Early Photography in Fredonia
By Douglas H. Shepard, 2000
Although the first details about Mr. Daguerre's invention didn't reach the U.S. until 1839, there were itinerant daguerreians in Fredonia as early as June 1841. On 28 June 1841 "Messrs. Garlick & Rockland," having put up at the Johnson House (today’s 1 Park Place) advertised their presence in the Fredonia Censor. There may have been others soon following, but the next to advertise in the newspaper was a Dr. J. F. Clark, who stopped here — at the Johnson House — in December 1844 and again in September 1845.
He was followed by "Mr. Hulaneski" (Sep.1845), Clark again (Dec.1846 and Feb.1847), Mixer & Stevenson (May 1848), S. Teats (July 1848), William Hamilton (Feb.-Apr. 1849), L. M. Petch (May 1849), D. J. Kellogg (Sep.-Oct. 1849), J. P. Cutler (Sep.-Dec.1849), D. W. Brown (Jan.-Mar. 1850), William Clark (Aug.1850), and, finally, George R. Martin in January 1851.
Martin travelled on, like the others, but soon returned. In July 1851 he had local carriage-makers Mason & Dickinson make him "a moveable daguerreian room," what was known as a Daguerreian Car, a wagon specially fitted out with a small studio and a processing room. After traveling the countryside, he returned and opened his "New Skylight Daguerrian Gallery" in December 1851 at today's 2 West Main Street. Thereafter he was in residence during the winter months and on the road in the summer, our first "permanent" photographer.
By December 1852 Martin had renamed his studio the "Fredonia Daguerreian Gallery," and on 4 January 1853 he married Miss Lydia A. Crane. Born in Madison County in May 1828, her family had moved here in 1834, where she attended the Fredonia Academy in the 1840s.) The Martins first rented rooms at the home of S. M. Clement.
In February 1853 Martin announced that he would also be offering instructions in photography at his Gallery. One person who we know studied with him was Elijah G. Morrison, who had attended the Fredonia Academy from 1842 to 1849. He was, thus, a classmate of Lydia Crane Martin's, and then became a clerk at Walker & Taylor's store at 2 West Main Street. Upstairs was the Fredonia Daguerreian Gallery where Morrison learned the mysteries of photography. Apparently, when Martin left Fredonia to study new photographic techniques, Morrison was left in charge. On 17 January 1854 he advertised the "Daguerreian Rooms Open Again," under his, Morrison's, charge. (He soon went on the road for himself. He was in Concord NY in 1859, and in Randolph NY in 1860. By 1870 he was married, with a 12-year old son, working as a photographer in Belle Plaine IA. According to his obituary, he later moved to Colorado and finally to California. He died in Santa Monica on 7 January 1888.)
After Martin's temporary departure in 1854, he returned in March to announce that he was master of a new process for producing colored daguerreotypes. He continued the practice of traveling through the county during the spring and summer months. In 1855 Henry C. Frisbee and his wife had their pictures taken, no doubt by Martin, since he was the only daguerreotypist in the Village at the time. A bad fire destroyed the building he was in on 16 January 1856, and he had no insurance to cover the loss estimated at some $700 to $800. Martin set up temporarily over J. Lamson's store and then moved to rooms over Taylor & Jennings' store by the beginning of 1857.
A new competitor had arrived in the Village at this time. Ira G. Tompkins, who had been with Tompkins Daguerreian Rooms in Buffalo for several years and had traveled as an itinerant photographer for six months. He arrived here in February 1857, set up in business over Frisbee's Bookstore as the "New Daguerreian Room," offering "Improved Ambrotypes." This led to a fierce advertising debate in the Censor between Tompkins and Martin, occasionally joined by Orrin Monroe of Dunkirk. In December 1857 Martin had moved to his "New Gallery" in the Center Block "up-stairs to the right." Tompkins countered with an ad for his rooms over Frisbee's Bookstore in the Center Block, "turn to the Left." Tompkins held out until March 1858 when he sold to L. [Lyman] W. Tarbell, "Daguerreian Artist." The Fredonia Advertiser explained that Tarbell, from Ohio, "designs to establish a permanent business here."
In June and October 1858 the Censor mentioned Martin's new colored ambrotypes, and the Advertiser added that the colorist was the local painter Amos Wight. Wight began his career in Fredonia in 1839 as a wagon builder and blacksmith, but in 1845 he gave it all up to become a portrait artist, meeting with much success. One of the hand-colored daguerreotypes of Martin and Wight was of two sons of the "senior editor" of the Censor, and their Newfoundland dog, Old Nip, set against a "beautiful landscape."
