John Kenneth Corbin: The First Aerial Photographs of Stamford, New York

March 09, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

John Kenneth Corbin was born on September 5, 1902, the son of William and Mary Cowley Corbin. He was born in Stamford and graduated from the local high school. After high school he worked at the local railroad station for two years, before joining the National Bank of Stamford in 1923. He worked at the bank for over 40 years, from 1923 to his retirement in 1965. He was a veteran of the US Army during World War II, serving from December 1943 until his discharge in May 1945. He was an active member of the community, serving as a member of the Stamford Fire Department and the Methodist Church. He was a motorcycle enthusiast and an avid bowler, holding several local record high scores for many years.


Corbin was married to Eva Dederick on December 25, 1943 at Saugerties, New York. Eva worked as a teacher in the Stamford and South Kortright school systems for 23 years.


Mt. Utsayantha, Elev. 3365 Ft.Mt. Utsayantha, Elev. 3365 Ft.


In the late 1920s and early 1930s Corbin took to the air, earning his pilots license. Combining his love of flight and photography, Corbin took the first aerial pictures of the Stamford area in 1931. The first pictures were taken unassisted from his Allison monoplane with an ordinary No. 3 Brownie camera. The simple Brownie camera, first manufactured by the Eastman Kodak company in 1900, was inexpensive and easy to use, making it accessible to the general public and the growing population of amateur photographers. The No. 3 Brownie camera used by Corbin was manufactured from 1908 to 1934.


The Stamford Mirror-Recorder, the local newspaper, reported on these first aerial pictures in an article titled "First Airplane Views of Town." “One of the pictures, taken from a height of 1300 feet, shows how conspicuous as an identification mark the new pool in Indian Trail Park really is to visiting aviators. It also reveals that the South Street garage building of Cook & Son and the Stamford Opera House are two conspicuous landmarks, having as they do, two of the largest roof-spreads in town. The Cook & Son building especially stands out clearly and from its location it would make an ideal direction indicator for visiting pilots. The Hoagland garage block which already carries a direction arrow and the name of the airport, is clearly discernible at 1300 feet and should be instantly located by a pilot new to these parts. Stamford Arms stands out clearly as do the Belvedere and the Maselyn.


Another picture, taken at considerably greater height, looks directly down upon the Tower on Mt. Utsayantha – a white dot against a dark background. This picture shows what an unusually dense forest growth covers this mountain top. The automobile road which leads through the woods to the mountain top is completely hidden.” (Stamford Mirror-Recorder. September 17, 1931.)


In 1934 Corbin took a series of aerial photographs of Stamford, Mount Utsayantha, the village hotels and the surrounding region, pictures that were then made available for sale as postcards. Local resident Dayton Griffin piloted the plane while Corbin took the pictures.


“Stamford people who haven’t the courage to view their village from the air will soon have an opportunity to see what it looks like from above, through post cards which will shortly go on sale here . . .


Stamford people had forgotten that the village has a huge airport direction arrow painted on the roof of one of its larger buildings until they saw a picture taken by Mr. Corbin showing in sharp detail the West End area of Stamford village of which the Hoagland garage block was the center. There were many other pictures of various sections of the village, all unusually sharp and clear and giving a new and very favorable impression of the beautiful village in which we live.


Two of the pictures of the village were especially interesting. One shows the buildings which comprise The Maselyn Hotel group and Stamford Arms, together with Main Street and other buildings in that immediate section. The other picture shows the municipal pool in Indian Trail Park to splendid advantage.


Two unusually fine pictures of the New Rexmere Club Hotel have been obtained from the air by Mr. Corbin. In one picture the hotel and its immediate surroundings are beautifully reproduced. In the other picture the acres of lawns which spread out in all directions from the hotel are interestingly caught from a higher elevation.


Another view of the village is taken from the air from Hobart way and is quite inclusive. One of the prettiest pictures is that of The Chateau in Granthurst Park. Here a natural setting aids the camera and with close-cropped lawns and encircling trees the effect is pleasing indeed.


The Stamford Country Club, located on a sharply sloping hillside, has heretofore been difficult to photograph to advantage and as a result pictures for booklets have for years been taken showing the rear of the building. Part of Stamford’s picture problem this year was solved when Mr. Corbin took a picture of the club house from his plane. The picture is used in this year’s Stamford booklet issued by the Chamber of Commerce. Since that picture was taken, Mr. Corbin, flying at a much lower altitude, has secured an unusually fine picture.


The tower on Mt. Utsayantha and the automobile parking space on the top of this 3,365-foot peak were beautifully caught in a hazardous flight in which the plane must have barely skimmed the flag staff. The gnarled trees surrounding the tower which always attract the interest of the visitor are faithfully reproduced in the picture which incidentally is the first to be taken of the tower from the air.


There are other fine pictures of various sections of the village showing The Terrace, The Madison, the Watson Greenhouses, etc.


There were two other pictures of unusual interest. One a “still,” taken on Main Street during the flood of last March when West End residents in Stamford worked desperately nearly all day Sunday, March 4th, to truck away or break up the ice jams that formed constantly at the rear of Main Street business places on the upstream side. When the trucks proved too slow to handle the ice a double line of men extending across the street was formed and the cakes were broken up into small pieces and shoved through a manhole on the opposite side of the street, below the plugged culvert. The picture shows the string of men in action, with cakes of ice which they couldn’t for the moment handle spreading out upon the street.


The other picture, taken from the air, gives an impressive close-up of the mighty torrent that pours over Gilboa dam when the Old Schoharie Creek goes on a rampage. The camera caught it – mist and all.


The pictures, particularly those of Stamford, should provide something of interest for those who are ever seeking “something different” for their booklets.” (Stamford Mirror-Recorder. July 12, 1934.)


Upon his retirement from the National Bank of Stamford in 1965, Corbin and his wife moved to Bradenton, Florida. Corbin passed away a few years later after an extended illness on December 21, 1971 at the Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, Florida. Funeral services were held at Hall Funeral Home in Stamford, with Reverend William R. Phinney, pastor of the Jefferson United Methodist Church, officiating. John Kenneth Corbin and his wife Eva are both buried at Stamford Cemetery in Stamford, New York.


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