Walter E. Corbin Collection at the Forbes Library: Northampton, Massachusetts
Born in Brimfield and retired in Florence, Massachusetts, Walter Everett Corbin spent a large portion of his time both investigating and photographing life in twentieth-century Western Massachusetts. Hence, Corbin's name has become synonymous with local history, especially that of the Connecticut River Valley. Corbin was born on October 28, 1885; he was educated at the Hitchcock Free Academy and Pratt Institute in New York. In 1910, Corbin married Lottie Adelaide Squier of Monson, Massachusetts, and shortly thereafter took residence in Florence, Massachusetts. From this small town Corbin set out on numerous expeditions, touring the local countryside and preparing a vast collection of images that are now available for public investigation.
Corbin's passion for photography is evident to anyone who explores the treasure trove of his images, which has been arranged and described in the Special Collections Department at Forbes Library. The Walter E. Corbin Collection consists of ten series of images, notes, and ephemera related to life in early to middle twentieth-century Western Massachusetts. The plethora of images documents a diverse spectrum of subjects ranging from the geology of Western Massachusetts mountain ranges to the geography of the Connecticut River Valley; a portfolio of regional gravestones to eccentric close-up portraits of insect heads. Additional subjects include local architecture, including many images of the summit houses of Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom. Amherst and Smith Colleges are also represented in the Corbin Collection; images of the 1917 Ivy Day celebrations at Smith provide a glimpse into the early history of this famous academy; Corbin's acquaintanceship with Amherst College Professor of Geology Edward Hitchcock must have been a potent influence in the large number of images devoted to rock and fossil formations.
The Walter E. Corbin Collection is made up of different media, including traditional photographic prints and less traditional glass lantern slides. There is also an extensive collection of Corbin's postcards, which sport many of the images taken by Corbin over the course of his career.
The Walter E. Corbin Collection is housed within the Special Collections Department at Forbes Library and is available for both research and casual browsing. We recommend making an appointment with the archivist. Nevertheless, the Special Collections staff is enthusiastic to not only curate the collection, but to also learn from the public's experience; we look forward to accommodating your visit. We trust that after viewing the photographs, you might suggest that Walter E. Corbin be given the following titles: amateur geologist; genealogist; local historian; photojournalist.
Anyone who wishes to comment on the continuing development of the Walter E. Corbin Collection, or has additional biographical information concerning Walter Everett Corbin, is encouraged to contact the project archivist.
Sources: "Crossroads of Migration: Researching Western Massachusetts in the Walter E. Corbin Papers." New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Arranged and described by Matthew A. Brown.