Bill McGahan is up to his elbows in research at the Lincoln County Historical Museum, and he’s finding some gems.
McGahan is pouring through some 80,000 photographs from the archives of Brown-Harano photo studio in downtown North Platte, which were carefully recorded and stored through the years.
When Brown-Harano closed last summer, owner Don Milroy donated all the studio’s archives to the museum. For nearly 70 years, Milroy alone photographed North Platte and Lincoln County. He went to work at the studio as a teenager and made it his career.
McGahan, the retired superintendent of North Platte’s Catholic schools, regularly volunteers at the museum. He spent a good share of his summer stripping paint from the historical Fredricksen House on the grounds, a house that was originally ordered through the Sears catalog.
Now, McGahan is painstakingly pouring through the photographs, with North Platte’s history at his fingertips. He categorizes each photo and enters reference information into the museum’s computer records.
Although McGahan has a ways to go, he’s found hundreds of family photos – weddings, anniversaries, graduations and other events. He’s found photos of businesses and business people, buildings and schools. There are many photo proofs of students and school staff members, as well as sports teams.
Some photos have considerable historical value, dating to the 1930s, Museum Director Jim Griffin said. That includes a 1953 aerial photo of the west side of North Platte, before the Westfield shopping plaza was built.
Over the years, the Brown-Harano staff stored negatives and photos in packets and labeled them with the name of the event. In the mid-1990s, Milroy started using digital photography. Those photos were saved too, and stored on compact disks.
McGahan has worked through hundreds of photos, but he has tens of thousands yet to catalogue.
When Milroy donated the archives, he told Griffin he hopes the museum would be able to convert some of the old photos into operating funds, so the museum is asking for a small donation in exchange for the photos and original negatives.
A minimal $25-50 donation is suggested.
The museum has started posting family names on its website (HERE) of pictures that are cataloged. More than 1,000 are now available — pictures of people with last names that start with the initials N-Z.
The museum asks anyone who is interested to watch the website to see what photos are available. When names are posted, those people can contact the museum about those photos. A rush of people before then would cripple the effort.
Also, Milroy donated some of the studio’s equipment to the museum, including box cameras that were used around the turn of the century.
Griffin is considering placing the cameras in an historical photo studio in a building on the grounds.