Detective Work and Discovery: Connecting the Dots in the Roland Park Company Archives

Arrangement and description of the Roland Park Company Archives continues to be a work in progress, but we know that one of the most popular parts of this collection will be the company's extensive photograph archives. The Roland Park Company captured hundreds of images documenting every part of the neighborhood planning process, from surveying sites, to construction, to post-construction activities like real estate.

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We at the Archives recently stumbled across an historical goldmine: a box of dozens of photographs of homes that had recently completed construction by the company. While these are visually striking in their own right, the underlying reason why the Roland Park Company created and used these photographs was initially unclear during our 21st century encounter, with more than a half-century of context having slowly dissolved since the company folded. However, uncovering context is not an insurmountable task--you just need to do some detective work.

Taken in isolation, these photographs of homes could have been used for any purpose.  However, a more thorough investigation of the backs of the photographs reveal important, though hastily scribbled, information--mundane in isolation but in context an important puzzle piece. The image featured here is representative of this type of rudimentary labeling, describing a location ("Tunbridge Road"), sizing specifications ("5 7/8"), and information that, frankly, continues to be a mystery to me (but may be more easily discerned by you--feel free to take a stab at it in the comments section). And as fortune would have it, the same box that these photographs call home also includes a series of advertisements that serve as a vintage analog to the flyers that contemporary real estate agents stuff in plastic boxes in front of homes for sale. So, mystery is solved: these photographs were taken for the purpose of being used by the real estate agents of yesteryear.

While these types of inquiries should become more straightforward as the Roland Park Company Archives is processed, all archival research hinges on resurrecting context created in a bygone era. Records are more than the sum of their parts--archives tell stories, and so to conjure these stories, users must maximize their powers of investigation and reconstruction.

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