Frank E. Baker, Horticulturist, Photographer, and Real Estate Developer

Frank E. Baker was born in Wisconsin in September 1849 to Garrett H. Baker and Elmina Clapp.  His mother retained her maiden name.  Active as social reformers, the family joined the Wisconsin Phalanx commune in Fond du Lac County in the late 1840s.  Based on the ideas of French philosopher Charles Fourier, the members lived together in longhouses and ate communal meals.  They raised potatoes, buckwheat, turnips, and winter wheat.  The community grew to nearly 200 people before dissolving in the early 1850s.

In 1858, the Garrett Baker family settled in Cobden, Illinois, and established a profitable fruit farm.  They supported the Underground Railroad, aiding southern slaves to relocate to free states in the North, despite opposition from many Southern sympathizers in their community.  Frank’s sister Kate taught wood carving at Hampton Institute, established in 1868 to provide skills to Black people after the Civil War. 

Frank E. Baker claimed to have worked on Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden’s 1871 expedition, but I have not been able to confirm this. He married Harriet Davis on September 1, 1872, at her sister’s home, the Kilbourn ranch, near Loveland, Colorado.  They spent their first winter in Greeley, Colorado before making a home outside Champaign, Illinois.  The Bakers pursued horticulture, growing apples, grapes, plums, and other fruits.  In 1877, Mrs. Baker exhibited canned and preserved fruits at the county fair.  Frank Baker exhibited apples and wine grapes at the Illinois State Fair a few years later.  In 1883, as a commission agent, he shipped nearly 1,000 bushels of apples to Chicago and Eastern markets.           

Girl sidesaddle
F. E. Baker, photographer. Eleanor Estes James riding sidesaddle on her favorite horse Patsey. Courtesy Estes Park Museum, 1985.063.055a.

The Bakers often summered in Estes Park, Colorado with Mrs. Baker’s family and Baker often opened a temporary photo studio in the mountains.  He regularly hiked, even summiting the highest peak in the area— Long’s Peak, with an elevation of 14,259 feet.  When he returned home, Frank Baker presented magic lantern slide shows of Rocky Mountain scenery at local schools, perhaps from his photographs.  

Baker photo
F. E. Baker, photographer. The Entre Nous Club, POP print. W. G. Elle Collection.

By 1891, the Bakers made Greeley, Colorado their permanent home.  In addition to his Greeley studio, he opened a branch gallery in Loveland.  The following year, Baker, working under Greeley photographer Morton E. Chase, ran a gallery in Fort Morgan, Colorado, visiting several times a year to make portraits.

In March 1893, Baker bought out M. E. Chase.  He secured a contract to photograph students graduating from the State Normal School in Greeley, (now the University of Northern Colorado), after administrators compared Baker’s work to several Denver studios and believed he could deliver better work at a cheaper price.

In April 1897, Baker traveled to Chicago to acquire supplies for his gallery.  He purchased new backgrounds for the studio and brought back a full line of amateur cameras.

In 1902, Baker sold his business to the Stewart Brothers and began a career in real estate. Frank E. Baker passed away on November 10, 1939 and was laid to rest in Loveland, Colorado’s Lakeside Cemetery. Surprisingly, no obituary was published in the local newspapers.

Thank you to collector W. G. Eloe and Jessica Michak, Curator of Collections, Estes Park Museum for providing digital images.  Miranda Todd at the Greeley Museum provided research assistance.  Beverly Brannan kindly proofread this blog post.  

Photographers Active in Greeley in the 1880s (Part 2)

This post identifies studio photographers active in Greeley between 1886 and 1889.   See my earlier posts for photographers working in the 1870s and early 1880s. Did I miss any photographers?  Can you provide any additional biographical details?

1886-1888

Webster Bros.
Webster Bros., photographer. Mary Hawes and her dog, June 1889. City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection, AI-4700, .

Webster Bros.  A partnership of Harry D. Webster and Frederick A. Webster.

Harry Dorr Webster (1852-1927) was born on a farm in Hadley Township, Michigan to Edwin Baldwin Webster and Anna White Webster, the first of at least eleven children. In the early 1870s, he apprenticed to a Michigan photographer before studying under George F. Maitland of Buffalo, New York.

