Collection Snapshot: Barrett Photographs, 1950s-1980s


The transfer from the Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room came in eight records boxes and one Hollinger box.

Working Title: Wm. Edmund Barrett Washington Photograph Collection, 1951-1989

Content: The collection is largely comprised of Washington street scenes captured in approximately 4,000 sharp, 4×5” Kodak negatives, nearly all individually identified by location and date. The collection also includes Barrett’s copy work; 35mm negatives and slides; several hundred black and white prints; and selected client correspondence. Barrett photographed trolleys throughout the city in 1959 and the system’s last run in 1962. His images include Hogate’s, torn down in 2010, and the Lemon Building, demolished 1971; he captured the Ace Wrecking Company at work demolishing the entire 900 block of 8th Street, SE in 1967. One image shows two little boys sitting on the stoop of 109 Eye Street NW, its front door shuttered and bearing a sign that reads: No Trespassing. U.S. Government Redevelopment Land Agency.

Status: Unprocessed; box-level inventory available in the Kiplinger Research Library.

Note: In addition to its research value,  once processed this collection would be an excellent resource for revenue generation.

Background:  William Edmund “Bill” Barrett (1927-1997) graduated from Georgetown University in 1951 and launched his career as a freelance architectural photographer in 1961. Washington-area clients included the National Capital Planning Commission, Octagon House, Decatur House, the Junior League, the National Park Service and Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Assignments often focused on city features and landmarks threatened by demolition and redevelopment.

The staff of Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) reached out to the Society about a potential transfer of material following the 2011 gift of the Kiplinger Washington Collection to the Historical Society. The photographer’s widow had previously donated her husband’s entire archive to FCPL; the Kiplinger Washington Collection includes more than 900 commissioned Barrett photographs among the “Vanishing Washington” series. As the gift allowed for FCPL to transfer all or part of the collection to another repository, Virginia Room staff began to collaborate with the Society to reunite all of Barrett’s D.C. material in one repository.

In January 2014, the Washington portion of Barrett’s archive was officially accessioned by the Society; the Virginia Room retained the negatives and images pertaining to Virginia architectural landmarks in Richmond and Fairfax County.


Barrett included copious notes on his negative sleeves and holders, indicating the subject and date of the image as well as developing and printing information. This will be a tremendous help as the collection is processed.


The collection primarily comprises negatives – including images that have have never been printed nor published – along with contact sheets, Barrett’s shooting lists and the occasional contract.