What is the Everett C. Block Collection?
Everett C. Block first discovered glass plate negatives in 1946, when he and his family moved into a farm house south of Sidney, IL. The eaves of the attic were overflowing with pieces of glass, some intact and others broken. Block didn’t know what the pieces of glass were, but holding some of them up to the light he could see images. He was curious as to what these images were and how they could be viewed, but almost 17 years would pass before family and work obligations allowed him the time to pursue this interest.
In 1963, Block brought some of the negatives down from the attic and started cleaning them to see what they might reveal. He thought he recognized the Prior House which was across the road from Sidney’s grade school. Block chose 3 of the negatives and took them to the University of Illinois photo lab to see if they could be developed. The price of developing the 210 negatives was cost prohibitive at the time, so Everett built a light box where the negatives could be placed and the images viewed. He was able to identify some of the buildings, but not the people in the pictures. In the spring of 1966, Block enlisted the help of George Hawthorne, an amateur photo processor, to print photographs from the negatives. Having printed photographs would make the images accessible to more people and help with the identification process.
On June 18, 1966, at the Spring Festival in Sidney, IL, photographs printed from 210 glass plate negatives were put on display. Each photograph was assigned a number and mounted to sheets of poster board. The pictures discovered in Block’s attic were outdoor scenes rather than studio shots. They included families, houses, farm scenes, animals and family possessions and depicted a posed and dressed-up version of everyday southeast Champaign County life circa 1900-1905.
Block conducted 35 interviews and spoke to various local community groups about the collection. He was able to obtain information for 100 of the original 210 negatives. Additional glass plate negatives and photographs were gifted to Block and added to his collection over the years. The Everett C. Block Collection donated to the Champaign County Historical Archives in 2014 contains 254 glass plate negatives and over 350 photographs, slides, hand written notes, maps and photographic ephemera. Block was not the original photographer; however he was the person who had the foresight to save, research, and share these pieces of history with others.