Fredericktown North Main Street

This early photograph of North Main Street in Fredericktown was taken looking south, toward the square. The water tower can be dimly seen in the distance.

FREDERICKTOWN -- One of the fun things about new technologies is people like to play with them and see what they can make the new gadgets do.

That has given us a great photographic record of the mid to late 1800s, the early years of photography. Amateur and professional photographers both roamed the countryside to try their hands at challenges of light, exposure and contrast.

The photo we're looking at this week comes to us from the Knox Time Collection on Facebook. It is an excellent shot of downtown Fredericktown from the early years of photography.

While not dated, there are clues to suggest an early date. The obvious lack of automobiles suggests pre-1900, while the absence of brick buildings pushes for an even earlier date.

A great detail that can be spotted in the lower left-hand corner is a man wearing a tall tophat. These hats were popularly known as stovepipe hats, and they were made famous in the 1860s by Abraham Lincoln.

With Lincoln's death in April of 1865, they fell out of fashion, so the hat's presence in this picture argues for an 1860 to 1865 date.

Supporting that conjecture is the blemishes in the photo, which look like the kind of smudges and blurs that are imprinted on glass plates with careless handling.

If the photos were imprinted on glass plates instead of photographic film, that also points toward a very early date of 1855 to 1870.

If the top center smudge is examined carefully, one can see that the photographer was actually crafting an experiment in contrast. Almost obliterated by the smudge, the Fredericktown water tower -- then located in the center of the square -- is dimly visible. The photographer was probably hoping to catch foreground detail in focus, while still rendering the water tower clearly.

The fact that the photographer was only partially successful in this aim may explain why the plate was not handled more carefully afterward. It would appear it was a trial shot that didn't quite achieve what the photographer wanted.

The best detail of all is the bull wandering around in the foreground of the picture, but even he didn't stay still long enough for the photographer to catch a perfect likeness.

Even in a rural Knox County town in the 1860s, life refused to pause and pose.

Support Our Journalism

History is about understanding where we’ve been. A membership with the Source supports where we’re going. Keep the richest parts of our heritage alive by joining today!