In 2007, when Bernie Stiroh and Mike Lizonitz launched duryeapa.com, a website site devoted to chronicling Duryea’s history, Stiroh didn’t know how to use a computer.
Ten years later, at age 77, Stiroh Photoshopped five images from vintage glass negatives on his Dell computer to create one seamless panoramic view of Duryea from 100 years ago.
He presented a framed 48-inch long copy of the finished photo to the borough at the March council meeting this year, compliments of the Stiroh and Marcelonis families. It hangs in the hallway of the borough building.
“It’s amazing,” borough manager Carolyn Santee said of the panorama. “It’s so clear. We love it.”
Stiroh found the negatives in a Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad collection at Syracuse University during his pursuit of all things Duryea for the website, which now has more than 60,000 items. From written descriptions at Syracuse such as “Hallstead Breaker side view” or “Duryea Marcy Street East” he bought scans of 60 photos.
Some of the scans were of poor quality. Stiroh tried repairing them himself, but had better luck at Steamtown National Park, which had acquired the entire D L & W collection of 20,000 glass negatives from Syracuse. Steamtown had a superior scanner and Archivist Patrick McKnight made pristine digital copies of Stiroh’s Duryea photos. Stiroh and his wife, Angela, returned the favor. They looked at all 20,000 negatives on a computer and identified the Duryea photos.
“We were able to pick out houses and bridges. We spent hours.”
He also spent hours — 150 of them by his own estimation — working on the Duryea panorama.
“Last winter I was looking for something to do. I thought this would be a nice project. It got me through the winter,” he said.
Railroad tracks and mountains were the biggest obstacles to over come.
“It took hours to get the ties straight. The tracks were crooked. It was very challenging,” he said.
The mountain elevations varied from photo to photo. He had to erase and replace mountains to get the rolling hills effect we are used to seeing.
Though linear, the panorama represents 360 degrees. It’s as though a photographer stood on the railroad tracks across from the borough hall and shot a series of photos in a circle. Though the panorama looks as though it was shot from one spot, the five photos used to create the panorama were shot from different spots, which made proportionality a problem. Staples created the hard copy panorama from the digital image Stiroh created.
“It’s only 12-inches high,” Stiroh said, “To make it any bigger it would have to be eight-feet long.”
Near the middle of the panorama are five houses in line. They front on Brown Street and are still there 100 years after the photos were taken. There are other buildings in the panorama still standing today, such as the old Wasta Hotel on the corner of New and Stephenson streets, but most of them are long gone, such as the Hallstead breaker, the Lincoln, Pershing and Wilson schools; and St. Joseph’s church.
Stiroh went into the project without Photoshop expertise. Through trial and error he learned as he worked.
“Before we stared the website,” Stiroh said with a chuckle, “My sons, Bernie and Kevin, said I should get a computer. I said, ‘What do I need a computer for?’ ”