Byron H. Gurnsey, Colorado Springs’ First Photographer

B. H. Gurnsey produced hundreds of stereoviews of Colorado during the 1870s.  His series, Gurnsey’s Rocky Mountain Views and Scenes on the Line of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, include images of Canon City, Colorado Springs, Leadville, Manitou, Pike’s Peak, and the Grand Canon of the Arkansas.  Numerous prominent institutions, including the George Eastman Museum, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum and the New York Public Library, collect and preserve Gurnsey’s work.

Leadville, Colorado.
B. H. Gurnsey, photographer. Leadville, Colorado, 1879. Albumen silver stereo view. The New York Public Library.

Byron Hamilton Gurnsey was born on October 12, 1833, in Chautauqua County, New York, to John M. Gurnsey and Susan Nevins Gurnsey.   He married Delilah Ida Simpson on December 9, 1858, in Battle Creek, Michigan.  B. H. Gurnsey served four years and nine months in the Civil War, first with the 41st Iowa Infantry, Company C, stationed at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory, and later in the 7th Iowa Cavalry.

Spotted Tail
Gurnsey & Illingworth, photographers. Spotted Tail, The Rebel Chief and HIs Party, circa 1870, albumen silver print. Copyright, The Trustees of the British Museum.

After the war, Gurnsey operated a  photographic studio at the corner of Front and Pearl Streets on Sioux City, Iowa’s levee.  He offered “Photographs and Ambrotypes.”  His stock included stereoscopic views and stereoscopes from an eastern supplier.  In 1870 he partnered with William H. Illingworth, as Gurnsey & Illingworth.  On June 5, 1871 a fire completely destroyed his workplace.  Even though he opened new photographic rooms over the Imperial Bakery, Gurnsey decided to leave Iowa City.  In December 1871 he relocated to Colorado.

Gurnsey opened the first photographic studio in Colorado Springs, with a second studio in Pueblo, Colorado.  In Pueblo, he worked above the St. James restaurant, until he completed a new studio on Main Street, which he operated until 1875.  He partnered with Eugene Brandt at this location.  

Cottonwood tree
B. H. Gurnsey, photographer. The Largest Cottonwood Tree in Colorado, Fifth Street, South Pueblo, circa 1875, albumen silver stereo view,  Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 

As his success grew, Gurnsey completed a new brick building in Colorado Springs on Pike’s Peak Avenue in May 1874. The following year he sold an impressive $4,000 worth of stereoviews.  In addition, his photographs received national attention when they were published in the July 4, 1874 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.   This weekly news magazine, with a subscriber base numbering in the tens of thousands, published four wood engravings from photographs by Gurnsey: three views of Monument Park and one of Balancing Rock. 

Colorado Springs
B. H. Gurnsey, photographer. Pike’s Peak from Colorado Springs, circa 1875, albumen silver print. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Beginning in March 1877, Gurnsey advertised for a partner to take a one half interest in his stereoview business.  It is unlikely he found someone to fill that role, but in June 1877, Frank W. Grove did assist Gurnsey on a Denver and Rio Grande railroad excursion for Denver journalists.  The party traveled over the new track between Fort Garland and La Veta.  Gurnsey secured negatives for ten stereoscopic views and four large 11 by 14″ views, including photographs of Mule Shoe Bend.  He made prints for the railroad, as well as  Eastern customers, with one railroad customer ordering 7,200 views.  Gurnsey’s views were also sent as far away as Paris and China.

Mule Shoe
B. H. Gurnsey, photographer. The Mule Shoe, 1877, albumen silver print, The New York Public Library.

Gurnsey continued to operate in Colorado Springs until his death at the young age of forty-seven, on November 19, 1880.  He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.  Gurnsey’s widow, Delilah Ida Simpson Gurnsey, operated the studio after her husband’s death.  


George D. Wakely’s Early Photographs of Denver

In 1859, overblown reports of gold discovered along Denver’s Cherry Creek  brought a stampede of newcomers to the sparsely populated area, including a few photographers.  But it was George D. Wakely who stayed for five  years and produced a large body of work that continues to inspire and inform researchers today.

