Cumberland Studio was an icon, a landmark, a part of our treasured history. Its proprietor Jim Slaughter; he, with camera and flashbulb, created a picture album of Somerset in the Good 'Ol Days.
Ah! When America was Great, after the War, during the 1950s and 1960s. Jim Slaughter and camera were so popular somebody would fix him a heaping plate when he arrived at a church-sponsored dinner on the ground, or any gathering where food was served. Everybody loved him! He was serious, he was funny. He kept you laughing. He enjoyed taking your picture.
Sadly, time changes everything. Jim Slaughter is gone and the city has torn down the Cumberland Studio building on North Central Avenue to expand a parking lot.
Cumberland Studio no more! Unbelievable! Cumberland Studio was there when Somerset was a Saturday town; when cars had running boards and gasoline was 30 cents a gallon. Sweet are memories of a time when life was simple, when downtown sidewalks were crowded, shoulder to shoulder, and there was a parking meter to lean on.
I know. Nothing stands in the way of progress. Downtown needs more parking; new chamber of commerce offices are adjacent; efforts are to revived the Virginia Cinema; there is even talk of condos to attract residents downtown. Revitalization of Downtown Somerset has been a buzzword since the Great Migration of businesses to the Truck Route during the 1960s.
To Generation Z, maybe even millennials, it may not matter. But to the older set, those who had their photograph taken at Cumberland Studio or saw Cumberland Studio photographic credit beneath their picture published in The Commonwealth or The Somerset Journal, razing an icon can bring tears to one's eyes.
The building housed Rogers' Photography for the past several years, but David Rogers would tell you the same; the Ghost of Jim Slaughter is still there. Rogers kept an easy chair at the front for Slaughter, his good friend, to sit after he retired and sold the business to Rogers. Slaughter's death left the chair empty, but no wrecking ball can raze his presence.
A parking lot? The world moves on. It was bound to happen. No one can argue the old Cumberland Studio structure was a candidate for remodeling. Truthfully, it had served its time, standing as an anchor as Somerset transformed from a country town to a mini-metropolis. Businesses like Cumberland Studio are the backbone of a growing community.
Former Mayor Eddie Girdler, before he left office, talked about a pedway from the third floor of Somerset Energy Center leading to a what Girdler said would be a cluster of energy-related businesses on North Central Avenue. Somerset City Council, at its January 22, 2018 meeting, approved purchase of the former Cumberland Studio property for $105,000. The pedway idea may have perished when Girdler lost the election.
Whatever, whether a parking lot or energy center, to see the walls of Cumberland Studio come crumbling down was heart-rending, especially to someone who, during the glory days of newspapering, was in Cumberland Studio several times a day to deliver film and pick up photographs for The Commonwealth, predecessor to the Commonwealth Journal. Cumberland Studio was a heartbeat for local journalism.
Jim Slaughter was the newspaper's official photographer. Those were the days when black-and-white photographs were engraved on metal plates to be fastened in a galley for a flat-bed press. That's how The Commonwealth and The Somerset Journal published pictures. Today the process is instantaneous; computerized, using digital cameras. No longer is a journalist an ink-stained wretch.
Most newspaper photographs in that day were made with a bulky press camera using 4-inch by 4-inch negatives (film). Film was in a holder slipped into the back of the camera, and an often exploding flashbulb made the subject fully aware his or her picture had been taken. When smaller 35 mm cameras came into use, Slaughter said many folks objected; they wanted their picture taken with the large press camera and flashing bulb.
Those are days gone by. A tottering old newspaperman stands silently and observes the developing parking lot. Through tears in his eyes, he sees the Ghost of Jim Slaughter hurrying in and out of the seemingly disrespected space.
Progress is good but its tracks can be cruel. Jim Slaughter would turn over in his grave.