Capturing time on a post card

The Arnold Brothers of Rushland left us a pictorial treasure of Bucks County.

Newtown Arnold crossed this railroad trestle in Rushland every day to get to work as a railroad station master in Northampton.

I recently took a look at what Newton Arnold experienced in 1905. It’s a railroad trestle over Neshaminy Creek in Rushland that Newt crossed on a bicycle twice daily. He used a device that hooked his two-wheeler to both tracks so he could scoot along without losing balance. I climbed to the top of the trestle on what is now the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad to experience the lofty heights, imagining Newt heading for his job across the creek in Northampton. Stepping across openings between the ties with a view to the rushing river far below is a test of bravery.

These days I feel a kind of kinship with Newt when I’m out taking pictures to illustrate my Bucks County adventures. I go places he and his older brother Charles once photographed. The Arnolds printed and marketed images on penny postcards in the early 20th century. Railroad stations, cross-roads stores, grist mills and lime kilns, barge traffic on the Delaware Canal, inns and taverns, schools and churches plus the dreamy landscape – all were subject matter. The boys’ images are a treasure historians love looking back on in visits to the Spruance Library in Doylestown where the original negatives found in a Roslyn attic are stored.

The Arnolds grew up in the Johnsville section of Warminster. Charlie, born in 1867, was six years older than ambitious brother Newt. The Reading Railroad hired the latter when he was 17 to run its new Grenoble station, located between Ivyland and Rushland on the railroad’s New Hope line. Newt eventually purchased a two-story frame house in Rushland where he lived with his widowed mom. To get to and from the Grenoble station about a mile away, he used his modified railroad bike.

Newt and Charlie started a printing business out of Newt’s home after installing a press in the bay window. Villagers out for a stroll often saw Charlie inside printing calendars, church bulletins and piano recital announcements, the Arnolds’ core business. Meanwhile, Newt developed an interest in the new hobby of photography just as the Kodak Brownie camera came on the market in 1900 making it cheap to take photos with a boxy unit that created black-and-white images on flexible film. Newt had several cameras but the one he favored was an 8×10-inch format King Poco manufactured by the Rochester Camera & Supply Co. from 1899 to 1903. It’s similar to one I own capable of very high resolution negatives on glass plates.

It wasn’t long before Newt’s avocation became a sideline occupation in 1906. His idea was a transplant from Europe where postcards were wildly popular as a cheap, quick way to communicate over long distances, the Instagram of their day. Every parlor table displayed a postcard album. The fad took root in America. Under initial Postal regulations, it was illegal to write anything on the address side until 1907 when messages could be written on the left half, next to the address. Newt realized he could use the brothers’ printing press to print Bucks County scenes on the reverse side. “Bucks County Views” went on sale at general stores throughout the region.

The brothers forayed into all areas of Bucks with occasional side trips into Montgomery and Philadelphia. Jauntily attired, Newt liked driving a Model-A Ford, top down. Both men preferred business dress, Charlie favoring a long-sleeved, white dress shirt, tie and a banded white straw hat. Newt was familiar in a dark Fedora, white shirt, tie and jacket. The brothers would scout for subjects of interest, stop, unfold a tripod, mount the King Poco, check the framing of the intended photo, then snap the shutter. Each photo was numbered. No. 5 is a Delaware River sailboat loaded with hay in route to market from Bristol. No. 155 is of High Falls near Ringing Rocks in Upper Bucks. No. 416 is of swimmers and boaters enjoying the Delaware Canal in Point Pleasant. Over three decades, the Arnolds kept at it. Today what they captured from a bygone era is a mother lode of how life in the region once appeared.

King Poco camera favored by the Arnold Brothers.

Ambitious as he was as a photographer, Newt dappled successfully in the stock market and retained his position as a station master for the Reading’s New Hope line for 51 years, first at Grenoble for 27 years and then at Roslyn for 24 years as station and post master. Three days before his retirement on Nov. 1, 1941, he succumbed to arteriosclerosis.

The brothers’ photographs are their legacy. A member of the Washington Crossing Card Collectors Club several years ago was admiring an Arnold image of Southampton Baptist Church and remarked, “Someone looks at this and they might believe it was taken yesterday.”

Sources include “Postcards of Bucks County, Pa. as Printed by the Arnold Bros.” authored by Bertha Davis, Olive S. Steele and Charlotte R. Cutshall of the Washington Crossing Card Collectors Club; and “The Elusive ‘Arnold 439′ ” by J.D. Mullane published in the Bucks County Courier Times on June 7, 2012. Thanks also to collectors Betty Davis and Neil Wood for their help. The 200-member card collector club meets the 2nd Monday of every month at the Union Fire Company Ballroom, 1396 River Road (Route 29), Titusville, N.J. Information: