David J. Lamon’s Search For Fame And Fortune

David Lamon was born in April 1864 to Robert Lamon and Anna Early Lamon, the oldest of three children.  The Lamon’s lived in Hebron, New York a farming community near the Vermont border, about 60 miles northeast of Albany.  In the mid 1880s, David left home to seek his fortune in the West.  Along the way, he learned photography.

Champa Street
D. Lamon, photographer. 587 and 589 Champa Street, Denver, 1886.  Albumen silver print on cabinet card mount. Collection of the author.

Lamon likely opened his Denver  studio at 1740 Larimer Street in the spring or summer of 1886, just after the publication of the annual city directory, as he is not listed in that directory.

His photograph of S. A. Doll’s Market at 587 Champa Street provides a good example in dating photographs.  Doll’s Market first appears in the Denver City Directory in 1886. The street number, 587, can be seen painted on the window below the valance.  With the tree fully leafed out, we can narrow the date to late spring through early fall.

Detail of 587 Champa Street.         

Doll formed a partnership with W. G. Smith in 1887, changing the firm’s name to Doll & Smith.  In addition, in 1887 Denver’s streets were renumbered.  587 Champa became 2205 Champa.  The men standing in front of the store may be Sigismunda A. Doll and his clerk, Theodore H. Kuhlenbeck.

Charlie Hong
D. Lamon, photographer. Portrait of Charlie Hong, Feb. 28, 1887. Albumen silver print on cabinet card mount. History Colorado, Denver, accession number: 95.19.1.

In the 19th century, Denver’s religious institutions organized Bible studies, English classes and social events for Chinese immigrants.  In  1887, Lamon photographed Charlie Hong, interpreter for the Chinese Sunday School run by Denver’s Trinity Methodist Church.  Trinity Methodist’s 1899 Christmas program drew 500 attendees.  The Rocky Mountain News wrote: “Charlie Hong added laurels to his wreath of popularity, too, by the masterly manner in which he related a history of the school.”  A few years later, Hong was replaced as interpreter by Y. T. Fong.  In January 1894, in a jealous rage over losing his position, Hong assaulted Fong in the church.

D. Lamon, photographer. Portrait of three unidentified men, 1887. Albumen silver print on cabinet card mount. History Colorado, Denver, accession number: 91.99.5.

In March 1887, Lamon took over J. W. Walker’s Golden studio for 30 days, turning out portraits like the one on the right of  three young men with attitude.  In 1888, Lamon returned to New York state, setting up shop at 67 South Pearl Street in Albany.  He returned to Colorado in 1891.  He accepted a position with Payne & Stockdorf in Leadville, but may have bypassed that opportunity to immediately open a studio in Denver, which he would oversee for the next two years.

In 1894, he opened a jewelry business in Denver, which he would oversee for several years.  But he pursued many other projects that brought him attention.  In 1895, he made national news when he discovered a rich vein of gold near Cripple Creek.  In 1904, Lamon was said to have discovered the lost art of tempering copper to the hardness of steel.  In 1926, Lamon planned to construct an iron and steel plant to produce “Lamon-ite,” a new process of manufacturing iron and steel with a tensile strength of from 25 to 75 per cent greater than steels now in  use.

Lamon died on February 27, 1943 in Denver and is buried at Fairmount Cemetery.

Thank you to Beverly Brannan, former Curator of Photography, Library of Congress, for proof-reading this post.  


John C. H. Grabill Captures the End of the Wild West

John C. H. Grabill, photographer. “Little,” the instigator of Indian Revolt at Pine Ridge, 1890, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LOT 3076-2, no. 3607.

Many 19th century photographers combined their careers with mining activities, moving West with the dream of finding gold.  John C. H. Grabill (c.1850-1903) followed this pattern.  Grabill was born around  1850 at Donnelsville, Ohio, to David and Catharine Kee Grabill.   One decade later, the census shows the Grabills living in Champagne, Illinois.

By late 1880 John Grabill was mining near Aspen, Colorado, later expanding his holdings to mines in Chaffee and Gunnison counties.  He purchased an assaying outfit from Chicago that allowed him to distinguish the properties and value of his finds.  Grabill opened an assay office in Buena Vista, Colorado, that was known as one of the best in the state (Buena Vista Democrat, March 15, 1883, p3, c3).  A fire on March 9, 1883, likely caused by a defective flue, destroyed  the entire business block that housed Grabill’s office  (Gunnison Review-Press,  March 9, 1883, p1, c2).  Later that month he opened a new brick office, continuing to offer his indispensable services to the miners.  He also provided electroplating services for cutlery and jewelry.

Mining Exchange
J. C. H. Grabill’s Mining Exchange and photograph gallery, 1886, Buena Vista, Colorado, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LOT 3076-6, no. 1449.

In December 1885 Grabill announced that he would open a photography studio in Buena Vista, Colorado.  The studio, located on San Juan Avenue, opened in March 1886, next door to his assay office.  One of his early photos shows both of his businesses (see left).  

Grabill moved his studio to the wild west town of Sturgis, Dakota Territory, in the fall of 1886.  His photographs capture the day-to-day life of the area– a street crowded with ox teams and rounding up cattle on the Belle Fourche River.  In 1888, Grabill added another studio, about fifteen miles west of Sturgis in Deadwood, splitting his time between the two locations.  The new studio was an elegant space in the Nye building, at the corner of Gold and Main streets.   He photographed historical landmarks, such as the famous Deadwood Stage Coach’s last trip before being superseded by the railway, the recently completed Deadwood Central Railroad, and Deadwood’s July 4th celebration.

Deadwood’s holiday festivities included events for the Chinese immigrants who came to the city in the mid-1870s in numbers large enough to form their own Chinatown neighborhood.  The immigrants supported the town’s mining industry, running businesses like restaurants and laundries.  Two Chinese fire hose teams, both from Deadwood,  competed in the world’s first Hub-and-Hub race by Chinese teams.  The teams, outfitted in fancy uniforms,  ran a 300-yard dash, pulling their equipment.  The  team under the direction of Hi Kee, a Chinatown merchant, was the first to couple their hoses and pump water, winning the contest.  This race was followed by eight White hose teams with a purse of $500.00

Hose Team
John C. H. Grabill, photographer. Hose team. The champion Chinese Hose Team of America, who won the great Hub-and-Hub race at Deadwood, Dak., July 4th, 1888, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LOT 3076-18, no. 1204.

In the early 1890s, Grabill produced extensive documentation of Native Americans, including views made at Pine Ridge in January 1891, just weeks  after the Battle of Wounded Knee and the death of Sitting Bull.  

Grabill incorporated The Grabill Portrait and View Company in 1891 with studios planned for Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York, and Omaha  (The Black Hills Daily Times, April 4, 1891, p4, c5).  But the company was soon bankrupt and Grabill’s pictures were auctioned off to cover a $340.43 debt (The Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times,  March 8, 1892, p3, c2).  The firm of Locke & McBride took over Grabill’s Deadwood studio. 

In 1901, Grabill lived in St. Louis and worked as a salesman for a mining supply company.  His mental health deteriorated and by early 1903 he was a resident at the St. Louis City Insane Asylum.  Grabill died there on August 23, 1903.  He is buried at Saint Matthew Cemetery in St. Louis.

Devils Tower
John C. H. Grabill, photographer. Devil’s Tower or Bear Lodge (Mato [i.e. Mateo] Tepee of the Indians), on the Belle Fourche, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LOT 3076-14, no. 343.
Grabill submitted more than 180 photographs for copyright protection to the Library of Congress.  In addition to his photographs, perhaps Grabill’s lasting legacy is his work to protect Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming.  He collected signatures for a petition asking congress to establish Devil’s Tower as a National Landmark  (The Sundance Gazette,  November 7, 1890, p1, c3). Unfortunately, Grabill died a few years before the creation of the park in 1906.




The Library of Congress collection of Grabill photographs. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/grabill/

Additional biographical information:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._H._Grabill