By the end of 1858 Tarbell's Gallery was being run by Lyman's son William H. Tarbell. In March 1859 Martin advertised that his daguerreian car was for sale. (The ad was still running in February 1860.) The Censor of April 1860 mentioned photographs taken by Martin of the Rev. E. S. Wright's father and mother, another one of the few clues we have to which sitters were photographed by which artists. In September 1860, William Tarbell married DeEtte Purple of Sinclairville and in December 1862 took over Martin's rooms in the Center Block. Either then, or soon after, Martin set up another Gallery "over Miner's Bank," i.e., about at today's 28 West Main Street.
There is an odd glimpse of Martin's personality in a talk given by Louis McKinstry at a "Forefathers Day" celebration reported in the Censor of 24 December 1902. McKinstry recalled a debating society that used to meet in the 1860s in the old Fredonia Academy. On the evening when the subject was the Character of the Puritans, "one of the disputants, Mr. G. R. Martin, surprised and electrified the audience with his eloquent eulogy of New England. Mr. Martin was a college graduate who ran a photograph gallery, and was a very quiet gentleman, rarely appearing in public. . . ."
In its 20 April 1864 issue, the Fredonia Censor invited its readers to visit Martin's Gallery to "see the pictures of Surgeon Washburn. Dr. Charles E. Washburn, Surgeon of the 112th N. Y. Regiment, had been in practice in Fredonia since 1851. He died while in service of typhoid fever on 10 April 1865. The public was also invited to see the portraits of Hiram J. and Adaline Miner. Miner moved his bank here from Utica in 1850, and to Dunkirk in 1858. The Miner's Bank over which Martin had his studio had been H. J. Miner's. In 1864 it was H. D. M. Miner's bank. The article continues, "The Photographs are taken by Martin and colored by Kellogg. [It is not known who Kellogg was, perhaps the "Ornamental Painter," Albert Kellogg, recorded in the Jamestown NY Census of 1870.]
Martin, the quiet gentleman, remained in Fredonia with his family, living on Temple Street. The 1865 Census, where he describes himself as an "artist," and the 1870 Census, where he is a "photographer," show him still in residence. The Censor of 6 April 1870 refers to a colored photograph of Harrison Parker. The photography was done by Martin, the hand coloring by Rufus Lester, who also did the coloring of a photo of the Rev. I. George taken by Monroe in Dunkirk. By December 1871 Martin had taken on, at least temporarily, Mrs. O. B. Evans. The Censor of 27 December 1871 carried their first ad: "Pictures for the Holidays! Beautiful Christmas Gifts. Mrs. O. B. Evans at G. R. Martin's Photograph Gallery."
It is not clear whether she remained here or traveled on and then returned. The 13 August 1873 Censor announced, "Photographs! Mrs. O. B. Evans." She had taken the rooms formerly occupied by George R. Martin "over Miner's Bank." It must have been then that Martin went back to Utica, leaving his family here and never returning. The 1875 Census, where he is still listed as head-of-household, adds, in the comments column, "at Utica." The Utica City Directories of 1876 and 1878 have entries for him as "Photographer" at 58 & 59 Franklin Square in that city. He then disappears from the records, except for the 1880 Census for Fredonia. That shows Lydia Martin as head-of-household with Martin entered as her husband, a photographer, but, unlike the others in the household, father's and mother's birthplaces are left empty, suggesting that he was not there to supply the answers. The only mention after 1880 comes in Mrs. Martin's 1907 obituary, which states that George R. Martin had died some 20 years earlier. There is no record of his ever returning to Fredonia, and he is not buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery family plot.
The Mrs. Evans, who had taken over Martin's studio at 30 West Main Street in 1873, was Jane M., wife of Oliver Benton Evans, Photographer, who opened a studio in Buffalo around 1848. She had worked with her husband there. In the 1873 ad, she states that she has produced Ivorytypes "18 years ago," which can be seen to prove their durability. Make an appointment "as Mrs. E's time for the next month will be divided between Westfield and Fredonia." Three testimonials follow: from H. H. Gifford of Jamestown dated 24 February 1872; from C. F. S. Thomas of the Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo, 19 February 1869; and from Dr. T. F. Hunt, Associate Editor, Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo, 10 March 1868. Gifford has "Ivory pictures" of himself and of Mrs. Gifford taken by Mrs. Evans at Buffalo "some sixteen years ago" (i.e. 1856). Thomas has one made in 1856, and Hunt one done in 1867.
Obviously, then, she had been at work in Buffalo at least from 1856 through 1867.
It is not clear why she first came to Fredonia in 1871, but it is clear that she stayed here, with her studio at 28 West Main Street at least into 1879. She is included in Lants & Son's 1879 Jamestown Directory. She had been joined by her daughter Grace E. Evans by 1875. Her husband, O. B. Evans, had moved to Pennsylvania and died there in 1878; Mrs. Evans left Fredonia then or soon after. The studio she had used at 28 West Main was taken over by another photographer, who found a competitor already in residence on the other side of Main Street, the rooms Martin had had much earlier.
