Madison Street was unrecognizable more than a century ago when local photographer and historian Philander Barclay snapped a picture of the lonely roadway that was largely surrounded by empty fields.
The photo features the long-forgotten electric trolley – taken down in the 1960s – that carried passengers from the western suburbs to downtown Chicago and a handful of barely visible residences in the distance.
What does stand out is a two-story house at 515 Carpenter Ave., which some might be surprised to learn stands there to this day – now just south of Town & Country Import Cars Inc., at 845 Madison St.
The Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest notes that Barclay, the son of a Marion Street drugstore owner, started taking photographs of the Oak Park area just a year before the Madison Street photo was taken.
By the time of Barclay's death on July 7, 1940, his photo collection — some of which were not taken by Barclay but collected by the Oak Park bicycle repairman – had grown to more than 1,000.
Barclay's photo of Madison was made public in digital form earlier this year through the Illinois Digital Archive, which includes nearly 350 digital images of papers, photographs and other material related to Oak Park's most famous native son, Ernest Hemingway.
Now the Oak Park Public Library, which received an $86,900 grant from Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White to create the digital archive, says it's expanding through a second — albeit smaller — grant from the state.
The $2,900 grant will allow the library "to make available for the first time inventories of select collections and expand access to digital objects that give insight into Oak Park's history from as early as the Civil War," said OPPL spokeswoman Kristen Romanowski.
In an email, she noted that possible items for the expanded archive include: glass-plate negatives taken by Barclay around the turn of the century; war sketches and photographs of Oak Parkers who served in the Civil War, including Hemingway's grandfathers; and photographs of architectural work by Frank Lloyd Wright, from OPPL's Gilman Lane Photograph Collection.
The library notes on its website that the $2,900 matching grant comes from the Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board.
"We are using our matching funds to create easily searchable inventories as well as to make digital items available online," posted OPPL archivist Emily Reiher on the library's website.
Items from OPPL's Special Collections that will be included in the digital archive come from: the Local Authors Correspondence Collection; the Philander Barclay Photograph Collection; the Grand Army of the Republic volumes; and the Gilman Lane Photograph Collection.
Items from the Frank Laurence Collection, which is part of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park Collection and is housed at OPPL, also will be included in the expanded digital archive.
"In a matter of weeks, we've already had two major researchers make requests to use materials displayed in the Illinois Digital Archives for book-length publications," Reiher said on OPPL's website. "We're thrilled about the depth and reach of that exposure and want to continue to reach new audiences."
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