Jesse W. Smith Photograph Collection
Dates:  1930s-1950s
Accession Number:  20020917
Donor:  Cunningham Memorial Library, Indiana State University
Description:  Nine photograph storage boxes; one document case

Donor Information

This collection was donated to the Vigo County Public Library by David Vancil, Head of Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Cunningham Memorial Library, Indiana State University in 1988.  The materials that comprise the Jesse W. Smith collection (photographs, negatives, slides) were originally donated to the Cunningham Memorial Library by Phyllis Howell Finlay, Plainfield, Indiana. 

Copyright Restrictions

The unpublished photographs, negatives and slides in the Jesse W. Smith collection are still protected under copyright law and will not enter the public domain until the year 2045.  Information regarding reproduction of images for research purposes and/or limited use may be obtained from the Community Archives, Vigo County Public Library. 


Jesse W. Smith was born June 4, 1913 in Illinois.  His parents were Allie F. Walden and Perry Smith, both natives of Illinois.  Around 1918, the family moved to Terre Haute, Indiana; in 1926, they bought the house at 312 S. 13 1/2 Street which remained Jesse's residence until his death in 1975.  His father, Perry Smith, was a graduate of Valparaiso Law School and practiced law in Terre Haute for more than fifty years.  By 1936, Allie and Perry Smith had divorced; the father remarried shortly thereafter.

Jesse Smith was a graduate of Wiley High School (1929) and Rose Polytechnic Institute (later known as Rose Hulman Institute of Technology).  The Terre Haute City Directory shows Jesse worked briefly as a research worker in 1939 and as a teacher in 1940.  By 1952, Jesse Smith had begun his career as a draftsman in the City Engineer's Office, a position he would hold for seventeen years until his retirement around 1969.

On October 24, 1975, Jesse W. Smith died at the age of 61.  In addition to his interest in photography, he had been a member of the Modern Woodsmen.  He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana.

NOTE:  There are discrepancies among the records regarding the spelling of Jesse's first name.  Although the A. O. Gillis Funeral Home Records (which contain a copy of his official death record) show his name as Jess Smith, the informant at the time of his death was a neighbor (not a family member).  Records which would have been recorded during his life (high school yearbook, 1920 census, city directory entries, his mother's death record where he is listed as a survivor) all show his first name as Jesse.

Content and Scope of Collection

The collection contains 4,299 photographs taken by amateur photographer Jesse W. Smith over the span of three decades (circa 1930s, 1940s, 1950s).  The majority of the prints are in black and white and of various sizes, some quite small (1 x 2) but none larger than 5 x 7.  Although a large number of negatives and slides were donated with the collection, they have not been processed and are currently inaccessible to researchers.

Perhaps idiosyncratic in scope and subject matter by reflecting the interests of the man who took these pictures, the Jesse W. Smith Collection is a selective visual history of Terre Haute.  It is quite valuable and unique in that these images often represent the commonplace (from modest private residences to tombstones at a local cemetery); and many of these places have been greatly altered today or are no longer in existence.

With nearly 1500 photographs of local houses, commercial structures, institutions and public buildings, the collection contains a wealth of visual records documenting Terre Haute's architecture during a 30 year period of the twentieth century.  It also holds an extensive record of local parks, cemeteries, and antique automobiles; a sample of local events (such as parades and auto shows); and local people who worked for city/county government in the 1950s.

When the collection was donated, it was presumed that the material had been handled by several different parties and it was not possible to determine any original order developed by the photographer.  However, Jesse Smith did have many photographs grouped by broad categories and placed in photographic envelopes and boxes which he had labelled.  The information provided by Smith was taken into account as the collection was processed. 

Most of the photographs are not dated.  Some do have a date stamped on the back of the photograph which usually indicates the date the photograph was printed.  Some of the dates were determined by Smith's notes written on envelopes with the photographs.  Other dates were approximated by research done by Vigo County Public Library staff.

David Lewis, Research Assistant in Special Collections at VCPL, served as the primary researcher and processor of the collection.  A document case containing Lewis's background research in identifying and dating photographs along with a rough draft of his itemized inventory list of photographs accompanies this collection.  Note:  Some of the handwriting in pencil on the back of various photographs may be attributed to David Lewis and does not represent identification of the image by the photographer.

Arrangement:  An order has been imposed on the collection since an original or chronological order could not be determined.  The photographs have been arranged in thirteen broad subject categories (labelled A - M) and within each of these subject categories photographs have been numbered for identification purposes.  (Example:  A1, A2, etc.)  A complete inventory of every photograph in each subject category was compiled by David Lewis and is included in the document case.  The photo inventory includes the photo identification number assigned, a brief description of the photograph, color of print (black and white or color), size of print, and date (if known).   

