A Very Large South Acton Mystery
One of our members recently brought to the Society a huge portrait that had no identification. It had been used as a backing for a framed map. At first, it seemed to be a normal photograph, but looking more carefully revealed that someone had enhanced its details by adding black and white highlights. The size of the portrait and the artist’s additions make us think that the man had some wealth and social standing.
We thought that there was hope of identifying this man; his clothes might make the picture easy to date and Acton's wealthy people were relatively few. Prominent businessmen were more likely than others to have their photographs published, so we searched local histories and our own photograph collection. So far, we have not succeeded. It has been suggested to us that the era of the portrait was the 1880s, but research in guides to men’s fashion has not given us definitive confirmation of the time period.
Our only clue is that the picture was found in a barn at what is now 184 Main Street. The Society has been the recipient of other items from that barn, most related to the South Acton cider vinegar business and family of Henry Barker (1835-1917). The barn was across the street from the house of cider mill manager Frederick Burke and his wife (Henry’s daughter) Addie Barker. We know that the Burkes gave memorabilia to Harriet Cobleigh, owner of the barn. It is possible that this picture, perhaps behind a map, was part of the Barker/Burke gifts.
Could this portrait have been of Henry Barker? He was the owner of a successful cider mill and old enough to have gray in his beard by the 1880s. He would best fit our guess that it was someone of local prominence. (See blog post about Henry Barker.) Unfortunately, and surprisingly, we have not been able to find an identified picture of Henry Barker for comparison. At this point, he is only one possibility for the subject of the portrait.
Identifying unlabeled photographs is almost always a struggle. Can you help us to identify this man or to confirm the time period in which the portrait would have been done? Please contact us.
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