With boxes and boxes full of historic photos in the Bristol Room collection, it didn't seem right to historical research librarian Jay Manewitz that the walls of the research area were bare.
So Manewitz enlisted the help of Tom La Porte, a dedicated library patron, with the task of getting long ago images of local scenes on display.
"I was staring at four blank walls," said Manewitz. "Why not fill them with historical pictures of Bristol?"
Manewitz, who staffs the Bristol Room at the main library downtown, counts La Porte among the "very generous people" who donated money to pay for a new group of enlarged photos now hanging in the Bristol Room.
La Porte, a photo and history buff, also gave of his time, said Manewitz, helping to select just the right pictures for poster-sized prints that everyone can enjoy.
"He and I went through the photographs," said La Porte, who said he is "delighted" with the outcome.
It wasn't easy to choose which photos to display from the Bristol Room's collection of 50 boxes of pictures, but it was part of the fun of the project, said Manewitz said.
"Some just stood out as interesting," said Manewitz.
Manewitz spoke with La Porte about getting some of the pictures enlarged and La Porte, who had experience with historic photos, stepped up to help. There wasn't money in the budget to pay for the work, Manewitz said, so he told some of the people who regularly use the Bristol Room about his idea.
"Luckily, I have a cadre of regulars who come in and do research," said Manewitz. "They were the basis for the original donations."
Once word got out about the picture project – and library users saw some of the results on the walls – donations picked up.
"Within the first month, I collected $700," said Manewitz. "I'm amazed. It's $1,200 now and counting."
Deanne Levesque, a frequent user of the Bristol Room, who contributed to the picture project, said it is a "fantastic idea."
The room now is a showcase for images from Bristol's past.
"I think it'll get people into the room," said Levesque, even if they're not doing local research.
Along one wall – Manewitz calls it his "hall of memories" – are photos of elegant homes such as Page Mansion on Grove Street that once graced the streets of Bristol but have since fallen to demolition.
Other photos show the Watson Giddings carriage and blacksmith shop, which Manewitz said was later the site of the Endee Inn.
One photo shows workers at a copper mine in Bristol near the border with Burlington. In it, people are standing in what looks like a sandy pit, with horses hitched to carts on a rail track.
Another is a shot of Down's Mill at the eastern end of Memorial Boulevard.
Some of the original photos in the Bristol Room's collection have dates scrawled on the back, but others are undated, said Manewitz.
As visitors enter the room, their eyes would naturally light on a large color photo, made from a postcard of Main Street from around 1960.
It is, said Manewitz, "the last view of Bristol before redevelopment."
On the same wall, on the opposite side of the room, is a much earlier view of Main Street. It shows a trolley line, horse drawn carriages, and men wearing moustaches and bowler hats. The road is dirt, and the railroad crossing is at the street level in that photo, taken in the 1890s.
A great favorite, said Manewitz, is a large blow up of the 1913 post office, which was torn down during redevelopment in 1970, to the eternal consternation of many locals who remember it fondly. In the picture, a trolley car is passing the building.
"We miss that one the most," said Levesque, who said the photo of the old post office is her favorite.
Levesque and La Porte had high praise for Manewitz.
"He's fantastic," said Levesque. "He can come up with a book that is quite a bit of help."
La Porte said the photo project was all Manewitz' doing. He said the historical research librarian goes out of his way to help people who come to the Bristol Room.
La Porte said he got to know Manewitz because he spent months visiting the Bristol Room a couple times a week, researching 19th century Bristol photographers. Manewitz is helpful and friendly, he said, going out of his way to lend a hand.
"He's really an asset to that library," said La Porte, who said Manewitz "makes people feel at home."
Levesque, who belongs to both the Bristol Genealogical Society and the Bristol chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, convinced both organizations to make donations to the photo project in the Bristol Room.
Manewitz said he hopes the photos might inspire those who are working on the next chapter of the city's downtown.
"Bristol at one time had a vibrant downtown," said Manewitz. "There was a downtown Bristol worth going to."
There are also several photos that show early views of the Bristol Public Library, at its current home on High Street, and in earlier locations, like the original space in the Ebers Block on the old North Main Street.
There's a shot of the old railroad station on Prospect Street, which was torn down in 1976.
"A lot of Bristolites remember that station," said Manewitz.
The walls are largely filled now, but Manewitz said if donations continue, he would like to create a revolving historic photo gallery, where pictures are displayed for awhile and then changed to show new ones.
Joseph Biron of Bristol said he's visited the Bristol Room a few times, but donated to the photo project in honor of La Porte, a good friend.
La Porte did a great job restoring an old family photo for him, Biron said, and he wanted to do something in return.
"I knew he wouldn't accept any payment for his work, so I sent a check to the library," Biron said.
The historic photos are appropriate for the Bristol Room, said Biron, who said they bring "a little life" to the research room.
The picture project should be expanded, said Biron. "When they fill all the walls in the Bristol Room, then they should extend it out into the library proper."
La Porte said he would like to see more photos added. He said they're looking for any good historic photos of Bristol, but especially of any of the old theaters that once operated there – the Bristol Theater on old North Main Street, the Cameo Theater on Main Street or the Carberry Theater on Prospect Street.
La Porte said anyone who has photos to share can bring them to the Bristol Room, where they'll be scanned and returned to the owner. La Porte said he spends a few hours a week scanning the fragile original photos and then printing them. That way the public can handle a copy and the original can be stored separately.
Donations came from individuals and organizations, and the largest, for $500, was from the Bristol Senior Citizens Association, Manewitz said.
The largest photos on display cost about $300 to reproduce at that size, Manewitz said, and the smaller ones are about $75.
The Bristol Room is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
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