For years, several hundred images from construction and operations of the historic Soo Locks stayed lifeless, meticulously filed away in a storage room. That is, until last spring when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, contracted the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University (CMU) to electronically file and make these never-before-seen-photos public.
“The Soo Locks are among the most important engineering works in our nation,” said Frank J. Boles, Director of the Clarke Historical Library. “The photos taken by the Corps create an incomparable and comprehensive record of this site. These photos are invaluable historical records which will now be made accessible to the public with the completions of this project,” Boles said.
Work began in 2016, when CMU sent Bryan Whitledge, reformatting imaging manager for the library, to the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Whitledge spent 11 days at the Detroit District’s Soo Area Office scanning and electronically labeling hundreds of one-eighth-inch-thick glass plates. Whitledge did his best to even scan ones that were broken, stating one time, he had to piece together a negative that was broken into nearly 30 pieces.
"At the Soo Locks, we had a great, but fragile resource with over 1,700 historic images of lock construction and boats,” said Michelle Briggs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger. “By working with the Clarke Historical Library images have all been scanned, cataloged and recorded in a database making it easy for ourselves, researchers and the public to access and use these priceless images. The original glass plates have now been transferred to the National Archives where they can be professionally preserved and protected,” Briggs said.
An electronic database of historic images can now be accessed on CMU’s website. Also, select historic Soo Locks images are now on exhibit at CMU. The exhibit displays some of these never-before-seen photos from the Soo Locks dating back to 1885. The photos feature the State Lock: the first ever lock built stateside at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.; the Weitzel Lock; the first Poe Lock; the Davis and the Sabin locks as well as many pictures of ship traffic and construction of the Rock Cut.
The exhibit, located in the Clarke Historical Library located in the Park Library building on Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Mich., main campus is open through Labor Day weekend during the academic year. Library hours are usually from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and most Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"The Detroit District has proved to be wonderful partner in helping us scan and make available to the public the rich visual history of the locks, originally created by the Corps for engineering purposes” said Boles, “Because of the Corps support these images can now be seen on the CMU website.”
To visit the digital library: https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/SooLocks/Pages/default.aspx
To visit the National Archive Gallery:https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/2017/01/05/the-mighty-soo-construction-of-the-locks-at-sault-ste-marie-michigan/