Although more than 600 covered bridges were built in Indiana between 1820 and 1922, less than 100 are still standing, according to the Indiana Covered Bridge Society.
Luckily, amateur photographer the late Sidney B. Pepe of Fort Wayne preserved the legacy of Indiana, Ohio and Illinois bridges and other aspects of transportation in more than 6,000 pictures, according to Darcy Davidson, genealogy services supervisor at the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center at Eckhart Public Library in Auburn.The genealogy center is hosting a reception called “Transportation in Indiana” from 5-7 p.m. Aug. 4 displaying digitized and original versions of Pepe's photos as part of the center's receipt of a Library Service and Technology Act (LSTA) grant from the Indiana State Library to digitize historical documents.
Davidson says the center plans to have most of the photos available online by November or December.
“We got a grant to digitize this collection so we could purchase a new scanner that could handle (this project),” Davidson said, adding that the center also hired two interns to help scan, crop and create metadata for the photos.
The Pepe collection includes photos of covered and iron bridges along with pictures of interurbans, trolleys, automobiles and buses. According to a news release, Pepe captured the many of the same scenes over several decades so viewers can observe changes that took place over time.
The photos include four of the five historic DeKalb County covered bridges that lasted into the 20th century.At the Aug. 4 reception, the center will display slideshow selections of the digitized photos on computer screens and large, flat-panel televisions. Pepe's collection of books about covered bridges will also be on display, and John and Colleen Murray of the Indiana Covered Bridge Society will present a program about Indiana's covered bridges.
“Because it is in Auburn, we're going to talk about bridges in the Northeast Indiana area,” John Murray said.
Covered bridges originated to protect the bridges' wooden floors from rotting, John Murray says. There were eight covered bridges in Allen County, and one aqueduct bridge in Fort Wayne carried the canal over the St. Marys River, according to John Murray.
Davidson says some of Pepe's original photos will be on display alongside the digital collection. The library is not able to digitize certain photos yet because Pepe took them for private owners who have retained the copyrights, according to Davidson.
Pepe was a World War II Army Air Corps veteran in Europe who became active in several Fort Wayne area civic organizations, such as the Summit City Lines, Three Rivers Railroad Heritage Council and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum.
He worked as a bookkeeper for the Evangelical Mennonite Conference and worked for the U.S. Postal Service 33 years, according to a news release.
When he died at the age of 90 in February 2011, he donated his photo collection to the genealogy center and named DeKalb County historian John Martin Smith the executor of his estate.
“They knew each other through a mutual interest in history,” Davidson said.
Smith co-founded the National Auto and Truck Museum, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum and the DeKalb County Historical Society, according to a news release.
But while he was sending Pepe's collection — 18 or 19 boxes of memorabilia — to the genealogy center, Davidson says, Smith and his wife were killed in an October 2011 car accident.
Digitizing images in Pepe's collection did proceed, and the photos ultimately will be featured on the Willennar Genealogy Center's online photo archives and in the Indiana State Library's “Indiana Memory” digital archive.
Davidson says the scanner and supplies purchased to digitize Pepe's collection will help the genealogy center become a regional digitization center.
“We would like to teach people how to digitize their personal photo collections and to serve as model for other small libraries,” Davidson said.