Below is a brief description of the broad subject category arrangement:


                        A.  Houses

                        B.  Buildings

                        C.  Cemeteries

                        D.  Parks

                        E.  Wabash River

                        F.  War Memorials

                        G.  Indiana State Teachers College

                        H.  Local Events

                        I.   Wheeler Street Sewer Project

                        J.   Automobiles

                        K.  Journey to Riley, Indiana

                        L.   Photographs Outside of Vigo County

                        M.  City/County Employees


A.  Houses:  This category includes photographs of houses primarily from Terre Haute, Indiana.  Historic houses have been listed first in alphabetical order (Condit House, Paul Dresser Birthplace, Preston House, Vigo County Historical Society, Woman's Department Club).  After the historic houses, general residences are listed.  Houses on numbered streets (such as, S. 5th Street) are arranged in numerical order by street number and address.  These photos are followed by houses on named streets (such as, Liberty Avenue) which are arranged in alphabetical order by street name, then numerical order by address.  Houses in which an exact location could not be determined are listed next.  They are arranged in broad categories (such as, Brick House or Frame House) and within these categories they are arranged by number of stories (such as, Two Story Brick House.)  There are 768 photographs in this category (Photo A1-A717).

B.  Buildings:  This category includes many photographs of businesses and business districts primarily in Terre Haute, Indiana; there are also photographs of public buildings (Vigo County Courthouse, City Hall), churches, fire stations, schools, and the historic Memorial Hall.  Photographs of grocery stores are listed first (Businesses--Grocery Stores) and are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the store.  Next, general businesses are listed and have been subdivided into broad subject categories (for example, Businesses--Bookstore); these have been arranged in alphabetical order by subject category.  Photographs which show business districts or street scenes with multiple buildings are then listed.  These business district photos are arranged first by businesses on numbered streets (in numerical order by street number and address) followed by businesses on named streets (in alphabetical order by street name, then numerical order by address.)  Unidentified commercial buildings are listed next.  They are arranged in broad subject categories (Brick or Frame) and within these categories by number of stories (Two Story Brick).

Other types of buildings in this category have been organized by broad subject areas which reflect the function of the building (churches, fire stations, hospitals, schools, etc.); these are arranged in alphabetical order by subject.  And finally, any miscellaneous photographs of buildings are listed at the end.  There are 590 photographs in this category (Photo B1-B583).                    

C.  Cemeteries:  This category includes photographs of cemeteries in Terre Haute and Vigo County.  They are arranged in the following order:  Woodlawn/St. Joseph's Cemetery in Terre Haute (includes general photos of gatehouse and statuary, tombstones and monuments in alphabetical order by name on stone, series of unidentified stones); Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute (includes chapel, gatehouse, mausoleums, and tombstones); Grandview Cemetery in Vigo County (tombstones); Swalls Cemetery in Vigo County (overview of cemetery, tombstones); Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (includes photos of Mt. Pleasant Church, the H. Simmons-W. L. Kidder home, and tombstones in alphabetical order by name on stone); Chamberlain/Dickerson Cemetery in Vigo County (tombstones).  There are 978 photographs in this category (Photo C1-C972).

D.  Parks:  This category includes photographs of four Terre Haute city parks.  They are arranged in alphabetical order by name of park and within each park photographs have been grouped into broad subject categories (such as, picnic shelters, refreshment stand, etc.).  The parks included are:  Collett Park (includes photos of the Pavilion); Deming Park (includes photos of picnic shelters, ponds and hills, zoo with various animals); Fairbanks Park (includes photos of the Chauncey Rose Memorial Plaza, the boat club, Wabash River); Steeg Park (now known as Gilbert Park).  There are 418 photographs in this category (Photo D1-D414).

E.  Wabash River:  This category contains 19 photographs (E1-E19) of the Wabash River arranged by size of print from larger (5 x 7) to smaller (3 1/4 x 4 1/2).  Included are several images of the river at floodstage, the Boat Club, Fairbanks Park, and the Wabash River bridge.

F.  War Memorials:  This category contains photographs of Indiana war memorials and statues as well as military artillery pieces displayed to commemorate wartime service.  The photographs are arranged by location with Terre Haute and Vigo County memorials listed first:  Vigo County Courthouse (Civil War Monument), YMCA (Army tank), Fort Harrison (cannon), Highland Lawn Cemetery (Soldier's Circle), Memorial Hall (cannon), Memorial Stadium (artillery piece), and Steeg Park (cannon).  War memorials outside of Vigo County are listed next:  Tippecanoe County Courthouse Square (cannon), Montgomery County Courthouse Square (cannon), Indianapolis World War Memorial Plaza (cannon), Indianapolis State Capitol grounds (statue).  Miscellaneous and unidentified photographs are arranged at the end.  There are 116 photographs in this category (Photo F1-F114).

G.  Indiana State Teachers College:  This category includes photographs of Indiana State Teachers College.  The majority of the photos are of buildings on campus (such as, the "Old Main" Administration Building and the Old Science Hall and Library) and they have been grouped by photo subject.  There are a few photographs of events arranged at the end, such as commencement exercises and freshman-sophomore "rush" activities.  There are 105 photographs in this category (Photo G1-G105).