William H. Tarbell, daguerreian, took over those rooms in December 1862. In April 1866 Damon P. Clark of Dunkirk opened his Photograph & Ambrotype gallery there, replacing Tarbell, but by January 1867 he was replaced by Salmon Halstead, who was himself replaced by Burton W.Ladd in February 1867. (Clark continued as a photographer in Dunkirk.)
Ladd's long advertisement in the Censor of 6 February 1867 states that he had "conducted one of the best Photograph Galleries in the State for the last three years." Within the next year or so, Ladd took on a junior partner creating the firm of Ladd & Parker, first name unknown. Parker sold his interest to Charles Pringle, Jr. in November 1868. Charles Pringle, Jr. was the youngest child and only son of Dr. Charles and Delia A. Pringle, who had moved to Fredonia in 1852 when young Charles was 5. He entered the Fredonia Academy in 1862 for seven terms. He also joined the Union Zouaves, a junior militia. When and how he came to study photography is not known. A comment in an 1877 newspaper article said he had been "connected with the photography business for the last 12 years in Fredonia, so he must have begun by 1865. Three years later he bought out Parker's interest to create the firm of Ladd & Pringle over the Bank in the Union Block, 3 East Main Street.
In July 1870 they sold the equipment to R. H. Beckwith and A. H. Whitney, who took over their rooms. The senior partner was Russel H. Beckwith, who must have been the Russell Beckwith "errand boy" living the Orren Monroe household in Dunkirk at the time of the 1865 Census, learning photography at Monroe's Dunkirk Gallery. The Censor of 13 July 1870 says that Beckwith "had five years experience in O. Monroe's gallery" and adds that both of the new proprietors are "young men." Beckwith was 21, and the junior partner, Asa H. Whitney of Dunkirk, was 20. In December 1870 the firm advertised that they were "now taking those beautiful PHOTOGRAPHIC CRAYONS" as well as "PHOTOGRAPHS & FERROTYPES." Any photograph could be "Colored or Finished in India Ink in the finest style by Mr. A. Van Scoter. On 16 August 1871 they reminded their patrons that Mr. Arthur Van Scoter was still at work. They also offered PORCELAIN PICTURES, plain or colored, and plain photographs as well. They had now purchased a large camera so they could take pictures of any size "Also Views; as we have the largest view camera in the county."
"Photographic Crayons" or "Crayon Photographs" were photographs which had the edges of the central image fading off the way crayon portraits of the time were done. There were several techniques to achieve this effect. Porcelain pictures were photographs transferred to a ceramic tablet that could be fastened to a headstone or tomb. Pringle may actually have continued as a silent partner with the two younger men. The 1 May 1872 Censor described the "Beckwith, Whitney & Pringle photography establishment" in Sinclairville.” Either Mr. Beckwith or Pringle is constantly there." They have first class apparatus in both places. The Sinclairville gallery "does all the photography for Brooks' Locomotive Works." The business reverted to Charles Pringle again early in 1873. He had married a local girl, Alice E. Wygant, daughter of John B. and Cornelia M. Wygant, in Aurora IL on 13 March 1873 (an elopement?) and advertised himself as "Sole Proprietor"of the "People's Photo Gallery, Union Block" in the Fredonia Censor of 19 March 1873.
Beckwith moved on. In 1880, he was working as a photographer in Bradford PA, living in the household of William Beemon, whose wife Maggie was also a photographer. Whitney went into the dry goods business in Dunkirk. Pringle maintained his studio "over 53 Main," i.e. 3 East Main Street. The Censor of 19 March 1873 announced that Pringle's Photograph Gallery, with Charles now as the "sole proprietor" had been frescoed and refitted. One product of what he began calling the People's Photo Gallery was the July 1873 series of photos of the extensive Taylor, Day & Co. wagon factory on Center Street. In June 1877 he announced a bold new venture, the American Institute of Photography. Pringle claimed to have secured an exclusive process "which will undermine the present manner of manufacturing photographs." The ad continued, "The National Photographers Association passed a resolution some two years ago fixing the time at three years for a beginner to complete the course of instruction necessary to become competent to take charge of a gallery. This was by the process general used by photographers at that time, but now by his process Mr. Pringle claims that it can be taught in from sixty to ninety days."
Pringle had arranged for a series of lectures by specialists on optics, light and shadow, etc., together with hands-on practice. "India ink, water colors, pastel, crayon, negative retouching and the beautiful oval glass process are under the supervision of Mr. R. W. Lester." Col. E. A. Curtis was in charge of the architectural drawing department. Although the American Institute of Photography seems to have gone nowhere, Pringle did continue running his photographic studio. However, a new photographer was added to the Fredonia scene in 1878. The Censor of 3 April announced the opening of Harry McNeil's gallery in the Woleben Block.