Harry worked briefly in Flint, Michigan before moving to Lapeer, Michigan to work for Charles A. Kelley.  Webster purchased Kelley’s gallery in 1879 and would continue to operate a studio in Lapeer until 1886 when he moved West. He opened Webster Bros. studio with his brother Frederic Arthur Webster in Laramie, Wyoming, before taking over Koonz’s studio in Greeley. The firm dissolved in January 1889.   Frederic moved further west and H. D. continued to work in Laramie until 1896.

Court House, Greeley
H. D. Webster, photographer. Court House, Greeley, Colorado., 1886. City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection, AI-0058.

In January 1897, Harry Webster sold his studio and moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado.   He and E. A. Yelton, worked together as Webster & Yelton through September 1897 at Cripple Creek.  Webster then worked on his own through 1904 and  ran a floral business from his home.

By 1907, Webster had relocated to Wilbur, Oregon, and in 1910 to West Pomeroy, Washington working as a photographer at both locations.  In 1914 he took over Miss Edith Robinson’s studio in Burley, Idaho.  Seven years later, in 1921, he placed an advertisement in the Burley Herald offering his studio for sale.  He died on June 11, 1927, at Burley.  He was buried in the Avondale Cemetery in Flint, Michigan.

1886-1888
Frederick  Arthur Webster
(1860-1933) was born in Lapeer, Michigan.  He learned photography at fifteen from his older brother Harry Webster.  They worked together in Lapeer and later F. A. Webster worked in St Johns, Michigan.  Between 1886-1888, the two brothers ran the Greeley branch of the Webster Bros. studio.

In 1889, Webster moved to Oakland, CA where he would maintain a photography studio for over four decades.  He published a booklet of his photographs of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Throughout his career, Webster was active in professional associations. In 1918, his work was profiled in the Photographic Journal of America. The work included a portrait of Webster and several photographs by him. He died on April 26, 1933 in Oakland, CA.  His wife and one son survived him.

1889-1893
Morton Ellsworth Chase
(b.c. 1861-1929) was born in Dearborn County, Indiana to Anthony Chase and Sarah Tufts Butterfield Chase.  In 1866, the family moved to Urbana, Illinois.  Anthony Chase died before Morton was ten years old.  After Anthony’s death, Sarah Chase ran a boarding house in Urbana.

Morton E. Chase attended the Illinois Industrial University, now known as the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign.  In 1881, he taught painting at the school and there he met his first wife, Mary McNeil.  Mary was also an artist, skilled in crayon work and painting.  They were married on September 5, 1882.

Chase’s photography career began in Urbana with Jacob Scoggins.  In 1884, Chase purchased a studio in his hometown.  His photographic work won prizes at the county fair and the university hired him to make the senior class portraits, a contract usually given to a Chicago studio.  Sadly, Chase’s wife died of consumption in the fall of 1885.

Leaving his gallery in charge of G. R. Gamble, Chase traveled west, landing a position at C. C. Wright’s Central City, Colorado studio.  He promised to return to Urbana by April 1, 1886, where he would offer new styles of photographs, but shortly after his return, Chase put his possessions up for auction and in early September headed back to Colorado in a covered buggy with his friend William Goodspeed.  By March 1887, Chase had opened a studio at the corner of 15th and Larimer in Denver, offering locket-sized photographs to life-sized portraits.  In June, he married Mary Annette “Nettie” Beymer (1864-1949). After a year in Denver, Chase returned to Illinois, taking charge of Thomas Naughton’s studio in Champaign.  Soon, however, the Chase’s returned to Colorado, this time settling at Greeley.

Chase documented the rural community of Greeley, making portraits and photographing the agricultural riches of the area, especially its large potato crops.  He also traveled around with his tent studio, including a trip to Erie, Colorado to photograph its coal mines.  During the summer of 1890, Chase spent two months in the mountains near Breckenridge, Colorado.  After he returned to Greeley he set out in his photo car for towns in northern Colorado, including Berthoud and Lyons.

Child with dog
M. E. Chase & Co., photographer. Unidentified child and dog. Collection of the author.

Early in 1892, Chase hired photographer F. E. Baker, who managed Chase’s new branch gallery on the eastern plains in Fort Morgan.  The town had never had a resident photographer and relied upon itinerants, so they were excited about having a local photographer.

In the fall of 1892, Chase ran out of photo paper.  It took six weeks to replenish his stock which interfered with business before the Christmas holidays.  The following March, Chase sold his business to F. E. Baker and  left Greeley under a dark cloud.  Unsubstantiated rumors circulated that he was romantically involved with a young girl who worked in his studio, causing Mrs. Chase to suffer a relapse of typhoid fever.