H.  Local Events:  This category includes local events in Terre Haute, Indiana; the photographs have been grouped by subject.  Parade photographs are primarily represented and some can be specifically identified, such as Frontier Day Parade or Basketball Tournament Parade.  Of particular note are photographs of tent meetings and baptisms in the Wabash River.  There are 160 photographs in this category (Photo H1-H158).

I.  Wheeler Street Sewer Project:  This category documents the Wheeler Street Sewer Project in which the city sewer system was extended and installed in the area between 4th and 11th streets along Wheeler Avenue, located on the southwest side of Terre Haute, Indiana.  A map of this area from the Terre Haute Sewage Department is stored in Map Drawer #9 in Archives.  The photographs seemed to be dated from late 1956 to early 1958.  The photographer apparently numbered and ordered the photographs in this series and so this original order has been maintained for the most part.  The images depict specific locations during the progress of the project, the specialized equipment used and the workmen involved.  Some of the homes and other buildings in the area can be seen in the background.  There are 297 photographs in this category (Photo I1-I244).         

J.  Automobiles:  This category includes a wide-range of photographs of antique automobiles and trucks.  Some of the automobiles have been grouped by dealer and make (such as Ford Roadster) and many of the trucks have been grouped by type (fire truck, delivery truck, pick-up truck, flatbed truck).  There are some photographs of used car dealers in Terre Haute:  Brooks' Auto Exchange (Photo J294-J334), Johnny Hays Ford (J335-J342), Bob Moore's Little Detroit Lot (J343-J356), Johnny Moore's Used Cars (J357-J366).  Of particular note are photographs of auto shows in Terre Haute:  1948 Auto Show at Paul Cox Field (Photo J367-J374) and 1958 Auto Show on Wabash Avenue (Photo J383-J415).  There are 598 photographs in this category (Photo J1-J589).

K.  Journey to Riley, Indiana:  The photographs in this category were found in an envelope marked "Salem Church, Riley Rd., Hulman St. Rd., Riley, Fruit. Ave. N. & S., Lockport Rd., Margaret Ave., Poplar St. Rd., National Rd. US 40, Brown Ave." by photographer Jesse Smith.  Although the photographer did have these photos stored together, the arrangement and the "journey" was created by David Lewis.  There are 24 photographs in this category (Photo K1-K19).

L.  Photographs Outside of Vigo County:  The 15 photographs in this category (L1-L15) were found in an envelope marked by the photographer.  Included are shots from Brazil, Indiana; Chicago, Illinois; Parke County, Indiana; and Vincennes, Indiana.

M.  City/County Employees:  This category contains photographs of Terre Haute City Hall employees in their work place environment and at social gatherings or office parties circa 1950s (during Mayor Ralph Tucker's administration).  Included are a few photographs of Vigo County Courthouse employees.  Many of these photographs were broadly identified, dated, and arranged in groups by photographer Jesse Smith;  David Lewis has attempted to preserve these groupings into his own system of presentation.  Most of the individuals in these photographs were identified in December 2000 by Martha Maloof (former secretary for Terre Haute Park Board) and Joan Brentlinger Hetherington (former City Comptroller).  Names of individuals pictured are included on the photo inventory database.  There are 211 photographs in this category (M1-M187).


Document Case 

Notebook        Jesse W. Smith Photograph Collection:   Inventory of Photographs

                                    A.  Houses

                                    B.  Buildings

                                    C.  Cemeteries

                                    D.  Parks

                                    E.  Wabash River

                                    F.  War Memorials

                                    G.  Indiana State Teachers College

                                    H.  Local Events

                                    I.   Wheeler Street Sewer Project

                                    J.   Automobiles

                                    K.  Journey to Riley, Indiana

                                    L.  Photographs Outside of Vigo County

                                    M. City/County Employees


Legal pads                    Handwritten research notes and rough draft of
                                      photograph inventory by David Lewis

 Photograph Storage 

Box 1              Photo #A1 - A451 

Box 2              Photo #A452 - A717
                        Photo #B1 - B320 

Box 3              Photo #B321 - B583
                        Photo #C1 - C227 

Box 4              Photo #C228 - C802 

Box 5              Photo #C803 - C972
                        Photo #D1 - D285 

Box 6              Photo #D286 - D414
                        Photo #E1 - E19
                        Photo #F1 - F114
                        Photo #G1 - G105
                        Photo #H1 - H127

Box 7              Photo #H128 - H158
                       Photo #I1 - I181 

Box 8              Photo #I182 - I244
                        Photo #J1 - J361 

Box 9              Photo #J362 - J589
                        Photo #K1 - K19
                        Photo #L1 - L15
                        Photo #M1 - M187

MICROSOFT ACCESS DATABASES:  In addition to the complete list of photographs contained in the photograph inventory notebook in the document case, the photograph inventories for each category (A-M) can also be accessed by computer databases in Archives.  The databases include an additional "Notes" section which give detailed accounts of David Lewis's research process, his identification and dating of the photographs.  Currently, the Microsoft Access databases are accessible to Archives staff only, but can be searched by staff for patrons working on detailed research projects.