Alvin T. Parnell photographs of Durham, North Carolina, circa 1898-1986, bulk 1910-1960 1.5 Linear Feet — 2 boxes; 183 items — 2 boxes; 183 items
Collection comprises 167 early to mid-20th century black-and-white photographs of the city and people of Durham, North Carolina. The majority of the images were taken by Alvin T. Parnell, a commercial photographer with a studio in downtown Durham, from about 1920 to 1950; prints from 1898 to 1919 likely were from the Cole-Holladay studio, which Parnell took over around 1920. Formats include a few vintage mounted albumen and gelatin silver prints, unmounted vintage and modern gelatin silver prints, and small contact prints made from original nitrate negatives. There are also twelve safety film negatives present, from which some copy prints were made. Includes an information folder with Parnell's 1986 obituary and collection information.
The largest group of photographs, taken from the late 1910s through the early 1950s, features views of Durham's growing downtown, often commissioned by Parnell's business and City Hall clients. In the background of the many street scenes one can see the progression of small storefront businesses that made up life on Main Street in a 20th century Southern Piedmont city. Given Durham's role as a birthplace for the post-Civil War tobacco manufacturing industry, it is not surprising that there are numerous photographs of buildings and industrial sites belonging to American Tobacco, Blackwell Tobacco, and Liggett Myers. Parnell also photographed buses, trolleys, and other scenes for an early Durham power and transportation company, Durham Public Services.
Other images focus on people, and range widely in subject matter: men posed at a Trinity College (later Duke University) reunion, war veterans at gatherings, fraternities, children on a playground, and a minstrel band. A few are of African American tobacco workers posed in the field and female factory workers ending their shift. There are also portraits of prominent individuals and families: an elderly Bennehan Cameron with family members; John Ruffin Green (one of Durham's earliest tobacco entrepreneurs); Washington Duke and sons with associates at a barbeque; the Rosenstein family (optometrists from New York who came to Durham in 1904); William Umstead (U.S. Senator from northern Durham County); and various police chiefs and businessmen. There are also a few portraits of women, some with captions and some unidentified.
There are also twelve safety film negatives in the collection, sized 8x10 and 4x5 inches, from which a selection of copy prints were made after the collection was acquired. A few have no existing prints – these are noted in the collection guide.
In addition to photographs in this collection, some if not most of the earlier images of Durham in the Durham Chamber of Commerce collection in the Rubenstein Library are likely to have been taken by Parnell. His work is also likely to be found in other collections related to Durham residents containing photographs.