, papering and carpentry work.”
“By 1904 he was running an art store at 700 Main Street which featured picture framing. The woman he was to marry, Martha R. Harrison, worked for him in the store. …In 1908 he was advertising ‘postal cards, wholesale and retail’. … By 1912 his store had expanded to 711-715 Main Street.” “DeMars was an amateur photographer and took photographs of the region around Winsted, which were sold in his store, both as ‘real photographs’ and as lithograph cards printed in Germany. After selling the store [in 1914], he continued taking photographs and selling photographic post cards [for a 5 cents each] on an itinerant basis.”
No one knows exactly when DeMars began to take photographs. It is likely that he learned photography from King T. Sheldon, an early photographer in Winsted and northwestern Connecticut. What is known is that he purchased large numbers of glass negatives from K.T. Sheldon and William Deming, another fine early photographer. There are also pictures from Gilbert Ives (Sandisfield MA area) & Una Klingan (Colebrook CT). At this point, no one knows just who took which pictures. We can assume that DeMars did not take the earliest pictures because they are dated in the 1870’s and 1880’s. That is why we refer to the images as being from the DeMars collection.
DeMars traveled throughout the northwest corner of Connecticut and western Massachusetts photographing the natural world, buildings and events. He developed his photographs in the basement darkroom of his home with the help of his wife and oldest daughter. The images were then transferred onto postcards and when they were dry he took them to the attic and printed the captions on the cards.
“He delivered his post cards to small stores in the area, in lots of 25-50 leaving them on consignment. He traveled by horse and wagon and later a Model T Ford. Every few months he would return to collect his money and replace the cards that were sold.”
“Looking back on the whole output of DeMars, it seems miraculous that he produced so many quality photographs while using methods that were primitive, even by early 20th century standards.” Film became available in the late 1800’s and the first mass-marketed camera, the Brownie, was sold in 1900. Still, DeMars used an old-fashioned camera with glass plates, using a tripod with a black cloth over the photographer’s head. He was never a successful businessman and had very little money; we speculate that he got the cameras and glass plates cheaply and just stuck with what he knew. As it turns out, that was fortunate for us. The glass negatives captured an amazing amount of detail and, for the most part, remain intact one hundred years later.
“He seems to have been consciously out to preserve a visual record of a landscape and a way of life which were disappearing, even at that time.”
Much of this history was taken from an article written by Herbert Richardson in June of 1996.
A recent front page article in the Valley Press (a Farmington Valley weekly) featured this historic project and some pictures from the DeMars Images web site. Although there were some inaccuracies, the reporter certainly captured the spirit of the effort.
“When Peg Giles of Granby started sifting through 5,000 glass plate negatives tucked away in boxes in the attic of her grandfather, Frank H. DeMars’ Winsted home, the mementos become a project to link her to the past and the man himself.” “The interesting thing is I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1942, before my parents even got married,” she said. “I loved holding things that he had held.”
For more of the article, click here.
Many of the pictures are scanned and up on the web site (remember there are 5,000 of them); there are images from approximately 50 towns. Some of the towns have lots of pictures and others just a few.