Thousands of recently-released photos document Phoenix history

The McCulloch brothers took thousands of pictures of Phoenix in the early 20th century. The photos were digitized and released to the public last month. (Courtesy of Brad Hall Art)

A view of Van Buren Street from 1946 taken by James McCulloch. (Photo from the ASU Digital Repository)

A view of the downtown Phoenix cityscape in 1946 taken by James McCulloch. (Photo from the ASU Digital Repository)

A view of the downtown Phoenix cityscape in 1946 taken by James McCulloch. (Photo from the ASU Digital Repository)

A view of the downtown Phoenix cityscape in 1946 taken by James McCulloch. (Photo from the ASU Digital Repository)

Thousands of photos taken by sibling photographers from downtown Phoenix and released last month by Arizona State Archives, ASU Libraries and Special Collections document Phoenix history from early 20th century through the mid-1940s.

The photos, taken by brothers James and William McCulloch, come as part of a larger collection, the Herbert and Dorothy McLaughlin photos. The larger collection was donated in 1980.

The McCulloch brothers were originally from Scotland, but later moved to Philadelphia, and eventually Phoenix.

James McCulloch, the older brother who lived from 1870-1945, came to Phoenix first in 1909 and went on to work with fellow commercial photographer Percy Howard, who eventually left the business. William McCulloch, who lived from 1880-1971, later joined him and they went on to found McCulloch Brothers Inc. in 1919 and set up a studio in the heart of downtown Phoenix.

Their studio was on Adams Street and Central Avenue. The brothers were considered the premiere commercial photographers of their time, and they continued their business until 1945. Their photographs largely show Phoenix land marks, city scenes, streets, development and agriculture.

Robert Spindler, head archivist of Archives and Special Collections for ASU, led the digitization of the McCulloch Brothers’ photo collection from the physical archives.

“There’s a portion of the collection we felt we needed to scan fairly quickly in order to save them from further decay,” Spindler said. “Other portions were in really good shape and we simply wanted to make them really accessible.”

The release is part of a larger project to digitize the ASU archival collections and include photos, audio and text samplings, which can now be used without receiving permission. An online guide to the photo collection can be found on the Arizona Archives website.

“By comparing different photographs in different parts in the collection, you can get a change over time,” Spindler said. “That’s one of the most valuable things in this work — being able to make it accessible photos over the course of a century that show how our community has developed or changed.”

Jon Talton, a former columnist for the Arizona Republic, Phoenix historian and mystery writer, uses the photos in his Phoenix-centered blog Rogue Columnist. He said the release of the photos in digital form is a massive development.

“It allows us to see the city’s history as it was young and as it was growing, and what a vibrant downtown we had,” Talton said. “It also allows us to see the outlying areas. This is a very important event for Phoenix history and anyone who wants to know more about the city.”

Paul Scharbach, author of “Phoenix Then and Now,” used many of the McCulloch photographs in his book and is currently updating a new version of the book with photographs from the archive. He said the new updated system is much more efficient and easy to access than the physical copies.

“It’s nice to be able to have them accessible,” Scharbach said. “A lot of the times people don’t even know they’re there, and they don’t know about them or don’t know their numbers and wouldn’t get used. Having them available online is going to open them up to a lot more people.”

View the full archive of photos here.

Contact the reporter at Kara.Carlson@asu.edu.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story reported that the photos were a part of the Dorothy McLaughlin collection. The story has been updated to reflect the full name of the collection.