Cairo’s Photographers

Pure Nebraska
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 10:00 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - You can see some amazingly clear photos of early life in central Nebraska thanks to two photographers who captured it all in pictures.

We caught up with Ken Harders at the Cairo Roots Research Museum to talk about this. “If you like Cairo history, these photographers really help to tell the story,” Harders said. “There were two photographers. One was Henry Balcom, who was the father-in-law. His son-in-law, Ray Green, was the other one. Their photography is unique, in that they captured Cairo in the early days within 10 years of its founding. They would take pictures of their neighbors butchering a hog, grading roads, or threshing, and these were spur-of-the-moment photos. The oldest photo we have is from 1894. The two took photos into the 1920′s. One photo I like features two women cutting up chicken for a meal. Everyday life captured like that is something you don’t see very often.”

One of the photos that is fun to look at inside the museum is a large picture of some men standing outside a saloon. “The saloon was located on the west side of main street,” Harders said. “The owner was Henry Arff. In the picture, you see his family standing on the balcony. They lived upstairs. The first floor was the saloon. In the picture, you see men standing outside posing for the camera. A couple of them look like they’ve had a beer or two. In the distance, you can see the doctor’s office about a block away.”

An original photo hanging on the wall in the museum features a unique view of main street in Cairo looking north. “If you look in the center of the picture, you see a railroad box car,” Harders said. “Beyond that, you see a path. That’s highway 11 today.”

The museum has a collection of glass negatives from these photographers. “That’s what they used to record the photographs,” Harders said. “They were all put on glass. Once they had the image on glass, they kept it. With the technology we have today, with scanners, you can make what looks almost like a digital image from something that is more than 100 years old now.” Many of these glass negatives were donated to the museum by a professor from Florida. A book has since been produced about these photographs. If you’d like to know more, contact the Roots Research Museum in Cairo.