The History Center of Traverse City recently welcomed a treasure trove of historical photos.
Found and donated by a local resident, the 40 aerial photos depict mid-century Traverse City. These rare glimpses of a growing and changing town are a rich source of information for historians and interested citizens alike. The exact date of the images is unknown but they date to the 1950s-60s era.
"They are awesome because we don't happen to have a lot of aerials from the '50s and '60s," said Peg Siciliano, history center archivist. "But we do have a batch from the '20s and the layout of the buildings and streets and the town has changed significantly.
"I'm pretty sure Park Street used to go through the Park Place Hotel, where the building is now," she added. "It went all the way to Washington Street."
What the photos do clearly show, in conjunction with the images from the 1920s, is the transformation of the bayfront area. By the mid-20th century, the shore of West Grand Traverse Bay was in the midst of a preservation effort that eventually turned industrial frontage into a park for all to enjoy.
"People who cared about that area really made a difference," Siciliano added.
The 8x10-inch photo prints are of high quality and have been scanned into large-format electronic files.
Photos are available for viewing and purchase via the History Center of Traverse City's website, www.traversehistory.org.
The resolution is high enough that viewers can zoom into a specific area and pick out details.
Local historian and author Bob Wilhelm enthuses that the "fantastic pictures" have solved many mysteries for him. Sifting through photos, he's pulled together some missing pieces from his years of research for his book, "Queen City Barns, Carriage Houses and Neighborhoods," which is available at the History Center.
"I even found a picture of Albert and Tony Maxbauer's slaughterhouse on Union Street behind the store," said Wilhelm, who brought the aerial photos to the center from a "friend of a friend."
History Center volunteer Dave Pennington scanned in the photos and believes they were taken in two batches. He conjectures that the photographer documented the area during the National Cherry Festival, based on some crowds shown. He also believes the photos were snapped from a blimp.
"There's one picture that shows the shadow of a dirigible," he said.
Siciliano encourages people to contact the History Center of Traverse City if they have questions about items that might be of historical interest. Local artifacts or photos are often brought into the center when families are downsizing or managing an estate of a recently deceased loved one.
"Please call us first," she said, before throwing things away.
Because the center has limited space for display and storage, it accepts only donations relevant to Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. Documents or photos, however, can be scanned and the originals either returned or donated to the center.
"When those (aerial) photos came, it was Christmas at the History Center," said Siciliano. "They knew enough not to toss them; we'd rather look at something and say, 'No,' than lose it."
For more information, call the History Center of Traverse City at 929-7663.