Henry P. (Harry) McNeil was born about 1855 in Montgomery NY. According to the 1875 Census he was the adopted son of James and Esther McNeil (one of eight adopted children). In 1875 he was working as a clerk in a dry goods store. He may have studied photography with Asa Whitney, by now a dry goods merchant in Dunkirk, before opening his own gallery in the second floor over one of the stores in the Woleben Block, the large brick building at 45-53 West Main. In March 1881 he moved to the third floor over Miner's Bank, 28 West Main, and in May of that year married Clara, daughter of Asa H. Whitney. It is McNeil who donated, or lent, an album of “Old Timers” to begin the Historical Collection of the newly established Darwin R. Barker Library in November 1882. In 1887 Charles H. Sisson opened a gallery on West Main Street, as did Montgomery & Cook on East Main Street. The latter firm did not last very long.
In March 1890 McNeil began selling photographs of the old Fredonia Academy building. which was in the process of being torn down to make room for the new Village Hall and Opera House. The Censor of 26 March pointed out that the prints were "Boudoir size, twice as large as cabinets." Unfortunately, McNeil suffered from Bright's disease and had an attack early in September 1890 from which he never recovered. He died on 5 September, age 36. Oddly enough, on the day McNeil's illness was announced, 3 September, the Censor also announced that portrait artist Wight had just opened "a new photograph gallery on Cushing Street." The ad said, "First class portraits in oil and old paintings retouched at this gallery. A. Wight, Artist."
By the end of the month McNeil's equipment and files were purchased by E. K. Hough and Charles O. Mason, who announced they had McNeil's negatives and could make prints from them for anyone who requested them. E. K. Hough was born in Potsdam NY on 24 December 1834. A partial record in the LDS Church Family Search file has a Eugenio Kinkaid Hough born in 1834. . . of Connecticut, who died on 3 January 1902. According to his obituary, Hough studied photography beginning in 1856. He was listed as an artist and daguerreotypist in Petersburg VA and 1858, and a daguerreian in Louisburg NC in 1859 and in partnership as Hough & Levois in Hillsborough NC. From 1861 to 1866 he was a "poser" in a New York City gallery. In 1865 he married Frances S. Mason. He later had a studio in Winston NC and in Tennesee.
The Censor of 9 June 1886 reported that Hough had purchased 27 Green Street “and will move here soon." Next door, at 35 Green Street were Mr. and Mrs. Ezra T. Ely. Mrs. Ely was Mrs. Hough's sister. In September Hough left for Winston NC. The Censor of 29 September 1886 reported that his crayon portraits of four local worthies had won "both first and second premiums at the fair." He was going to North Carolina to close out his business there "which he hopes to sell before next summer and then to open a portrait establishment here." Mrs. Hough remained in Fredonia for the winter. The Censor added that the couple had traveled extensively in the West Indies and South America. "Glad to welcome them as permanent residents." They traveled again, since the Censor in March 1887 noted that Hough and his wife "of Chattanooga" were to return in April. In the following May, Mrs. Hough died a few weeks before the death of her brother, George Mason of Ripley.
In March 1889 Hough was planning to establish a photographic gallery on Gillis Street, and in November he married Mrs. Fannie M. Mason, George's widow. It was in September 1890 that he and Charles O. Mason, his nephew and stepson, took over McNeil's gallery at 28 West Main Street. At the time, Hough was 56, Mason 23. It may well be that Mason learned his photography from Hough, perhaps on the job. The partnership was dissolved by 1893, as Hough considered "engaging in the photograph business" in Brocton, according to the Censor of 12 April 1893. Charles Mason continued the business at 28 West Main, then at 36 East Main from about 1900 to 1930, when he moved to 17 East Main Street. In 1935 he had Cosimo Mancuso as his assistant. When Mason died in February 1933, Mancuso took over the studio and ran it until about 1943.
During these years, there were a number of others involved in the trade in Fredonia, some of whom did not have their own businesses. The 1880 Census lists an Arthur D. Mitchell of White Street as a photographer. The 1891 Directory has a Maud M. Adams, photographer, boarding on Green Street, where E. K. Hough and C. O. Mason both lived. Charles H. Sisson had a photography studio on West Main by 1887. The Censor of 27 September 1899 said that he was "back from Pennsylvania" and ready to take pictures again at his gallery on the corner of West Main and Forest Place. The 1900 Directory gives the business address as 61 West Main. He was there until about 1920. Leslie Tennant listed himself as a photographer in the 1904 Directory. He may have worked briefly for Mason whose wife was Fannie Tennant. In 1918 M. Russell McLaren, who had been a clerk in his father's dry goods store, set up his photographic studio at 35 West Main Street. By the 1930s, his son, Robert R. McLaren and Robert’s wife Doris, who was their colorist, had joined him. The elder McLaren retired by 1968, but in 1969 the firm's name is gone from the directories.