George D. Wakely was born in England circa 1836.  It is not known when he arrived in the United States, but in 1855 Wakely was living in New York City with his wife, Mathilda Brown and four children from her previous marriage.  (The New York State Census for that year lists Jos. B. Wakeley, age 38, born in England, working as a photographer.  While his name and age are incorrect, I believe this is George D. Wakely, as his wife, Matilda, and her four children are also listed.)

news clipping
Rocky Mountain News, September 29, 1859, p3, c3

The following year, Wakely moved west to Chicago where he made ambrotypes. His peripatetic nature led the Wakely family to Leavenworth, Kansas, in the late 1850s, where George’s three step-daughters, Rose, Louise and Flora, acted in Colonel Charles S. Thorne’s Star Company.  They performed under the last name Haydee.  George was active behind the scenes.  The theatrical troupe was invited to perform in Denver, a city less than two years old.  The troupe loaded up five ox-drawn wagons for the five-week journey to Colorado, arriving in September 1859.  Thorne’s Star Company was the first theatrical company to perform in the “Territory of Jefferson” at Denver’s Apollo Theatre.  After only six performances and rave reviews, Thorne secretly left Denver and returned to Leavenworth.  Undeterred, the Wakely women established their own troupe, the Haydee Star Company.

Meanwhile, George Wakely opened Denver’s first photographic gallery across the street from the Apollo Theatre in 1859.  He produced ambrotypes and photographs on leather.  The latter could be easily sent through the mail to Easterners.   His half-plate ambrotype of Mademoiselle Carolista, an itinerant tightrope walker, performing across Larimer Street on July 18, 1861 is held by History Colorado.

George D. Wakely, photographer. Madame Carolista walking on a tightrope above Larimer Street in Denver, July 18, 1861, half-plate ambrotype.   History Colorado, 86.70.29.

In June 1862, Wakely built a new gallery on Larimer Street across from the post office.  He obtained the latest equipment from New York, and offered the new carte de visite photographs, as well as ferrotypes.  Later that year he enhanced his studio with a mammoth sky light and extra side lights.  In addition to his own photographs, he also sold views of Colorado’s mountain scenery by photographer Henry Faul.

In April 1864, Wakely put his gallery up for sale due to health concerns, offering to teach the art to the buyer.  When no interested parties materialized, Wakely continued to photograph Denver and its environs, documenting the May 1864 Cherry Creek flood. 

Denver Flood
George D. Wakely, photographer. West Denver No 2, May 19-20, 1864, albumen silver print. J. Paul Getty Museum.

On June 27, 1864, Wakely announced:  “I will close my photographic rooms in a few days. Patrons are requested to call and get their pictures.  A few more views of the flood left for sale.”

George D. Wakey, photographer. Mouth of Fall River, View up Clear Creek, Four Miles above Idaho, Colorado Territory, 1862-1865, albumen silver print. J. Paul Getty Museum.

In October 1864, he copyrighted 26 photographs with the First Judical District of Colorado Territory, including views of the Garden of the Gods, Central City, Black Hawk, and mining views in North Empire.  

Wakely had closed his gallery and moved New York by February 1865.  At that time he offered his Rocky Mountain and mining views for sale in Harper’s Weekly magazine.  But later that year, Wakely, now living in Washington, DC, with a studio at 524 Pennsylvania Avenue, produced a series of stereoviews documenting government buildings. 

Patent Office
George D. Wakely, photographer. Interior of Patent Office, circa 1866, albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum.

In 1869 or 1870 Wakely opened a photographic supply store in Kansas City,  publishing a catalog of the materials he offered for sale. He ran this business until 1877 when he sold out to Fred Mullett. During this time, Wakely also wrote articles for professional photograph journals.  

In the summer of 1877 Wakely relocated to Los Angeles, running a livery stable.  He returned to Colorado in 1879, working in Leadville, and the following year he was back in the photo business with Edward N. Clements as Wakely & Clements.  

By 1884, Wakely was on the move again, this time to Dallas, Texas.  He was employed by Alfred Freeman, a photographer and dealer in pianos and organs.  Working as a traveling salesman based out of Waco, Texas, Wakely sold pianos and organs in 1888 and 1889.  By 1890, he had again opened a photography studio, this time in McKinney, Texas, while also still selling pianos.  In 1894 he joined forces with photographer William F. Cobb, operating as Wakely & Cobb until March 1897.  In November 1898, Wakely started a new gallery in McKinney in the Dr. Metz building.  He worked there until 1901 when he accepted a job for a Dallas music company as a traveling salesman.  For the next several years, Wakely’s  photography took him to various towns in Texas and Oklahoma, before retiring in Dallas.  

In April 1922, Wakely was hit by a car or train.  He died from his injuries on April 22, 1922.  Wakely was survived by his second wife, Etta R. Lawrence.  He is buried at Grove Hill Memorial Park, Dallas.