Collection Includes Rare Long Trail Photos

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The Long Trail: Vermont’s Footpath Through History

(Host) We return now to "The Long Trail: Vermont’s Footpath Through History," our series about the 100th anniversary of the trail.

As nearly everyone knows, the trail runs 270 miles along the ridgeline of the Green Mountains.

But a valuable part of the trail’s history isn’t in the mountains at all.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff explains.

(Charnoff) You’ll find a treasure trove of archival photos here …

(Sound of outdoors)

(Charnoff) … on the University of Vermont campus …

(Sound of doors opening, steps down stairs)

(Charnoff) … in the basement of the Bailey-Howe Library. This is where the university archives its special collections.

(Burns) "So we have the papers of Herbert Wheaton Congdon and the papers of Theron Dean."

(Charnoff) Chris Burns is a curator in special collections.

A collection of almost a thousand invaluable glass slides are in his care. The photographs date back to the 1910 founding of the Green Mountain Club, which built the Long Trail and maintains it to this day.

The photos were shot between about 1915 and 1930.

(Burns) "Theron Dean was involved with the Green Mountain Club from a very early date in the 19-teens as secretary of the Green Mountain Club and then for a long time was really kind of the chief promoter of the Green Mountain Club and the Long Trail. And that’s really where these "lantern slides" come in."

(Charnoff) "Lantern slides" were the slide shows of the day. Dean would take his slides to wherever he could gather an audience and show people the benefits of the mountains – and the trail he was helping to build.

To capture the images, Dean would take a small camera out to the mountains. Curator Chris Burns thinks it was probably a Kodak "brownie."

Dean would take photos and then have the negatives transferred to glass slides. A projector could be used to display them on a screen. Color detail was added to man of the photos. 

(Burns) "These lantern slides were a popular medium during the time. There were these companies that they would send the images out to to hand color them. They’re pretty remarkable to look at, like this one of the woods, you get green on the bushes down below and a little bit of a lighter color where the sun is supposed to be peaking through the woods there."

(Charnoff) The photographs amount to a documentary of the early years of the Long Trail. They depict early trail building, and  show construction of the first shelters. Some are simply vistas. And many show the hikers of the day.

(Neal) "This picture gives you, it’s one of the first I’ve seen that gives you all the elements of portrait, geography and vista in one."

(Burns) "Yeah, it’s a great shot. Really, I think gives you a sense of what it’s like to hike. It’s an individual on a top of a mountain going down, with their head down, really focused on where they’re walking."

(Charnoff) UVM has taken enlargements of the images to various events. And it’s gotten a lot of reaction from its online presentation.

(Neal) "Are you hearing from people who say, ‘Hey, that’s my grandfather.’"

(Burns) "Yeah, we’ve heard I think that exact comment a couple of times."

(Charnoff) And even more people look at the photos and recognize a section of the trail that they’ve hiked themselves.

For VPR News, I’m Neal Charnoff

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