Surprise discovery, Museum displays forgotten photos

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The inside of a shop in downtown Elkader is an image included in the “Interiors” exhibit at the Carter House Museum.  

A partially colorized image of an elementary class at St. Joseph’s School is part of the “Interior” exhibit at the Carter House Museum.

Jim Walch (l) and David Williams (r) in front of the “Interiors” exhibit at the Carter House Museum in Elkader.  Walch is a volunteer at the museum and Williams restored the glass plate photos currently on display.

By Pat McTaggart

Freelance Writer


A surprise discovery at the Carter House Museum in Elkader gives a unique insight into small town life in the 1920s.  A forgotten collection of glass plate photos was found in a cabinet in the museum. The photos show the interiors of local stores and the people who owned them, as well as the customers that frequented them, something that was rather rare for the era.

“The origins of these photos are a mystery” said museum volunteer Jim Walch. “The photographer is unknown and we do not know with certainty why they were taken. We do know that they were taken in Elkader in 1928. All of the photos are of interiors. Many of the images exhibit calendars showing the month of January 1928.”

David Williams executed the meticulous restoration. The original photographs were in the form of damaged black and white glass plate positives, as opposed to glass plate negatives. Williams scanned them to generate digital images. The digital image was then restored using a variety of tools on the computer. Breaks, cracks and scratches were filled and missing emulsion was replaced and manipulated. The contrast, composition and lighting were also adjusted. It took Williams about 240 hours to complete the basic restoration work.

All of the original scanned images are saved in the museum’s archives, un-restored, and retain all historical integrity.  During the restoration process, Williams juxtaposed a little color in some of the prints to give them an unexpected element of interest. 

The restored images are currently on exhibit at the museum, and will be displayed for the next few months. Also included are a few of the before restoration images as well as one of the original glass plates. 

“The people and places in these photos are very recognizable to many of the people that have viewed them,” Walch said.  “As more people see them, more information will be gathered.”

The Carter House museum is located at 101 High Street SE in Elkader.  It is open Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m.  Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children under 12 years of age.


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