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Background Image Strain - Kicking Goal

Snapshots of History

Anderson County’s latest community history project started with a mystery. A stranger dropped by the Garnett Public Library with “an old historic freezer box” containing a trove of old photographs, according to Renee Pagenkopf of the Anderson County Historical Society. The library had no use for the photos, so a librarian got in touch with the historical society.

The identity of the donor is still unknown, but there’s no mystery surrounding the identity of the photographer: it was Philip Strain (1885-1973), a self-taught photographer who ran his own studio in Garnett, in southeast Kansas, for more than fifty years. In that time, he documented generations of families and decades of change in the town.

“Everyone in Anderson County knows about Philip Strain, and most everybody has his photos in the back of their closet,” Pagenkopf explains. Strain was highly prolific; the donated photo collection was composed of approximately 1,000 photos, and the local museum has even more of Strain’s work in its archives.

Using a Culture Preservation Grant from HK, Pagenkopf and the Anderson County Historical Society Museum set out to catalog and digitize Strain’s photos. It is a herculean task, and from the start it has been a community effort. In order to identify Strain’s subjects, the team has taken collections of photos to community events, including a recent quilt show in Garnett, where people have gathered to pick out relatives and old friends in the photographs.

Family photo

Strain - wedding

Philip Strain’s portraits of this family (top) and a wedding party (bottom) are some of the photos that need community identification. Courtesy of the Anderson County Historical Society. 

In addition to portraits of community members, Strain was known for his panoramas of the town. His streetscapes captured decades of changes to Garnett’s buildings.

With this preservation project, the history that Strain captured in his photographs will be publicly accessible online and in the museum. Many visitors, Pagenkopf explains, come to the museum to find images of their grandparents or great-grandparents. Thanks to Strain’s work, future generations of Garnett residents will be able to maintain that connection to their forebears and to the history of their town.

When the cataloging and digitization are completed, there will be exhibitions at Garnett Public Library and Walker Art Gallery, each with its own theme. There will also be a display at the Anderson County Historical Society Museum.

“He really did preserve so much of this town,” says Renee. In return, the museum will preserve Strain’s photos and his legacy.

Join the Movement of Ideas

  • FOLLOW the Anderson County Historical Society on Facebook for information on upcoming Philip Strain events.
  • WATCH a short film about a similar photo digitization project in Stafford County.
  • APPLY for a Culture Preservation grant from HK to preserve your community’s historic photographs. The next deadline is September 23, 2024. Details here. 

Header Photo Credit:
Football game between Garnett and Osawatomie, November 28, 1912. On the photo is the handwritten caption “Kicking Goal. Garnett, 81 – Osawatomie, 0.”

Credit: Photo by Philip Strain, provided by Anderson County Historical Society Museum. Photo donated by Bud Franker.


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