HOULTON, Maine — About seven years ago, a retired teacher with an interest in history came across some 800 or so glass plate negatives — some dating back as far as the 1880s — stored in suitcases in the attic of a local home.

John Bushey of Houlton has since had between 500 and 600 of those negatives digitized so he can share and sell prints as pieces of local history.

Since retiring, Bushey has supplemented his income by buying and selling used furniture and other household goods in southern Aroostook County. It was during one of his forays about seven years ago that he found the glass plate negatives in the home of Eugene and Margaret Welton, who had preserved them since they bought the Court Street home from former Houlton lawyer and amateur photographer Ed Vail.

Vail, who was born in Hodgdon and died at age 84 in 1948, took to the then wooden sidewalks of Houlton and Hodgdon the moment that cameras became portable, according to Bushey.

He said the Vail negatives he acquired span from about 1880 to 1930.

“I had to go all the way to Portland to get these developed digitally,” he said this week. “That was the only place I could find to do it. This was a seven-year project for me, getting the photos developed, plus finding out all of the information about the people in the pictures and adding them in with the frames. I wanted to be as accurate as possible.”

Bushey has saved and is protecting the glass plate negatives for now, but expects to donate them to the town of Houlton or Hodgdon at some point.

Meanwhile, the retired teacher said Tuesday that samples of Vail’s work have been on display at Houlton Regional Hospital for close to two years now, and even though he tries to switch out the work “every three to four months,” he still hasn’t made a sizable dent in his Vail photography catalogue.

Bushey is both showcasing and selling the works — an 8-by-10-inch print mounted on matte paper sells for $35.

He said he was able to accurately reflect the information he shares with his photos because he also acquired Vail’s journals, which provided details about every person or scene he photographed.

“He kept meticulous records,” Bushey said. “He didn’t just take pictures of his own family. He would take the camera to the Fourth of July parades, to events at the airport, on hunting trips. He got lots of pictures of different families over the years. I call them bygone-era photos. Prior to the time cameras became portable, every picture had to be taken in a studio.”

Bushey said that he originally found 800 glass plate negatives in the attic of the Welton home, all stored in several suitcases. But temperatures in the attic reached an estimated 40 below zero in the winter and 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, so some of them were ruined.

“I got between 500 and 600 pictures developed that came out perfectly,” he said. “I have had three art shows at Houlton Regional Hospital, The Blue Moon Gallery at Visions and The County Co-Op and Farm Store.

He said sales of the pictures have been going “really well.” The best-selling picture is one that shows a little girl in a yard feeding chickens, with the second best-seller being one that invokes a scene reminiscent of “The Wizard of Oz” — two women in formal dresses and hats standing in a yard holding bicycles with baskets, serious expressions on their faces.

Bushey donates a percentage of his sales to the hospital. He said Tuesday that he offers to pull the artwork once in awhile, thinking that people might be bored of it, but hospital officials have assured him that is not the case.

“They have told me that people love to come up there and reminisce,” he said. “And it is interesting to look at everything that he captured with that camera.”

Photos are visible in several areas of the hospital, including the check-in desk near the main lobby and the hallway leading to the lab.

For more information on the photos, contact Bushey at jjbushey1@yahoo.com.