Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Fred Maurice Yenerall (1907–1983) wasn’t a professional photographer; photography was a therapeutic hobby he took up as a way to cope after the death of his son at the age of fourteen. Wayne Theodore Yenerall, born in 1937, rode his bicycle into a parked milk delivery truck in mid-August 1951.

Fred Yenerall was the son of immigrant Theodore Antonio Yenerall (1869– 1948), from Colliano, Italy; his mother Ella Nora Carney (1877–1961) was from Indiana County, a descendant of John “The Pioneer” Lydick (1748–1803), a farmer who fought in the American Revolution, and Anna Mary May Lydick (1749–1810). He grew up on a small farm in Slightown, near New Alexandria, Westmoreland County. His parents and their eight children moved into a four-room house in New Alexandria where they continued gardening and farming, making a living from the land. What produce the Yeneralls didn’t sell sustained them through the harsh Pennsylvania winters. While working in the fields and gardening Yenerall began finding arrowheads. His collection of nearly forty was framed and hung on a wall in his home. The family farm was near Hanna’s Town, which explains the number of arrowheads he unearthed.

Founded in 1773 and named for its founder Robert Hanna, the settlement served as the first English Court west of the Allegheny Mountains. Archaeological excavations at the twelve-acre site began in earnest in 1969 and to date more than one million objects and artifacts have been recovered.

Yenerall was the second youngest of his siblings, all of whom were educated in a one-room schoolhouse they walked to and from. After school they returned home to help with the farm chores. He often told his grandchildren that Agnes Sligh Turnbull (1888–1982) was one of his teachers. Born in New Alexandria, Turnbull was a bestselling American writer best known for her works of historical fiction set in western Pennsylvania. Her books included The Rolling Years (1936), Remember the End (1938), The Day Must Dawn (1942), The Flowering (1972), and The Two Bishops (1980).

When he wasn’t attending school or working on the farm, Yenerall enjoyed playing guitar and writing poetry which his brothers and sisters adapted into songs and performed together. He moved from the farm when he was twenty-two years old to marry Mary Anna Rodgers (1908–1993). They were married for fifty-four years and lived in Greensburg raising their children Wayne and Irene. While in his early twenties Yenerall became co-owner of a small garage where he repaired and sold automobiles. After selling the business he worked at Greensburg’s I-T-E Circuit Breaker Company, from which he retired in 1973.

A member of the Burr Covered Bridge Society for many years, he shared his stories and photographs with fellow enthusiasts. From society members he learned about exciting places to explore and photograph. Before the Internet, society members would write letters to one another to share updates about conditions of historic covered spans and other places of interest. Yenerall carefully marked detailed maps of bridges, iron furnaces, and unusual buildings so that others could find places he had discovered; his correspondents returned the favor. This is also how they knew if a bridge had been destroyed, rebuilt, repainted, or repaired. He also recorded the information in a book which he constantly updated. Yenerall enjoyed giving slide shows to family members as well as to various groups and organizations whenever a batch of newly developed slides arrived. He talked enthusiastically about the subjects, sharing his knowledge of buildings, sites, and structures.

Fred and Mary Anna Yenerall traveled in his Dodge Dart while he photographed a wide array of uncommon buildings and structures, even road signs they passed along the way. If something intrigued him he would pull over and photograph it, even if it required turning around and back- tracking. They packed lunches in a wicker basket and frequently invited their grandchildren to join them.

Yenerall shot images with a 35mm camera which were developed as slides. He kept a notepad with him at all times and recorded the details of what he photographed; he then transferred the information to the frames of the slides.

He was rarely without his camera and notepad. Each slide in his collection, compiled from the 1960s through the early 1980s, has all the details written on it, including the date. He frequently returned to the same places over the course of several years to photograph changes.

While covered bridges were his favorite to photograph, he also took many photographs of churches, especially wooden buildings, quirky roadside attractions, iron furnaces, Mail Pouch Tobacco barns, and events that occurred in and surrounding Greensburg.

The visual record Yenerall created documents the progression of time in small communities and rural areas of western Pennsylvania. His photographs captured a way of life that has since disappeared. He left behind a stunning visual record of what life was like in the second half of the twentieth century. And his legacy is helping students and scholars of social, cultural, and architectural history better understand the evolution of the built environment in the Keystone State.

 

Preserving a Legacy

Fred Yenerall’s collection of slides was handed down through his family. His granddaughter and author of this feature, Judy Thomas, digitally scanned and uploaded them to The Fred Yenerall Collection. The process took three scanners and five years but was well worth it, Thomas explains. She was able to preserve the images before the slides deteriorated and many are being used on various websites and in books and publications devoted to western Pennsylvania history and architecture. Historians and historic preservationists can use these slides to appreciate how buildings, structures, and landscapes have changed over the past four decades. They can also use the images to monitor changes to specific historic structures, such as covered bridges, which are vulnerable to storms, flooding and, unfortunately, arson.

More than thirty thousand images have been catalogued and restored in Adobe Photoshop. The slides had been stored in metal and plastic containers for more than twenty years after Yenerall died in 1983 at the age of seventy-five. After the death of his daughter Irene Yenerall Mensch in 1999 the slides were passed down through the family. The images were scanned at a high-quality dpi since Thomas knew she would have only one chance to save them. (The acronym dpi means dots per inch; the higher the dpi, the greater the resolution, or clarity, of an image.) Thousands more await restoration but they are scanned and securely stored.

 

Why Did Fred Photograph?

According to his granddaughter Judy Thomas, Fred Yenerall “was a normal guy who worked forty hours a week until he retired, but he had a passion for taking photographs of bridges, nature, and buildings. He didn’t make photography his business, but his hobby.”

Thomas explains that he did not take professional photographs at weddings, but when the Appalachian Wagon Train arrived in 1973 he was there, camera in hand. He recorded the reconstruction of Historic Hanna’s Town, as well as special events staged by the reconstructed eighteenth-century site, administered by the Westmoreland County Historical Society and the Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation Department. He also photographed a traveling dinosaur exhibit in 1968 at the Greengate Mall, Greensburg. The mall was conceived by two of the most influential urban designers of the twentieth century, James W. Rouse (1914–1996), a real estate developer credited with coining the term urban renewal, and Victor Gruen (1903–1980), best known as a pioneer in the design of shopping malls in the United States. Known throughout western Pennsylvania for its extravagant Christmas displays, the mall has since been demolished to make way for Greengate Centre, an expansive new shopping center opened in 2005. The loss of the Greengate Mall was lamented by many residents of western Pennsylvania who posted their memories online. Yenerall’s photographs grace this website, a project of Lost Westmoreland and Greensburg’s Main Street Memories, founded by Gary Nelson.

“My grandfather loved all kinds of barns,” Thomas says, “everything from Mail Pouch barns to round barns to big barns to collapsed barns. It didn’t matter. He just loved barns and probably knew that many wouldn’t survive into the twenty-first century. He was right.”

In addition to barns, Yenerall was fascinated by log houses, octagonal buildings, and wooden churches, which he said possessed “character.” He also photographed mills and one-room school buildings. “Although there weren’t many one-room schools left when my grandfather was taking pictures, he did manage to find some,” says Thomas.

 

Judy Thomas, now a resident of North Carolina, is a native of Murrysville, Westmoreland County. She is the middle of three granddaughters of Fred Yenerall, mother of two grown daughters, and grandmother of two grandsons. She maintains and updates the Fred M. Yenerall Collection.