By Jim Martin
MEADVILLE — George Shaw had no special plans in mind when he salvaged the remains of Meadville’s Keystone View Co. in 1976 and stashed the contents in an empty barn.
Sooner or later, he figured, someone would find a use for this mountain of stereoscopic photo memorabilia.
Long before the digital camera, even before 35 mm, twin-lens stereoscopic cameras froze moments in time. Later, the side-by-side images could be viewed in three dimensions on hand-held viewers.
Stereoscopes were the rage around the beginning of the 20th century, when viewing the photo collections was popular family entertainment. And for years, Keystone View was the largest stereoscopic photo company in the world.
When Keystone closed its Meadville plant in 1976 and new owners prepared to relocate, the company’s vast collection of negatives was donated to the University of California.
It was widely thought, though, that the contents of the Keystone View plant, including thousands of photos, were entombed in a landfill.
Brothers Eric and Lance Johnson mourned the loss more than most.
The Meadville natives had no ownership stake in Keystone, but it was the family business all the same.
Their grandfather Charles Johnson, went to work at Keystone shortly after the company was founded in 1892 and eventually served as a pallbearer at the funeral of company founder B. L. Singley.
The two Johnson brothers, both of whom worked short stints at Keystone, said their father, Harold Johnson, spent 53 years at Keystone and even met his future wife, Isabel, a commercial artist, while working there.
“I grew up at Keystone.” said Eric Johnson, a long-time news director at WJET-TV and now a dispatcher for the Pennsylvania State Police at Lawrence Park.