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100 glass plate photographs capture beauty
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A warden is seen on horseback looking at Yosemite Valley from Sierra Point. - photo by Photo Contributed

Yosemite was a travel challenge at the turn of the 20th century.

Just getting there on horse drawn stages or on horseback was tough enough let alone the thought of scaling El Capitan.

A survey crew from Southern Pacific Railroad brought their wives along with their hats and long dresses to climb the mountain while the men had survey equipment and large cameras and tripods.  Film was not the order of the day instead glass plates were created to use in wooden projectors.  They also made 5x7 glass plates that turned out 5x7 inch contact prints of the nature they found along the trails. The year was 1903 just 38 years after Yosemite became this country’s third national park. That was 150 years ago this coming Thursday.

What would become antique photos in today’s world were first used by a traveling tent preacher who drew crowds to his stage with the thrill of seeing Yosemite through modern slides.  When he was done with the Yosemite presentation, he would switch to a more religious content that would better support his sermons.

A well-known pharmacist,  J. Clifford Parr was the owner of Central Drug Store first located at the downtown intersection of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue before moving to East Yosemite Avenue near Manteca High School,  purchased the set of nearly 100 glass plate photographs along with two old projectors. 

Many Southern Pacific photographs were feared to have been lost in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake that spread destruction throughout the Bay Area where they were being stored.

The preacher had wandered into Parr’s drug store and offered him his entire collection, including the religious photographs along with a series from the 1908 San Francisco earthquake disaster.  Parr also served a number of years as Manteca’s always jolly mayor.

Forced to leave town because of his wife’s severe arthritis, he sought out Manteca photographer Glenn Kahl and trucked the wooden cases of photos into his studio camera room. 

“I couldn’t think of anyone else who would take care of them and cherish their value,” he qsaod.

Parr was long interested in Indian lore and history speaking at many of the Manteca elementary schools on Indian lore and told stories to the children of the Miwok tribes in and around Yosemite.

One of the standout photos was that of then President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir along with their guides riding into the valley on horseback.  Roosevelt supported the idea of preserving Yosemite. 

There are a number of photos showing the native Indians in their day-to-day dress and their teepees and food storage hanging baskets.  Of special note of the time are the stages leaving the Wawona Hotel for the cities back in the valley with the men dressed in suits and the women in their long dresses and fine hats.

Parr was known as a Manteca business man who would talk to customers at length about the Native Americans he studied for so much of his life.  He was a longtime member and president of the Manteca Rotary Club.