The Laurel Historical Society was the fortunate recipient of this singular collection through the foresight and vision of Laurel native Mark Farrelly. When the contents of the Waller Studio were dispersed in the 1970’s, Mark recognized the value of these negatives and purchased them from Waller’s widow. Some years later, he donated the entire collection of negatives and prints to the Laurel Historical Society, which today shares them with our visitors.
Albert H. Waller, the founder of the Waller Studio, was most likely born in Laurel around 1875. His local roots grew deep, as his mother and father were also both Delaware natives. In the 1880 census, five-year-old Albert is listed as living in Laurel with his parents Isaac and Mary Waller. Family record has Albert starting his photographic business in 1898. By 1900, young Albert was living on Poplar Street next to Orlando Wootten and family. By 1910, he was married to wife, Caroline, living at the corner of Fourth and Spruce with the first seven of his eleven children, and working as a photographer. In later years, the family lived on Market St. near his photography studio. Albert continued to be listed as a photographer in all later census records. He remained in Laurel until his death about 1964.
Albert’s first son, Norman, was born in Laurel in 1904. He graduated from Laurel High School in 1923 and worked in his father’s studio from a very young age. Norman’s early professional career was in Washington, D.C., as a photographer with the FBI. His daughter Toni remembers him speaking of his admiration for his boss, J. Edgar Hoover. In 1944, Norman brought his family back to Laurel to take over his father’s business. He continued to record the lives of area residents until he died in 1970 at the age of 66, living only 6 years longer than his father.
The significance of the Waller collection is its documentation of life in southwestern Sussex County for the entire first half of the twentieth century. The earliest photos of Mr. Albert Waller date from approximate 1898. The lifestyle changes since that time were significant when one thinks of transportation, architecture, dress styles, and work habits. The advent of the motorcar, telephone, and especially electricity brought many work-saving devices with a resulting increase in leisure time. Just think of a picture of Laurel with horse and buggy and then flash forward to the big band days of the 1940’s. The extremes are evident. Mr. Waller’s photos document and bring to life that wonderful time. The dark days of World War II and the later golden era of the post war boom were well documented with Mr. Norman’s photographs. When viewed as a whole, the Waller collection of photographs gives viewers a time travel look into the everyday lives of their grandparents and great grandparents.
The Laurel Historical Society is the sole owner of the Waller Photographic Collection and retains all rights to the collection.