The Chases moved to Manitou, Colorado in 1897.  The following year Chase bought Dalgleish’s Ouray, Colorado studio.  In March 1901, Chase took Harvey Lewis as a partner, with Chase behind the camera and Lewis managing the business.  In the fall, Chase partnered with H. E. Lutes.  Their views were sold at book and stationery stores in the area and were popular with tourists.  They had a photo car that traveled to mountain towns.  In March 1902, their partnership was dissolved with Lutes taking over.  Chase continued to work in the photo business from his home.

In August 1902, Chase accepted a position in Brumfield’s Silverton studio.  He later worked in several cities throughout the state as a photographer and house painter.  Morton Ellsworth Chase died on January 17, 1939 in Los Angeles, California.

1889
Phil Bevis
(1865-1948) studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Champaign, but poor health prevented him from completing his studies.  He worked in the university’s blueprint room before moving to Greeley to assist photographer, Morton E. Chase.  Later, he served as general secretary of the Y.M.C.A. for several decades.

Thank you to Beverly W. Brannan for editing this post.  Miranda Todd at the Greeley Museum provided research assistance and scans.  

 

Photographers Active in Greeley, Colorado in the 1870s

The Union Colony of Colorado was founded in 1869 by Nathan C. Meeker as a utopian agricultural community.  The town’s name was changed to Greeley in honor of New York newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, one of the town’s financial backers.  Photographers arrived in Greeley shortly after its establishment.  This is the first of three blog posts discussing Greeley’s 19th-century photographers.

1870                                                                                                                                           John Wilkinson (bc 1840) is listed as a photographer in the 1870 federal census for Greeley.

J. M. (or I. M.)  Johnson opened the first photography studio in Greeley, working briefly between November 1870 and February 1871.  His gallery was known as the Pioneer Photographic Gallery as well as Johnson’s Rocky Mountain Gallery of Art.  He sold stereoscopic views of Greeley and the Rocky Mountains.

1871-1891                                                                                                                                 Benjamin Franklin Marsh and his twin brother, Clark, were born on December 26, 1833, in Southport, New York to Belorman Marsh and Mary Heller Marsh.  The Marsh family lived on a farm seven miles from Elmira.  On December 27, 1859, Benjamin married Sarah S. Smith in Southport.

Between 1864 and 1870, Marsh worked as a photographer outside Cleveland, Ohio, in Painesville, on the Grand River.  In 1870, B. F. Marsh moved west and became one of the original residents of the Union Colony, an experimental utopian farming community now known as Greeley, Colorado.  His family arrived the following year.  Marsh set up the town’s first permanent photo studio in Nichols’ Block, on Main Street, purchasing supplies from E. and H. T. Anthony of New York City, the country’s largest manufacturer of photographic goods.  The Rio Grande Railway commissioned Marsh to make stereoviews in the Pike’s Peak region.  

Greeley stereo
B. F. Marsh, photographer. Greeley Tribune Building, Maple Street (7th St) between 7th & 8th Avenues.  AI-2520, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection.

In addition to running the photo studio, where he also sold ice cream, Marsh served as Greeley’s town clerk, recorder and treasurer.  In June 1883, B. F. Marsh’s daughter, Kitty, spent three weeks in Denver learning the finer points of retouching photographs.   In the fall of that year, while Marsh traveled back to Ohio and New York to visit friends, he leased his studio to E. W. Pierce.

Marsh did not resume work in the studio until May 1884.  That summer he erected a new gallery with modern improvements.  Later that year, his twin brother joined the business, forming the Marsh Brothers.  They worked together until April 1886.  

In addition to making portraits and views of Greeley and the surrounding area, Marsh photographed the only known lynching in Greeley.  On December 29, 1888, Wilbur D. French was arrested for the suspected murder of a mill merchant.  French was reviled in the community as a cattle rustler.  It was also assumed that he had killed his wife a year earlier.  Since no one witnessed the murder of the mill merchant, residents feared French would not be convicted, so they took matters into their own hands.  Marsh produced  a cabinet card photograph of the lynching.  (The same photograph, published on a C. M. Clark cabinet card mount, was probably printed later.)

Hanging
B. F. Marsh. Hanging of Wilbur D. French, December 1888. Photo from Bidsquare website.

