Where Are the Early Movies of Jamestown?

In the early days of Jamestown, the only way to obtain an image of yourself or anyone else was to employ an artist or draw the picture yourself. The first photographer to arrive in Jamestown came in 1842, remarkably early. The earliest instance I have found of a motion picture being shown in Jamestown is 1899, also remarkably early.

I have seen occasional notices in old newspapers of motion pictures being taken in Jamestown in the 1920’s and maybe a little earlier. These were done with 35 mm outfits handled by professional crews. Relatively few of even commercial films survive from that era so it is unrealistic to hope to find any of the Jamestown footage. 16mm film for amateur use came on the market in 1923, 8mm in 1932.

John Wright who owned the Jamestown Telephone Corporation was well known as an early local amateur movie photographer. His footage of the 1927 Jamestown Centennial parade has been shown several times on the local cable station. Home video tape (analog) cameras started to show up around 1980. At first there were two popular formats, VHS and Betamax. We have one or two of the later 8mm digital recordings in the collection also.

In 1941 considerable professional 35mm footage was taken in Jamestown in color as part of a promotional venture to increase attendance at the local theaters. We used to sell this at the Gift Shop, first as a VHS and later a DVD. It is now on Youtube. By the 1950’s a lot of people had 8mm cameras and were taking home movies, but the favorite subject was vacations, not local scenes. Family celebrations were another favorite subject (which we do collect if they show identified people), but those rarely showed outdoor vistas.

Three things have turned our minds here to the realization that we should be trying to collect as many early local home movies as we can. The first is our 60th anniversary celebration, the Gala, and the time capsule we are preparing as part of that celebration. The second was the donation of a copy of the 1986 video by Producer Dan Swackhammer, Jamestown: A Century of Life, A Century of Living done in U Matic, an early professional video tape format. The third was a recent call from a woman in Las Vegas looking for early films showing Bigelows.

These activities, along with the realization that there are potentially many home movies of Jamestown and the environs gathering dust in boxes, unseen for decades, should serve as a motivation to act on this opportunity and publically attempt to generate donations of the films and grow our collection.

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