Photo Archives News: New Walking Tour - 1888

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Gentleman on Market Street beside Chester County Courthouse, 1888. Photo by Horace Engle.

Originally posted April 4, 2013

Take a walk around West Chester in 1888 in the footsteps of photographer Horace Engle. How? By scanning a Time Machine QR code on participating partners’ windows with your smart phone or tablet to see a view taken on the spot where you are standing 125 years ago!

Horace Engle snapped pictures of daily life using a camera concealed under his vest. This “detective” camera allowed him the freedom to capture people free of society’s rigid posing conventions.

Engle used the Stirn’s Concealed Vest Camera, which had a circular flat metal body and the lens that peeped through a buttonhole. After the photographer made an exposure by pressing a release bulb that ran down his sleeve, the plate was rotated into position to make another exposure. Up to six photographs were taken on each circular glass plate negative.

The images are candid views of the daily life on streets in West Chester, largely showing High, Market, Gay and Church Streets. See street vendors, firemen in action and a circus parade!

This Digital Exhibit Space™ tour has been created by local filmmaker, Kyle Hudson in partnership with Chester County Historical Society.

 ho was Horace Engle? Engle, 1861-1949, was a mineralogist and inventor who dabbled in many areas of technology, including photography. 

Engle was the son of Lancaster County farmer Henry Engle and his second wife Lizzie Musser. Horace Engle was educated at Millersville State Teacher’s College. He also studied electrical engineering at Lehigh University and received a B.A. in Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. For about 11 months beginning late in 1889, Engle worked as an “experimenter” at Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. He worked on a variety of projects including producing artificial sapphire to be used for cutting phonograph records. He left Edison’s employ in 1890 to pursue his interests in mineralogy at Roanoke, Virginia.

Horace Engle’s life and work with the Stirn’s concealed vest camera is well documented in Edward Leos book “Other Summers” published by The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.  A copy of the book is in the CCHS library. (TR 140 .E58L45)

Engle chose to live in West Chester when he retired, not far from Glen Mills where his brother Ezra operated a small farm. He lived on Dean St. from 1923 - 1944 and was an active member of the Chester County Historical Society. Engle along with Harry Wilson, George R. Cope (the geologist) and J. Carroll Hayes enjoyed rock hunting and studying nature together. These four, who called themselves the “Musketeers,” organized many of the historical pilgrimages that the Society members enjoyed during this period. It is most likely that Engle donated the Stirn’s plates to the Society’s collection. The Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg  also holds photographs taken by Horace Engle. They can be found in Manuscript Group196.

Why Engle came to West Chester in 1888 to take the views in the CCHS collection is as yet a mystery.  Could he have come to West Chester on business for the Prohibitionist Party? Chester County voted as a strong supporter of Prohibition in Pennsylvania. Engle was the Secretary of the Prohibitionist Party in Lancaster County and was an alternate delegate to the 1888 National Convention of the Prohibition Party in Indianapolis, Indiana.  According to manuscript material, Engle compiled an album of photographs made with the Stirn’s camera of all the members of the party. The whereabouts of this album is not presently known.

We wish to thank our community partners for posting the QR codes in their windows. Stop in and thank them when you view the photographs! 

 Senator Andrew Dinniman

 Downingtown National Bank

 Maleana’s Vintage Clothing

 The Painted Plate

 Roots Café

 Rite Aid Pharmacy

 Ruby Slippers

 Starbuck’s

 Yori’s Church Street Bakery

We invite your feedback on the tour. Email me at ppowell@chestercohistorical.org with your comments!