What do you see in this photo from around 1916? What are these two ladies doing? And where is this? The area looks empty – without many houses or trees. We are used to our current tree-lined streets, but this was the state of our towns at the turn of the century – even as the towns were growing rapidly there still were large empty areas, and the mature trees were long gone for use as lumber and firewood.
While we do not know who these people are, or exactly what they are doing, we do know the location. This is Hopewell Borough, next to the then public school (now the firehouse), on Columbia Avenue near the corner of South Greenwood. The view is facing southeast, towards the future location of the Hopewell Elementary School. A newly-built house is partially visible at what is now the southwest corner of Seminary and Columbia.
But what is so interesting is what we do not see – There are no other houses across Columbia, no sign of the future East Prospect Street running parallel, and nothing much visible along what is now Princeton Avenue towards Mount Rose. And the land is so open that we can see the major landmark in the distance (at the top right) – St. Michael’s Orphanage.
This postcard from around 1905 shows how open the views were in the early 1900s. This is overlooking Hopewell, facing southeast from the Castle property up the hill. There are so few trees that this small town looks packed with buildings off into the distance.
These days, the slope up the hill and the streets of the town are so full of trees that we no longer have these kind of open views. For example, see the earlier post on the 1939 Hopewell Carnival Photo, with a clear view from West Broad Street all the way to to the train tracks, and continuing up to the top of the hills beyond.
As a further illustration, this aerial from spring 1932 shows downtown Hopewell, looking northwest towards the railroad bridge (top center). The town looks almost bare, without the current abundance of trees blocking the view. (Broad Street runs diagonally along the bottom, and Greenwood runs diagonally along the top up to the railroad bridge and tracks.)
Contrast these early photos to this current-day drone view looking southeast, similar to the postcard. Even though the photo is taken from a higher angle and is much higher resolution, many of the buildings and streets are obscured by the trees – even in early spring.
The original photo is part of a series of images from Bob Gantz that show views east from the Hopewell public school, with a tennis court and the buildings along the back of Seminary Avenue to Columbia (see previous post on the Hopewell Liveries.)
== See all the new Gantz photos in the Image Gallery ==
Our mature shade trees are an important and beautiful part of the historic ambience of our towns, but our towns in the early 1900s had a much more open look. And, as you can see, the trees can be a pain for historians trying to reconcile old photos with current streetscapes.
We welcome additional information and contributions – particularly historic aerial views of the Hopewell Valley (see the current Aerial Panoramas).