The Clyde C. "Baby Ray" Cornwell
Click any image to view the complete gallery
The Clyde “Baby Ray” Cornwell Photograph Collection includes over 20,000 acetate negatives and black-and-white and color image, spanning from the late 1930s to the late 1970s. Contained in the collection are images of weddings, parades, public officials, churches, civic organizations, religious organizations and activities, family reunions, tent revivals, business openings, construction, catastrophes, houses, county and city buildings, birthday parties, sports groups, school groups, library bulletin boards, and even corpses.
Most, if not all, of the developed images carry the ink from the block stamp that bears the advertising label:
CLYDE C. CORNWELL, PHOTOGRAPHER
”SPECIALIZING ON PHOTOS IN YOUR HOME.”
The yellowed, discolored, and tattered sleeves that Baby Ray Cornwell used to hold his negatives are a testament to the many years of handling. Indecipherable scribble on the front or back of the negative sleeves is the only source of identification for the event or events he captured. Some of the names, events, and dates on the negative sleeves have not matched the actual negative, so we have attempted to the image to the best of our abilities, utilizing newspaper articles, wedding announcements, and the collective memory of the community.
Found in these images are the lives of prominent politicians, mill workers, small businessmen, ministers, Boy and Girl Scouts, farmers, city and county workers, men and women of the military, “4-H-ers,” and even Miss America 1964. The time and places that they occupy make up a 40-year period that saw Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects, soldiers leaving for World War II, construction of new buildings and housing developments, the baby boomer generation, the early waters of Lake Norman, six Presidents, integration, and the advent of rock ‘n roll. Clyde “Baby Ray” Cornwell, always in his station wagon, along with Frazier’s Studio of Lincolnton, captured this time period and supplied the local newspapers, individuals, families, and businesses with candid, posed, and artistic photographs of Lincolnton’s citizens. Cornwell, known to everyone as Baby Ray, received his nickname from his mother. She began calling him this after discovering a likeness between Clyde and the character Baby Ray that was featured in early school primers. Though very little is known about the background, aspirations, and workings of Baby Ray Cornwell, most locals remember him as a robust man with camera ready to capture another slice of Lincolnton’s happenings.
Thanks to the foresight and commitment to history of two Lincoln County Historical Association members, the late Paul Dellinger and Elsie Keever, the citizens of Lincolnton and Lincoln County can enjoy Baby Ray Cornwell’s works for years to come. Their procurement of this collection and donation to the Lincoln County Museum of History will enable current and future generations to recognize, identify, and request copies of these photographs. Photographs from this collection adorn the walls of Aunt Bessie’s Restaurant and Fatz Café in Lincolnton.
Copies of Images of America: Lincolnton – From the Collection of Clyde C. Cornwell can be purchased at the Lincoln County Museum of History. You can view the cover of this publication in the Publications
section on the homepage of this website.