In 1891, Marsh took a position in Greeley’s assessor’s office and shuttered his photography business shortly thereafter.  Benjamin Franklin Marsh died on July 10, 1900 of Bright’s disease.  Survivors included his wife and eight children.  Marsh was laid to rest at Linn Cemetery in Greeley.  

1874                                                                                                                                     Frederick Christopher Warnky was born at Malchow, Germany, on August 27, 1838.  At nine years of age, he emigrated to the United States to live with family in Milwaukee.  At age fifteen, Frederick joined a wagon train heading for California in St. Joseph, Missouri. He met his future wife, Mary Jane Brownell, in 1865 outside Stockton, California.  They married on December 19, 1865 in Benton County, Oregon.  The following year Frederick and his wife farmed in California’s San Joaquin Valley.  

While in California, Frederick attended lectures by members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) and decided to join the church.  He would continue to be an active member of the church throughout his life.  

The Warnky family moved to Colorado Territory in the fall of 1874 as the first missionaries for the RLDS church in Colorado.  Warnky, who had learned photography by this time, traveled around the Territory with a horse and wagon and his photography tent, taking pictures during the day and preaching in the evenings.  They spent five years in Colorado, living in Greeley, Golden, Fairplay, Lake City, and Leadville.

While working in southern Colorado, Warnky met photographer Charles L. Abbott. They would partner as Warnke & Abbott in Garland and Alamosa, Colorado, and in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  In November 1879, Warnky’s wife and four children moved to Independence, Missouri, headquarters of the RLDS, while Frederick pursued business opportunities in New Mexico.  

After working several months in New Mexico, Warnky established a photography studio at 214 West Lexington St., Independence, Missouri, until 1891, when he relocated his business to Argentine, Kansas.  Mr. Warnky advertised his work at this new gallery as a portrait and landscape photographer.  When his daughter joined his business, she taught painting “of different kinds” and also fancy work.  Warnky maintained a photography studio until 1900 when R. E. Lauck advertised his studio at Warnky’s old stand.  

Frederick C. Warnky died in Independence, Missouri on December 24, 1920.  He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence.  

1876-1877                                                                                                                               Mrs. E. A. Masters moved to Greeley, Colorado by the summer of 1876, offering portraits, cartes de visite, large photographs and views of residences. She claimed she made a specialty of portraits of babies.  A couple of months later, she advertised her photographic work under the surname of her first husband, Mrs. E. A. Hammatt. 

1878                                                                                                                                           David Clinton Broadwell was born just south of the Canadian border in Fort Covington, New York around 1855.  He learned photography as a teen.  The 1870 federal census for Deerfield, Michigan lists Broadwell as a photographic artist, only fifteen years old.  Between 1873 and 1876, he operated a studio in Lansing, Michigan, described as the “only gallery in the city situated entirely on the ground floor.”  His time in Lansing included a short partnership as Broadwell & Wood.  Broadwell relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1877.  Health issues led him to Greeley, Colorado a year later, where he set up a tent gallery across from the drug store.  Sadly, D. C. Broadwell succumbed to consumption on February 27, 1879, in Windsor, Michigan.  He was just 24 years old.  Broadwell left a wife and a young son.  

Thank you to Miranda Todd, Archives Assistant at the Greeley Museum for research assistance and to Beverly W. Brannan for proofreading.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Was E. Warren Pierce?

cdv
Pierce, photographer. Mrs. John Hall, Feb. 1, 1884, albumen silver print on cdv mount. Collection of the author.

Last year at the Denver Post Card Show, I found a carte de visite  of an unremarkable woman taken by Pierce from Greeley, Colorado.  I checked my database of more than 1,200 Colorado photographers and noticed that Pierce was not on my list.  My database is compiled chiefly from the seminal (but now outdated) book on Colorado photography, Colorado on Glass by Terry Wm. Mangan, 1975, Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz, 2018, and keyword searching the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection database.

To find out more about Pierce, I began my research at the Hazel E. Johnson Research Center at the Greeley History Museum in Greeley, Colorado.  Years ago, museum volunteers combed through their old newspaper collections and noted any mention of photographers working in the city.  They prepared a card file arranged by photographers’ names, providing a goldmine for researchers, as the indexed newspapers have not been digitized.

Verso
Pierce, verso of cdv.

