If you follow Auburn Heights on social media, you may have seen postings related to the archival activities at Auburn Heights both by the Friends of Auburn Heights (FAH) and Delaware State Parks. October is American Archives Month which recognizes the importance of collecting and preserving, regardless of form, condition, or otherwise, artifacts and evidence documenting our collective past. It is important to remember that an archive maintains primary sources of documents, records, information, and original physical artifacts, in their original historical context and form. These held possessions are devoid of someone else’s historical interpretation.

An excellent example of historical material in the FAH archive are a series of aerial photographs of the Red Clay Valley taken by Paul Nelson for Clarence or Tom Marshall in the early 1960s. As the state continues archiving artifacts within Auburn Heights mansion, a box of black & white photos was found in the back of a storage closet in one of the bathrooms! Archival material even returns from outside sources such as from visitors taking Marshall Brothers Mill tours. AVSP was recently handed a box of Marshall Brothers balance sheets, operating statements, payroll cancelled checks, and deeds dating from the teens into the 1950s during a recent mill tour.

In each case we attempt to preserve the item(s) in their original state as well as make a digital copy where practical. For items like photos, ledger sheets, and other paperwork, special archive storage materials, many made from vulcanized fiber due to its purity, sturdiness, and long life, are used. To limit future handling, many of these paper items are indexed and digitized for future reference and research use. For items such as early color photos and slides, digitization of the item through scanning is done since many early 20th century color film emulsions continue to degrade over time.

To recognize American Archives Month, FAH is sharing each week in October, aerial slides taken by Paul Nelson. While the color slide image technology has faded and red-shifted over 60 years, we’ve applied modern technology to somewhat restore the original coloring. One of Nelson’s photos is of Auburn Heights. How were we able to transform the photo on the left, the result obtained from a digital scan, into the photo on the right?

We’re going to start our answer with saying that “displayed before and after photos are not a guarantee of similar results on other color slides or color print negatives/prints.” There are many variables that go into fixing or somewhat restoring a degraded color slide or color negative/print into something that more accurately reflects the original colorings at the time the image was captured. We are only going to share the steps we took to restore the slides to being close to the original colors at time of exposure.

Each slide was scanned using a Minolta digital slide/film scanner. To preserve the present condition of the slide’s image, the scanner’s controls were set to neutral. This neutral setting ensures the scanning process introduces minimal influence to change any existing colors from their present state. Also note that some of the slides presented during the month of October are not in best focus or have a slight motion blur due to airplane and camera moving while the exposure process was occurring. There is little that can be done to correct exposure conditions. We’re only changing color balances and similar image attributes to the image preserved on the slide’s film.

For this preservation we are dealing with slides. Slides use a different color system than print film. That means the online sites won’t do as good a job colorizing slides as they do with print images. Additionally, all AI colorization programs are created equal. AI-based colorization algorithms do the process differently between programs so the slides were treated to several colorization programs and the best result was chosen for the next step in the process. Below left is the original scan, and right image is the result of the chosen AI colorization process.

To get our process started, we had to prepare the image which meant removing any objectionable blemishes, scratches, and other distractions from the image. Slides were blown off but not wiped of dust which might create additional scratches before scanning so what remains are imperfections of the film itself. There are multiple artificial intelligence (AI) colorization programs available online for purchase to apply color corrections to prints. A Google, Bing, or Searchlight search will find you plenty of candidates and there are plenty of techie articles explaining the pros and cons of each.

Our next step was to do additional image color enhancement using a photo editing program. One old-timer’s method of adjusting colorization is through “white balance.” You can think of white balance as the color of light or “light temperature.” Think of how a candle’s light makes a white sheet of paper appear more yellow while that same sheet lit by moonlight has a bluer color. This particular slide image has the trim and exterior accents on the mansion visible which we know to be painted bright white. The AI colorization process rendered these white areas still shifted from a bright white color temperature. With the photo editing software, we tweaked color balance to bring the white areas a brighter white which also changed the greens, browns, and other colors in the image. Adjusting image properties including saturation, contrast, and brightness completed the enhancement. Below is the final image shown in the question.

You will notice the colorization is somewhat uneven. There are patches bluer than they might normally be while other areas have a reddish hue. This is due to the fact that the three dye layers that physically make up a color slide all degrade at slightly different rates across the area of the slide. Thus, the AI software tends to look at smaller total areas within the overall slide’s area and then apply average values to colorize the smaller area which unfortunately accents the unevenness of the degradation taking place.

Often removing the color of an existing color image (called saturation) can be helpful as well. A grayscale image can bring out details not picked up in a color version. Below is the Nelson Auburn Heights image reduced to grayscale.

From careful examination of the image and other information from Tom Marshall’s writings, we’ve been able to estimate this series of slides was taken in March or April 1960. See the FAH social media posting to learn how we were able to narrow the time window the photo was taken since there was only a note the photos were taken by Paul Nelson on the storage container. Throughout October FAH will be sharing Nelson’s aerial photography of Marshallton, Greenbank, Faulkland, Wooddale, Mt. Cuba, Ashland, and additional photos of Yorklyn on FAH’s Facebook page. Be sure to follow along. FAH and Auburn Valley State Park Facebook sites are open to the public, and a membership is not required! To visit the FAH archive, click the following link: Marshall Steam Museum Archive!