The extensive digital collection contains 753 images taken from the Harry Walker photographic negatives, covering the early 1900s to the 1940s. The pictures include snapshots of domestic life and leisure activities in Beaumont and Houston during that time, views of notable Houston landmarks, and historic images of pioneering aviatrix Katherine Stinson flying a Wright Brothers biplane.
The Harry Walker photographic negatives come from the architectural papers of Burdette Keeland. Through his wife Keeland acquired a collection of negatives owned by Harry Walker (the presumed photographer), who was married to Mrs. Keeland’s aunt. The negatives record Walker’s life growing up in Beaumont, Texas and his adult life after his move to Houston in the late 1910s.
Of particular interest are photographs of Walker’s home at 1914 Bissonnet in Houston, with views of the area that includes Poe Elementary School when the neighborhood was new in 1929. Historical shots of Houston show Rice University, Hermann Hospital, the Houston Ship Channel, the San Jacinto Monument, the San Jacinto Trust Company, and downtown Houston in the snow in 1925.
Viewers of the collection can also get a thorough immersion in the daily life of the era through scores of photographs of babies, children, families, laborers, and sailors in uniform. The images highlight the time period’s dress and furniture, interiors and exteriors of homes, and modes of transportation such as horse-drawn wagons, cars, ships, tractors, and trains. Examples of leisure activities captured on film include horseback riding, baseball, poker, swimming, fishing, bingo, hunting, picnics, and many other outdoor gatherings.
Providing a panoramic history of the Houston Fire Department from the late 1800s through the 1980s, the digital collection features images of fire trucks, fire stations, firefighters in action battling blazes, and some of the department’s Fire Chiefs through the decades. The collection contains more than 190 color and black and white photographs.
Among the highlights of the collection is the 96-page Souvenir of Houston, published for the benefit of the Firemen's Relief Fund in 1897. The booklet is an early-day guidebook to the city, complete with photos of downtown streets, buildings, and fire stations in the 1890s; advertisements for local retail, manufacturing, and railroad businesses; and pages of text expounding on the many benefits of life in Houston at that time.
The collection also includes many pictures of groups of firefighters posing with their trucks, helping trace the evolution of firefighting technology over time. The department had about 50 horses to pull its wagons in 1910, but by 1921 all of the horse-drawn fire carriages had been replaced by motorcars and trucks. Action shots, meanwhile, capture firefighters combating infernos at lumber yards, restaurants, apartments, and other buildings.
As Houston grew in size through land annexations, such as that of the Houston Heights in 1918, the fire department incorporated more and more outlying stations. Anchoring the portrait of the city’s fire stations through the years is a pictorial series of 67 fire stations photographed in 1976 – illustrating how big the department had grown from its early days of only a handful of stations in the early 1900s.
The majority of the photos come from the collection of Scott Mellott, a Houston Fire Department retiree who has done extensive research on the department’s history.
A modern-day marvel of industry, the Port of Houston is an integral part of the region’s landscape and history. Through almost 150 photographs and documents, this digital collection traces the planning, construction, and ultimate success of the Ship Channel from its opening in 1914 through the 1960s. The collection also contains a handful of items that pre-date the Ship Channel itself.
Dating mostly from the 1950s, the photographs in the collection feature aerial views of the Port of Houston, cranes loading freight onto ships, interiors and exteriors of warehouses, groups of businessmen, and dockworkers in action. The photographs also include nearly 60 ships in port, complete with names (such as SS Java, SS Pygmalion, and SS Jean Lafitte) and descriptions about each ship’s cargo, destination, and/or point of origin.
In addition to the photographs, the collection also includes documents such as magazine articles, letters, pamphlets, and drawings. Among the highlights are maps from as early as 1925, bond certificates for the Houston Ship Channel Navigation District from 1911, and two illustrations of paddle steamers at port from 1859. A laudatory 20-page booklet from 1908 draws on photos and text to tout the city of Houston as a good place for business, and a nine-page pamphlet from 1915 furthers this claim by utilizing charts to compare freight costs with other ports.
Most of the items were donated by the daughter of James H. Branard, Jr. Mr. Branard served on the Board of Governors at the Port of Houston and was instrumental in its mid-century success. Several pieces were donated by the Harris County Archives to enrich the collection.