Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Photos donated by daughter of prolific shutterbug

Images of early Bonner Springs capture everyday life of ordinary people

Urbin Rudell also set up his camera to take a self-portrait  with his delivery buggy and horse.

Urbin Rudell also set up his camera to take a self-portrait with his delivery buggy and horse.

January 9, 2008

— Residents of Bonner Springs now have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what their town looked like when it was young. For the rest of this month, 42 photographs by Urbin Rudell, some taken more than 90 years ago, are on display in the hall outside the city library.

The photos were donated by Rudell's daughter, Ella Mae Rudell Mitchell, and after this month will be available by request at the counter.

For many Bonner Springs residents, chances are good they've seen at least one of Rudell's pictures. His photos have appeared in many Chieftain stories on old Bonner Springs.

Urbin Rudell was born in 1887 in Lenape, a town south of Bonner Springs that was wiped out by the 1951 flood. He moved with his wife, Alice Mae, and their children to Bonner Springs in about 1920.

Due to a housing shortage the family had to keep moving, Mitchell said, because the houses they moved into would be sold. On their third move they bought a house at 225 Elm St. The house was later blown away by a tornado in 1952, Mitchell said.

Rudell had worked in Kansas City, Kan., at a grocery until a few years into the Depression, when he was laid off. In 1933 Rudell's bid for the rural mail delivery in Bonner Springs was approved and he continued the job until he retired in the early 1960s, by which time he had switched to using an automobile. He died in 1967.

In 1907 the Bonner Springs Improvement Club commissioned Rudell to take several photos of local sites in the hope of attracting investors and visitors to the town's mineral springs.

The prints on display at the library are from glass negatives Rudell took starting at around the turn of the last century, to about 1947. Mitchell donated the prints to the library, and the original, glass negatives to the Kansas Museum of History.

Many of the photos on display at the library were commissioned by their subjects, Mitchell said, several of which are families gathered in front of their homes. Others are students and teachers, outside their schoolhouse, either the Loring School or the Wilder School. Another picture shows the Rev. C.C. Moomaw baptizing a woman in Lake of the Forest.

One photo is of Rudell himself, pictured atop his horse-drawn rural mail-delivery cart, which Mitchell said he used to take mail from the city post office to the railroad.

Mitchell said the picture was taken by her mother, though "he probably set it up."

Other photos, including one of the Portland cement plant under construction in 1907, were used in a booklet published that year titled "Bonner Springs: Kansas Karlsbad."

Mitchell said her father's photography "wasn't a hobby, but it was just something he did."

One of many things he did, apparently. In addition to the rural mail route and clerking at various stores in town, Rudell also ran his own battery shop, where he built, recharged and loaned out car batteries.

A few of the pictures feature a young Mitchell, including one taken with relatives on Urbin Rudell's mother's side, the Jewetts, in front of their Bonner Springs home. Another shows Mitchell with Mr. and Ms. Sherman Williams, at a limestone quarry near the cement plant located near 121st Street on Kansas Highway 32. Yet another picture shows the house where she was born, at 210 Cedar St.

Mitchell's father taught her and her sister how to develop the negatives, in a darkroom at their house, she said..

The idea of donating the negatives to the museum came from Mitchell's friend and local amateur historian Beth Enloe.

"She's my mentor on the history of Bonner Springs," Enloe said of Mitchell.

The photos are valuable for researchers, Enloe said.

"People like to discover," Enloe said, especially through materials that can be physically handled, which is why it was good for the library to have the prints..

Nancy Sherbert, director of acquisitions for the Kansas History Museum, said the way in which the Rudell photos were donated was usual enough.

"A lot (of acquisitions) happen that way,' Sherbert said. "People call and say 'I have some photos of family' : This is a little bit different because of the photographer's work."

That's because most photographers don't take as many pictures as Urbin Rudell did, Sherbert said. The museum receives acquisitions of the size like Rudell negatives perhaps once or twice a year, Sherbert said.

"We're very excited to have the collection," Sherbert said.

The negatives had been in Mitchell's basement since her father died in 1987.

"I guess it was a good place for them," Mitchell said, because the negatives were still in good shape, despite some spots on them.

Unfortunately, the other half of Urbin Rudell's output was lost in 1908, Mitchell said, when floodwaters moved the Loring Drive home of Rudell's sister, Flora Viar, where the negatives had been stored.

Mitchell said she didn't have a favorite among the photos, and didn't have many memories of her father's photographic pursuits.

"I just knew there were a lot of pictures," Mitchell said. "There were a lot of glass negatives," and she remembered being "surrounded" by pictures in their house at 225 Elm St.

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