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Benjamin H. Conant Collection

Photographer, Historian


These photographs are a unique collection: they were all taken by Wenham resident Benjamin H. Conant from the late 19th into the early 20th century.

The glass plate negatives were rediscovered in 1969 during a “spring cleaning” in the attic of the historic house at the Wenham Museum.  The collection includes 3,636 glass plate negatives and several hundred prints made by Conant himself.

Benjamin Conant used 8×10, 5×7, and 4×5 glass plate cameras, recording in his notebook the date, subject, and plate number associated with each image. Most of Conant’s notebooks survive and are held in the Wenham Museum’s collection.

Benjamin Conant was a descendant of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, Massachusetts. He was a Civil War veteran, shoemaker, historian, Wenham’s first librarian, an organist and clerk for the First Church of Wenham, custodian of the town clock, and (most importantly for us), a photographer.

Conant photographed everything – people, houses, businesses, animals, the fire department, Wenham Lake, Sunday outings, and more – creating an almost 40-year record of changes to the town of Wenham and American life, captured in beautifully clear, detailed images, a tribute to Benjamin Conant’s skill as a photographer and determination as an historian.

Image caption:
Photo of Benjamin H. Conant reading a book, January 1, 1901. Photo by E. H. Janson, Beverly, MA.

Special Thanks

Wenham Museum received Community Preservation Act funding from the Town of Wenham to conserve and digitize the Benjamin H. Conant Collection.  We thank the people of Wenham for their support in preserving this collection for future generations and in providing funding to make this collection publicly available online.

Additional Resources

To learn more about this collection, you may enjoy the Hamilton-Wenham Times Past video interviews (c. 1992) with Harold Boothroyd, former Photography Curator at the Wenham Museum.  Click to view the 12 episode series >>

  • Hamilton-Wenham Times Past is a public access television series about the history of Hamilton and Wenham, Massachusetts.  It includes many oral histories of the two towns.  Times Past was produced by William Heitz and Edmund Josephs from 1986 through 1995.  The series was digitized by the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library and uploaded to the Internet Archive.