B.T. Hill Collection: An Illustrated Inventory of the American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society contains a collection of glass plate negatives taken by Benjamin Thomas Hill (1863-1927), at the Worcester County Agricultural Society's fairgrounds in the early decades of the twentieth century. The photographs depict the fairgrounds behind Norton Company in the city’s Greendale neighborhood. The fairgrounds were lost about 1947 when Norton Company bought the land and expanded its business.

B.T. Hill

Hill was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and practiced law in that city for over thirty years. His main interests were local history, automobiles, and amateur photography. He was elected to membership of the American Antiquarian Society in 1901, and served as the auditor for the Society for twenty-three years. His personal collection of newspaper clippings, manuscript books and other photographs and glass plate negatives are all housed within the Society.

Many of the photographs in this collection focus on horse jumpers at the fair. The action-shots show the jumpers mid-air, clearing wooden hurdles, taken from various angles and at various times in the jump. Other scenes that make up this entertaining collection include a female high-diver plunging into a small pool from a daunting height, group shots of the fair’s performers, Colonial reenactors, parade floats, crowds in the grandstands, the automobile tents, and local exhibitors.

Glass plate negatives, while fragile, were a popular method of photography up until about 1930, even after the advent of celluloid film in the 1880s. Hill would have had to haul a camera large enough to hold 5x7 glass plates, plus carry all of the glass plates, which would inevitably lead to a few broken plates. The images in this inventory were created by digitally scanning each negative. This project seeks to prevent unnecessary use of these fragile plates, as we feel lucky they have survived this long.