Melville Garden at Downer Landing Camera Obscura c. 1880
The cards below, previously unidentified, are now positively identified as the Camera Obscura at Melville Garden at Downer Landing, a 1880s resort on Boston Harbor in Massachusetts. The search for the location has taken years and is a testimony to the power of the internet as a research tool. To share our journey of discovery we are giving it a page of its own.
melville camera obscura
melville camera obscura 2
There are no marks on either of the cards above and the sign on the side of the building does not mention the name of the park. Over the years we have searched for clues to the location, published an appeal in Stereo World magazine and carried printouts of the pictures to photographic sales, symposiums, or anywhere we might find assistance.

The sign on the wall with its strange spelling and capitalization along with a word that we can not read because it is behind the tree are shown below.

Marvelous Miniature Views of
this Lovely Garden Showing all
of the People & Children Moving
like Faries. Boats, Foliage, Flying
Birds, Cattle, Horses & Carriages,
waving Flags Etc. Friends can be
Recognized although so remarkably small
as to appear extremely laughable. It Shows
everything on the Garden as it (appears?)
Committee's of Picnics Etc. Invited to Investigate.

melvile camera obscura 3

Every time we found a reference to a camera obscura in a park setting we looked for pictures and descriptions of the area. Repeated mentions of a camera obscura at Melville Garden in the 1880s began to sound intriguingly possible. Advertising cards and steamship timetables from the period mention it often but never showed a picture or gave a detailed description. Several times on eBay we found steamship timetables or trade cards that included ariel views of the park. The pictures were too small to be of assistance but we bid on them with the hope of some clues. Steamship collectors are rabid bidders! We were not bidding enough and lost several.

We saw an eBay listing for a group of stereo cards that included one of Melville Garden. The style of the building pictured looked similar to the open pavilion in the lower left of the more distant view of the back of the camera obscura. Again we lost the bid since it was the only card we wanted.

We won a small memorandum booklet that had a paragraph on the camera obscura but no helpful pictures. A beautiful little steamship and railroad timetable was listed with an black and white illustration of the park grounds. We finally took a deep breath and bid more than we ever had. We Won! When it arrived it was a really beautiful item but the view of the park was so small that we were sure we would not be able to see anything helpful.

A high resolution, enlarged scan was made and studied. EUREKA! There it is! The open pavilion with a flag pole, the camera obscura with the lens assembly on top, and the large building with the barn shaped roof on the other side in the correct relationship to each other. Below is a close up of the stereo card and below it (flipped because it is taken from the other side) is an enlargement of the illustration from the timetable.

On the right below is a map showing the route from Boston to Downer Landing.


On an overview of Melville Garden from a 19th century trade card we have marked the location of the camera obscura.

We are so pleased to have solved this mystery of many years and thankful to the dealers who made it possible for us to buy the timetable and trade card on eBay.

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