The new featured exhibit at the Salem Museum is not for folks with a fear of heights. But it is for anyone who wants to see amazing views of the Roanoke Valley as it was in 1924.
“A View from Above: The Underwood Photos of 1924” offers a fascinating look at a rare set of aerial photos in the Salem Museum collection. Reprising a popular exhibition from 2006, the display features dozens of stunning, crystal clear photographs of the Roanoke area, all taken from the air in 1924 by the Underwood and Underwood Company of New York. Visitors will be impressed at how much has changed–and how little.
“This is a marvelous historical record of what our area was like nine decades ago,” said Museum director John Long. “People who grew up here are transfixed by these images.”
The Underwood and Underwood Company was founded in 1882 by brothers Elmer and Bert Underwood in Ottawa, Kansas. Initially, the company specialized in producing stereoviews, the double photographic image which, inserted into a viewer, produced a three-dimensional image. But as that fad died out in the late 19th Century, the company began to concentrate on syndicated news photography and, with the dawn of aviation, aerial photography.
“There are many mysteries surrounding this collection,” notes Long. The names of the photographers, the pilot, the type of camera used, the model of plane flown, all are seemingly lost to history. Nor does anyone seem to know exactly why the Underwood Company took these photos in 1924. “Our folio in the museum’s collection is marked ‘Made For Appalachian Electric Power Company,’ so it may be the power company was trying to determine the need for future power lines,” guessed Long.
But no matter why the photos were taken, they are an intriguing look at the Roanoke Valley that once was. While most of the images feature downtown Roanoke City, photos of Salem, Vinton, Troutville, Fincastle and Cloverdale are seen, along with shots of industrial facilities, three colleges, several private homes and farms, and Lakeside Amusement Park.
“I love to watch visitors experience this exhibit,” said Long. “They study the photos, tracing streets and trying to identify landmarks they remember.” The standard rule in a museum is “Do Not Touch,” but despite this Long notes that they still have to wipe fingerprints–and even nose prints–off of the glass when visitors are particularly drawn into the scenes.
Copies of the Underwood photos may be ordered through the Salem Museum gift shop. “A View from Above” is open now, and continues until March.
The Salem Museum, located in the historic Williams-Brown House of Longwood Park, is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Saturday from noon to 5 pm. No admission is charged for the Museum galleries.
Submitted by John Long