Oregon Experience

Capturing Oregon's Frontier

April 10, 2013 3 a.m.


Lloyd Smith

Thousands of forgotten glass plate negatives from the turn of the twentieth century bring new insight to rural Oregon's frontier history.

At the turn of the twentieth 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. And communities grew up and died away into ghost towns.

It is history that might have faded from memory. Instead, images from all of these scenes are preserved.

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 began a 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 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.

The collection reveals a remarkable insight into Oregon’s rural communities rarely seen. This treasure may have been lost, but Smith spent years carefully preserving and digitally scanning each image. He wants to share the images with the world. Today, they are all available online and free to the public.



Joan Momsen, Grants Pass (Images of America)


The Grants Pass Daily Courier, Josephine County Memories: A Pictorial History of the 1800s through the 1960s

Edith Decker, Dennis Roler, Michele Thomas, The Pictorial History of Josephine County

Edna May Hill, Josephine County Historical Highlights

Jack Sutton, 110 Years With Josephine: The History of Josephine County, Oregon 1856 – 1966

Josephine County Historical Society, A History of Josephine County Oregon

Larry L. McLane, First There Was Twogood - A Pictorial History of Northern Josephine County

Edna May Hill, Grants Pass Centennial Notes

Ruth Pfefferle, Golden Days and Pioneer Ways

Web sites

Josephine County Historical Society

Lloyd Smith Photo Collections

Southern Oregon Historical Society

Hannon Library Digital Collections

Broadcast Date: April 09, 2013