Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM It is difficult for even Joe Roberts to believe his online archive, that has drawn thousands to view Wilbraham as it once was, began as a fan site for Hawaii-Five-0.
"I first started gathering pictures seven years ago, but I started the web site ten years ago," Roberts said of www.rocketroberts.com. "I started the website in 1996 as a Hawaii-Five-0 web page because I was a big fan."
But the site began to evolve to encompass Robert's other passions, including antique photographs of his hometown, Wilbraham.
Today, about 200 of the site's pictures document the town from 1870 to today. Roberts found, borrowed, scanned and purchased the photos from EBAY. Some are offered to him from fans of his collection.
"I had a friend's son who bought a property in Wilbraham and found some photos in the attic," Roberts said, giving an example of his sorted collection. "Sometimes they just fall into your lap."
One neighbor gave Roberts an old postcard of the town when it was a rural and quiet place in the country, the way he remembers it. He also gets occasional emails from other Wilbraham natives around the country, offering him more photos.
"I'm not trying to write history, I'm just showing people some pictures that are unique," Roberts explained about his personal project. "A lot of times, people inherit a house and find a box of pictures in the attic and just throw them out. Once they're gone, they're gone. So I try to capture as many as I can."
Even in the 1960s, the Wilbraham of Robert's youth was a simple farming town with very few houses. The Roberts' home was an old farmhouse on Mountain Road where Roberts first developed a love for the town's history.
About 225,000 annual visitors to the site share that fascination. For those who want to preserve their own piece of this hometown archive, Roberts' brother, Greg Roberts has made a hobby of transferring the images onto coffee mugs. They are available for purchase at several locations throughout town including Rice's Fruit Farm.
Roberts now resides in Voluntown, Connecticut where he is employed as an electronics engineer for the United States Navy. For more information, visit www.rocketroberts.com.