Wednesday, October 31, 2001
Dean Fletcher guarded a trove of family treasure for a quarter of a century without really knowing what he was protecting.
Now the Laraways of Pine Grove know.
A year before her death in 1974, Fletcher's grandmother, Florence "Flo'" Cooper gave Fletcher a box of glass-plate photographs taken by his great-great-grandfather, William Fouts Laraway.
Fletcher was unable to print the antiquated plates, and they were largely forgotten for the next 25 years, until a local newspaper article attracted the attention of Tom Robinson, an expert in the history of Northwest photography.
Robinson was able to produce high-quality enlargements of the pictures, but with the exception of pictures of Flo' as a child, nobody seemed to know whose images were captured on the dusty plates.
The mystery was solved by Nat Giustina, who was in the midst of researching the Laraway genealogy and had acquired 500 more glass plates from the granddaughter of Adah M. Hays, and another 400 or so from Bill Laraway.
"Suddenly, what had been a dispersed collection of old photographic plates of people with no name, became windows on the world of William Fouts Laraway, his work and family," said Fletcher in his book, "The Glass-Plate Photographs of W.F. Laraway."
Published in 2000, the collection of nearly 200 prints chronicles the Laraways' past, from their years in Glenwood, Iowa, 1897-1904, to the period after their move to Hood River, 1905-1928.
W.F. Laraway, besides being a jeweler, optometrist and orchardist, was an adept photographer whose work graced the cover of Better Fruit magazine on two occasions.
The book contains panoramic shots of the Gorge, some photographs of Laraway's jewelry shop on Second and Oak streets, as well as his house at 214 Front Street. There are plenty of shots out in the orchard with family members posing next to trees, and pictures of workers spraying and performing other tasks.
Another favorite location was a huge boulder, nicknamed the "Pebble," which lay on the Cooper Ranch. W.F. was fond of posing family members on and around the large stone.
Other shots show family members resplendent in formalwear out "camping" and picnicking, or in front of the 1910 Model 32 Marmon automobile. It was a ritzy vehicle -- a 1909 Marmon went for $2,750, compared to the $350 Model T.
W.F.'s grandson, Bill, was still very young when Laraway's leftover possessions were dumped on their doorstep after W.F.'s death in 1928. The glass photo plates were stowed in boxes which sat on the old Marmon carseat, exposed to the rain and other elements.
Those other elements included bullets from the the kids' BB guns -- the glass plates were often used for target practice.
"Finally someone realized that they ought to do something with them, so they stowed the plates in the basement," said Bill Laraway.
Not all the plates were pictures of the family; some were W.F.'s commercial work. But most shots in the photo book illustrate the many aspects of life in the Hood River Valley of the early 20th century.
"It's a fun keepsake," said Jon Laraway.
Does Jon predict that in another 80 years someone will want to publish a collection of his photos?
"I don't know," he said. "Seems like most of the photos taken around here are of people sitting around eating."