Photograph owned by Sandy Burton courtesy of Vintage Irvington
The most common research request I hear from old house owners is “How do I find an old photo of my home?” You just know that lingering in someone’s attic sits grandma’s album full of old photographs from their era in your home. But finding these people is a complex odyssey of searching deeds, city directories, census records, and obituaries. Many people don’t have the time or know-how to track down descendants and sometimes the photo owners are not receptive to calls from strangers or are unaware of the location of old family photos. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if people with old house photos or abstracts surprised the current occupants by making copies for them?
Irvington resident Bill Gulde, previously profiled as a Heritage Steward, was doing yardwork at his 1907 American Foursquare house on Audubon Road when a car slowed down and a woman asked if he lived there. Sandy Burton, a granddaughter of a woman connected with his home, had recently discovered a box of family photos and documents and was on a quest to learn more about the grandmother she never knew. Bill, a history teacher and author of the Vintage Irvington blog, has tracked down dozens of photographs of Irvington houses but never one of his own. The apologetic granddaughter explained that she would not have bothered him by knocking on the door, so it was his good fortune to be in front on his day off from school to finally view an image of his house as it appeared in 1920.
Bill learned that Sandy’s grandmother Genevieve Schmutte was a music teacher at the Irvington School of Music, located in his home from 1918 through 1921. Operated by Italian immigrant Miss Adelaide Conte, the school offered lessons in voice, violin, organ, piano, and other instruments in her rented home’s parlors. Miss Conte, who had studied voice at the Conservatory of Venice, lived upstairs and rented out rooms to students, many of whom attended nearby Butler University. Genevieve Schmutte, who lived on Talbott Avenue, taught primary students.
Sandy generously shared with Bill a copy of a 1920 print by photographer Charles Bretzman. It shows teachers posing on the steps and students seated on and in front of the stone porch. Visit his blog to learn more and to view recital programs.
Today Bill’s beautifully restored house looks much as it did in 1920. But I’ve known historic photographs to inspire the restoration of houses, including this ca. 1905 glass negative of a house at 1939 N. Pennsylvania Street that guided owners on the recreation of their missing porch trim.
So here is my question: Have any readers ever received old photographs or documents of your house from previous occupants? Share the details below. Do you have photographs of your ancestors’ homes or businesses? Why not scan them and make copies for the current caretakers? And while you’re at it, share a copy with The Indiana Album so future homeowners can easily locate these treasured images.