Wake Forest in the Movies

H. Lee Waters Poster

The Wake Forest Historical Museum collection is brightened in many ways by the presence of a particular sample of archival footage shot here in 1939. The filmmaker was H. Lee Waters, a traveling photographer from Lexington, North Carolina who spent the years between 1936 and 1942 making movies of regular people and showing them for a small fee in local movie houses.

Waters visited literally dozens of locations to make his Movies of Local People. Most have been preserved and are housed at Duke University. The Wake Forest film is kept in our own library archives. Researchers are still amazed at Waters’ nearly supernatural talent for approaching strangers, persuading them to be filmed, and recording authentic and interesting poses, expressions and actions… in some cases even splicing film and employing camera tricks to put jumps and runs in reverse motion for added interest.

H. Lee Waters visited the Town of Wake Forest in October of 1939. He captured compelling images of people in the business district, at the local schools and along North Main Street. HIs camera filmed old and young, college and town, black and white.

This glimpse into our history already appears in the museum’s introductory film, shown daily in the Nancy Cullom Harris Auditorium. And some additional segments will next be included in a project the museum is excited to undertake with funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council: a professionally produced series of oral histories focusing on the stories of three local women from the Mill Village and northeast neighborhood.

To begin another New Year in historic Wake Forest, we’d like to share some of those images collected by H. Lee Waters during his visit to town nearly 75-years ago…

Happy New Year!

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