While I am sorting out pictures to post, meet my grandfather

Right now I am trying to sort through photographs I have scanned so I can test the ability of this blog to set up albums and tag the photos for retrieval. But I’ve got thousands of photos and I’m scanning in more every day.  Today I just wanted to sort out the two scrapbook albums in which I am storing the old negatives I am scanning from my father and my grandfather.

These negatives go back to the 1910s and are in all sorts of formats, from 3.25″ x 5″ to 35 mm. My grandfather, David Morgan Wright, took pictures while he was living in New Orleans as a newly graduated mining engineer. He took pictures while serving with the Army Corps of Engineers in France during World War II. There are an amazing number of pictures of his two sons, my father Orrin Hughitt (Hugh) Wright and David Morgan Wright Jr, while they were little children and as they grew up. He also took a lot of pictures of his grandchildren, though the only grandchildren he knew were Edith Carolyn, Barbara Joyce, and Anne Elizabeth (me!), the older daughters of his oldest son, Hugh . And since phosphate mining was such a major part of his life he took pictures of mining operations.

We’ve always known about the photos in the albums my Grandmother Wright kept but never really appreciated the stash of negatives I’m now working my way through. One box was of their life in Agricola, Florida, where they lived from 1925 until the company town was dismantled in the 1950s. Nothing remains of Agricola so the photos my grandfather took are a treasure for historians of Florida and of the phosphate industry. That is one reason for this blog – to get these pictures out to be shared.

I’ll write the story of David Morgan Wright’s life now and add photos to this article later.

As I wrote above Dave Wright was a mining engineer, graduated from the Michigan College of Mines in Houghton, Michigan. Since he was born and grew up in Escanaba, also in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Houghton wasn’t so bad. After his graduation Dave worked for an engineering company in New Orleans, then he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and was sent to France towards the end of the conflict. Most of his work was rebuilding roads using any materials he could scrounge.

In 1920 he was working in Detroit as a mechanical engineer for “Packers” according to the US Census. Another lodger in the house worked in “accident prevention” also for “Packers” – could the company have been the Packard Motor Car Company?

Dave and my grandmother married in Detroit in 1921 and my father was born in Hinsdale, Illinois in 1923. Dave may have been working for Swift & Company by then. He was certainly earning good money since they lived in a rather grand house in LaSalle, Illinois. Their second son, David Jr was also born in Hinsdale in 1925.

Photos from scans of antique negatives originally taken by David Morgan Wright Sr.

Swift & Co. Phosphate Mine after 1921

By 1925 Dave was working for Swift & Company and sent to Florida to be assistant manager of their phosphate mine in Agricola. The mine manager owned a house in Bartow, so the Wright family moved into the manager’s house in the company owned town. Grandmother wrote a journal of their first year – that journal has been scanned for the Florida Photographic Archives.

Every year Dave Wright would travel to the corporate headquarters of Swift & Company to report on operations in Florida. His family would accompany him and travel on to Escanaba to vacation in the cooler Upper Peninsula. Usually the trips would be by train – Dad remembered his father shaving with a straight razor on the moving train.

In the early 1950s Swift had mined all the phosphate around Agricola and wanted to mine the ore that was under the town. They sold many of the houses to be moved and mined where the town was. Now there is nothing left of Agricola except the name on a road. My parents bought a house and moved it to Bartow and our family lived in it until 1978.That house was demolished in 2011.

Dave and Edith Wright bought another of the Agricola houses (the mine manager house?) and moved it in several sections to a property overlooking Eagle Lake, Florida. The pieces were assembled into two houses, one as a guest house and another with a half basement finished as a guest apartment. It was a ritual for us to drive out to grandmother’s house many Sundays and in the summer we’d swim in Eagle Lake.

David Morgan Wright passed away 11 March 1956. Grandmother continued living in the Eagle Lake house until she died 5 August 1969. David Wright Jr inherited the house and lived there until he died and now one of my cousins owns it.

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