Collection Facts

Extent: 
132 items
Dates of Original: 
1885-1887
Collection Owner:
NYH Topic Area(s):

Historical Context

Osmond David Putnam (1861-1926) was the grandson of Enos Putnam (1810-1865), a Methodist minister and abolitionist who preached at the Mill Creek Wesleyan Methodist Church in Johnsburg, New York. The church was built by the Putnams in 1859 after separating from the Methodist Episcopal Church, whose senior leadership had refused to speak out against slavery. The Enos Putnam house was a stop along the underground railroad. With direction from his father, O. F. Putnam, Osmond began training to become a minister in the 1880s. To pay for his education, he began taking photographs with a five by eight inch camera, selling prints to rural residents for whom photography was a novel service. Though technically an amateur photographer, he had a critical eye for composition and his shots provide a glimpse into the close of the 19th century as the Adirondacks moved from an isolated wilderness to a permanently settled part of the State. The geographic scope of his work was limited to Warren and Essex Counties due to the range of early stage wagons in the area. Though he probably shot other subjects, his Adirondack photographs are all that remain of his work. He was a second cousin of Jeanne Robert Foster (1879-1970). He eventually left the ministry and became a farmer and carpenter in Wilton, New York.

The communities in which Putnam made photographs were not the great camps and high peaks of the seasonal tourist. Rather, they were the remote valleys where settlers labored as lumberjacks, skidders, and log drivers during the winter months and returned to their hardscrabble farms spring and summer. The pioneering families understood that managing the harsh weather and thin, rocky soil would not be an easy life. Many small villages and towns were built near streams that could power mills and tanneries, but it was not to last forever. By 1885, an estimated two-thirds of the softwood forests in the Adirondacks had been lumbered causing forest fires and a diminished water supply. The Adirondack Park would become established shortly after and with it the regulation of industry and development.

Scope of Collection

The collection consists of 132 dry, glass plate negatives taken between 1885 and 1887 by Osmond D. Putnam in Warren and Essex Counties. Images depict labor and industry, rural education, landscapes, architecture and portraits of community members near Johnsburg, New York, in the Adirondacks.

Note that when possible original titles of the images were retained for their historical context. In some cases, the language used at the time of creation does not reflect current standards and may be considered ableist.