At the turn of the 20th century, rural Southern Oregon was still the rough frontier. Men searched the rivers for gold. Barefoot children attended one-room schoolhouses. Horses plowed dirt fields and oxen hauled giant timber. Communities grew and later turned into ghost towns. It is history that might have faded from memory. Instead, images from all of these scenes are preserved.

On Tuesday, April 9, OPB and SOPTV will air the Oregon Experience special “Capturing Oregon’s Frontier,” which brings early rural Southern Oregon to life through photographs. The program provides remarkable insight into Oregon’s rural communities. 

More than 30 years ago, photographer Lloyd Smith bought a box of historic glass plate negatives at a garage sale. The box contained hundreds of photographs documenting rural life in Southern Oregon in the early 20th century. The images featured families posed in front of their homes, men and women working at everyday tasks, children at play, and just about all facets of rural life.

That box sparked Smith’s lifelong passion for collecting historic photographs and negatives.

Today, Smith has a collection of thousands of historic images, most from Southern Oregon dating from 1890 to the 1910s. He believes it is one of the largest private collections of its kind from original negatives and prints of the region. It includes everything from studio portraits to candid family gatherings. People pose with pets, farm animals, early automobiles and bicycles. They smile, laugh and mug for the camera at a time when most photography was stiff and formal. The images include people in early wheelchairs, salmon almost as big as the boys who proudly hold them, and small businesses of all kinds.

This treasure may have been lost, but Smith spent years carefully preserving and digitally scanning each image. He now wants to share the images with the world.

“Capturing Oregon’s Frontier” features interviews with collector Lloyd Smith, historian and writer Joan Momsen of the Josephine County Historical Society, Grants Pass Daily Courier Editor Dennis Roler and other local historians.

On Friday, April 5, OPB and the Oregon Historical Society will host a free preview screening of “Capturing Oregon’s Frontierin Grants Passat Rogue Community College (Redwood Campus). The screening will be held in the Rogue Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. There will also be a Q&A with the program’s producers following the screening. This event is free and open to the public.

The Oregon Experience special “Capturing Oregon’s Frontier” will air on Tuesday, April 9 at 8:00 p.m. on OPB TV and SOPTV. It is produced by Kami Horton and edited by Lisa Suinn Kallem and Todd Sonflieth. For more information, please visit

Press Note: Photos related to the special are available for download at the OPB Pressroom (user name: opbpressroom; password: photoop).

About Oregon Experience

Oregon Experience is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life stories that help us understand this place where we live and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. Co-produced with the Oregon Historical Society, the series draws upon the Society’s skilled researchers and extensive photography and moving-image archives. The program also incorporates OPB’s own film and video resources and the expertise of some of Oregon’s finest historians. Each episode features captivating characters – both familiar and forgotten – who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. This program is supported in part by the Robert D. and Marcia H. Randall Charitable Trust, the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, the Oregon Cultural Trust, Kay Kitagawa & Andy Johnson-Laird and The Clark Foundation.

About OPB 

OPB is the largest cultural and education institution in the region, delivering excellence in public broadcasting to 1.5 million people each week through television, radio and the Internet. Widely recognized as a national leader in the public broadcasting arena, OPB is a major contributor to the program schedule that serves the entire country. OPB is one of the most-used and most-supported public broadcasting services in the country and is generously supported by members across Oregon and southwest Washington.