Charles L. Gillingham was born on July 18, 1848, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Samuel Gillingham and Rebecca Ann Shur Gillingham. The family moved to Fairfax County, Virginia a few years later. By 1870, Gillingham was living in Leavenworth, Kansas working first as an insurance agent and later in sewing machine sales. He married Delphina E. Hall in that city on March 8, 1871 .
Gillingham must have been an established photographer when he relocated to Washington, D. C’s “photographer’s row” in 1876 and opened Gillingham’s Centennial Gallery of Artistic Photography on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Later listings in the DC city directories are smaller and he no longer provides a studio address. In 1879, now in Newton, Kansas, Gillingham operated out of a photo car with a partner named Mr. Birney. A fire in August 1880 completely destroyed his gallery and all of his glass negatives. In less than a month, Gillingham resumed his trade in a new one story brick building.
In December 1880, Gillingham moved to Colorado Springs, taking a position with photographer, Thaddeus E. Hopkins, before opening his own business. Photographers had to be flexible in the 19th century, always learning new photographic processes and using the latest card formats. His trade card,, or what we would call a business card today, stated “First Class and Instantaneous work a specialty.”
Gillingham made stereo views of Colorado Springs’ street scenes, including the state-of-the-art Antlers Hotel. He used the cabinet card format (4-1/2 x 6-1/2″) for studio portraits and the larger boudoir format (5-1/4 x 8-1/2″) for some landscape views. During his time in Colorado Springs, he also published a souvenir viewbook entitled “Manitou and Vicinity.
Gillingham’s skill as a photographer is evident in his cabinet card portrait of a young boy on a hobby horse. To keep the child engaged, the photographer choose an age-appropriate prop, rather than an ordinary chair. Looking directly into the camera, the young boy’s feet rest in the stirrups, with one hand on the reins and the other on the horse’s mane.
In the summer of 1882, Mrs. Gillingham and her two young sons were camping at Manitou Springs when a big storm flooded the canon where the two boys were playing. The boys climbed up to a small building near a lime kiln, and while the Harvey, older boy, hung on to the buildings’ rafters, 6 year old Charley was tragically sweeping away.
Gillingham worked as a photographer in Colorado Springs through 1890. Gillingham died in 1914, leaving his wife and son Harvey. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.
Thank you to photography collector, Karen Hendrix, for her expertise in 19th century children’s fashion and Beverly Brannan for her editorial assistance.