The Bridge Over the River Broadkill

I’ve had the good fortune recently to come across an original print of a very old photograph, thanks to Helen and P. D. Camenisch of Milton, the owners. I’ve known about the photograph for several years, having obtained a digital print from the Delaware Public Archive. That digital print, however, was substantially altered from the original in an attempt to bring out details and correct a host of issues in the latter. I don’t know what method and equipment were used; the result was OK but not great. When I saw an opportunity to work with the original, I jumped at it.

Below is an unmodified scanned image of the original: an albumen print mounted on card stock, quite faded with a variety of damage to the print and extensive damage to the card stock. The scene is a view from the southwest corner of the bridge over the Broadkill River, looking north. The location of this scene was verified by the Delaware Public Archive some years ago, probably well before I started writing this blog in 2015. The river is visible, and the wooden spire of the old Methodist Protestant Church on Union Street can be seen in the upper right quadrant. If the location is right, there is ample evidence to support the fact that the M. P. Church (the present day Lydia B. Cannon Museum) had a wooden spire similar to the one on the old Goshen Methodist Episcopal Church on Federal Street. The wooden spire on the M. P. church was removed in early 1906, during the church’s first big makeover. The house on the northwest corner and the one to its left hide Magnolia Street from view; these would be located on today’s municipal parking lot by the river.

View from the bridge over the Broadkill River, albumen print mounted on card stock; photograph by H. E. Elliot of Baltimore, 1900 or earlier (courtesy Helen and P. D. Camenisch)

One of the more exciting discoveries (at least for a history and photography nerd like myself) was the commercial logo of the photographer on the back of the card stock: Harry. E. (“H. E.”) Elliott (1863 – 1936). We have two other examples of his work in the Milton Historical Society collection: one is an unidentified family group, and the other is of a group of women who probably constituted the Milton chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Mr. Elliott was active in photography until the late 1890’s, both in a studio in Baltimore and as an itinerant, and both the bridge photo and the W. C. T. U. photo were probably shot during one of his travels through the lower Delmarva peninsula.

Members of the Milton W. C. T. U., ca. 1890, digitally enhanced image from the original photograph by H. E. Elliott (Milton Historical Society)

By 1900, Harry Elliott was making his living in masonry, both its manufacture and building with it. He lived in Seaford and Rehoboth after 1900.

We know with some confidence that the W. C. T. U. photo was shot around 1890. We have to use other clues, however, to date the bridge photograph. The wooden spire on the M. P. Church points to 1905 or earlier, but the absence of the firehouse on the northwest corner of the bridge points to a date several years earlier than that. The Milton volunteer fire company was organized in 1901, and presumably that was when the firehouse was built. Harry Elliott had ceased photography as his profession prior to the 1900 census, and thus we can assume the bridge photograph was made between 1890 and 1899.

Below is my attempt to improve the legibility of Harry Elliott’s bridge photograph, working from the original.

View from the bridge over the Broadkill River, digital enhancement of original photograph by H. E. Elliot of Baltimore, 1900 or earlier

You can compare the restoration from the original print to the DPA’s version below, and see the improvements right away – it was simply a matter of available time and the right tools. The more recent restoration preserved a lot of detail from the original, especially in the trees and the buildings. If anyone from the DPA runs across this post, I would be happy to provide the improved restoration to the Archives.

Delaware Public Archive digital copy of the bridge photo (used by permission)

4 thoughts on “The Bridge Over the River Broadkill

  • HELEN Camenisch

    Wow what a difference. It was wonderful to talk to you and share our old photo. You really cleaned up the photo to see so many new things.

    • Phil Martin

      Half the reason I do this blog is for the chance it gives me to sit around a table with folks like you and P. D. and just talk and talk…I love it!

  • Conrad Welch

    Phil, a huge thank you for all your efforts is discovering our Milton history.
    It’s always a pleasure getting your emails and enjoying the read.
    Conrad Welch

  • Phil Martin

    As a postscript to this article, I can add the following: The back of the photograph has a notation in the corner that the man walking is “William Farrin.” No one by that name was living in Milton during the late 19th century. However, there was a better-know gentleman named William Fearing that lived on Union Street across from the Methodist Protestant Church, on the northeast corner of the intersection with Chandler Street. I believe Fearing is the one in the picture; his name was an unusual one in Sussex, and it is not hard to imagine someone mishearing it as Farrin.

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