‘Through the Lens of Hoyle Garber’: Local insurance man with a camera captured valley life from mid-1940s to 1960

Zach Hottle, archivist for the Shenandoah County Library System in Edinburg, shows two digitized photos that are part of the Hoyle Garber Library Collection at the library. At left is the 1947 fire at the Nelson Theater in Mount Jackson and at right is a 1960-61 photo of Stonewall Jackson High School shortly after construction. Rich Cooley/Daily

EDINBURG – In the early 20th century, the Northern Shenandoah Valley was mostly an array of farmland, but by the mid- to early 1940s, the valley was thriving with businesses, culture and transportation.

William Hoyle Garber, who died on May 14, 1992 at the age of 76, photographed these dramatic changes from the mid-1940s up until 1960. His collection, “Through the Lens of Hoyle Garber” is available for viewing at the Shenandoah Library.

Zach Hottle, archivist for the Shenandoah Library, said Garber was an incredible man, with an incredible talent. “He was known throughout the county as the local insurance man, who always had a camera,” Hottle said. “Everywhere he went his camera was in tow.”

Hottle said it was probably a mixture of passion and necessity that Garber took so many photographs. Many of the images, Hottle pointed out, were of structures that Garber might have insured during his career. But also, it should be noted that Garber was a newspaper photographer for the Shenandoah Herald. Many of his images were seen as front page news.

Garber was known for documenting everything: from beauty pageants and structure fires, to summer camp events and proms in the area between Harrisonburg and Woodstock.

This undated photo taken by William Hoyle Garber shows Dick Robertson with Corn Queen Dorothy Beaver. Courtesy photo

The collection of photo negatives were discovered rolled up in a storage building after Garber’s death, Hottle explained. During an estate sale, the library acquired “only a small portion of what Garber had but enough to notice how the community has changed in a span of 50 years,” Hottle said.

Over a month’s time, Hottle and a team of volunteers scanned over 500 of Garber’s images into the library’s database. Negative strips that were discovered still in good condition brought the total collection to 570 digitized images.

“The photographs reveal what the early days in Shenandoah looked like,” Hottle said. “History for any community is important because it shows us a breakdown of how culture impacts growth.”

Garber’s collection does more than show how the community grew from street level, as there are many aerial shots that also showcase substantial community growth.

“From start to finish, I would say it took about two months to complete the project,” Hottle said. “The administrative tasks were where most of our time was spent. Adding names, locations and any other information we knew to each file was tedious.”

This William Hoyle Garber photo shows an unidentified group of Massanutten Military Academy cadets in Woodstock. Courtesy photo

But well worth it, he added.

An event hosted earlier this year identified over 60 individuals who had remained anonymous in Garber’s photographs for years. Hottle said there are still more photographs with unidentified individuals in them. His goal, though he knows it may not be obtainable, is to identify everyone in every picture.

“That’s nearly impossible,” he said. “We have photographs from Camp Strawderman where girls came from around the state that we know we’ll never be able to place. But,I would like to think it’s possible.”

Old photographs such as the Garber collection provide historical archaeologists like Hottle the opportunity to understand the larger pattern of events or behaviors a community has seen and give it validity.

“Images like these tell a story,” Hottle said. “And like any generation, we like to know where our community came from and is going.”

William Hoyle Garber shot the exterior of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital soon after it opened in 1951. Courtesy photo

To view the images online, visit www.archives.countylib.org or visit the Shenandoah Library at 514 Stoney Creek Boulevard in Edinburg.

This William Hoyle Garber photo shows the Hall of Valor Civil War Museum in New Market during construction. Courtesy photo