In September 1883, E. W. Pierce arrived in Greeley to take charge of Benjamin F. Marsh’s gallery while Marsh traveled east to visit relatives.  According to the April 23, 1884 Greeley Tribune, Pierce “began his artistic career in New York City, elaborated it in Chicago, polished it up in Denver…”   He  used the new instantaneous dry plate process that allowed Pierce to “take your head off in a second.”  While he did not necessarily need sunlight for the exposure, he did need the sun for making the prints.  Without it, the prints would be delayed.  He was skilled in artistic lighting, retouching, and finishing.

Pierce stayed in Greeley after Marsh returned from his trip, even improving the studio by purchasing new photographic instruments from the east. During his stay, he claimed to have made nearly 10,000 negatives.  This is probably an exaggeration, as Greeley’s population was only 1,500 in the mid-1880s.  All negatives were numbered and booked, but neither the negatives nor the inventory are known to exist today.  Pierce left Greeley in April 1884 for a viewing trip to Southern Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

In the summer of 1884, Marsh returned to Greeley with the goal of producing a souvenir view book of the city.  The Tribune reported, “His plans[sic] is to make 12 or 24 negatives, and show proofs, and select 12 of the most interesting views, bind them in an elegant album cover, and supply them to subscribers at the low rate of $3.00 each, provided a sufficient number can be obtained.”  By late August 1884, the accordian-style book had been produced,  measuring roughly 5″ x 8″ consisting of nine photographs of Greeley.  The book’s cover includes Pierce’s middle name, Warren, which should help identify the photographer, but only led to a dead end in my research.  

Cover
E. Warren Pierce & Co. Greeley, Weld Co, Colorado. Souvenir view book, 1884. AI-0059, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection.
Oasis Hotel
E. W. Pierce, photographer. Oasis Hotel, page from souvenir view book, albumen silver print, 1884. AI-0059.2, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection.

Pierce remained off and on in Greeley until the fall of 1885.  Then he went to California, running the Elite Studio in Los Angeles.  His last studio was located in Santa Ana in 1887. 

My theory is that E. W. Pierce is the same photographer who worked in Galena, Illinois in the 1860s and 1870s.  His name was variously spelled as  E. W. Peirce, E. W. Pierce, E. W. K. Pierce and Edward Woodbine Peirce.

Pierce was born circa 1836 in Troy, New York.  As a teen, he in lived in Brooklyn, New York, where he father was a merchant.  By 1864, Pierce was working as a photographer in Galena, Illinois.  Before December 1, 1876, Pierce  sold his gallery to John H. Pooley.  Pierce then traveled around the Midwest setting up temporary galleries before acquiring the Railroad Palace Photographing Car.  The coach measured fifty feet long, ten feet wide and eight feet high, containing a reception room and operating department.  The car followed the line of the Illinois Central.

A brief mention in the March 15, 1880 issue of the  Galena Daily Gazette provides a Colorado connection:  “E. W. K. Pierce, the artist, has sold out his Des Moines establishment, and has started a general store in Gunnison City,  Col.”  He could have then resided in Greeley between 1883 and 1885, and then moved on to Los Angeles.  Edward W. Pierce died on September 4, 1888 in California and is buried at Napa County’s Tulocay Cemetery.

What do you think of this theory?

Miranda Todd, Archives Assistant, City of Greeley Museums scanned the two images from the Greeley Museums and provided research assistance.  Beverly W. Brannan, former curator of photography at the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, proofread this post.

 

Mrs. E. A. Masters, An Early Fort Collins Photographer

Eliza Ann Whitney was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire in November 1832. Her first husband, John B. Hammatt, died in 1854.  On January 1, 1856 Eliza  married George H. Chandler in Montague, Massachusetts.  This union ended in divorce.  Her third marriage took place on December 20, 1869 in Johnson County, Iowa to photographer, William H. Masters. Undoubtably, Eliza learned photography from Masters.

The couple resided in Denver, Colorado in 1873, where William Masters operated a photo studio at 372 Larimer Street.  Unfortunately, by the spring of 1874, the couple had split up.  Mrs. Masters moved to Fort Collins and established one of the city’s first photo studios. Her husband filed for divorce in November 1875, citing willful desertion.  

Her decision to live in Fort Collins may have been prompted by plans to establish a telegraph line through the growing city.  Masters, an experienced telegraph operator, could combine occupations under one roof, with the likelihood of providing enough income to live on her own.

Right before opening her business, a horse and buggy accident left Mrs. Masters with a badly sprained ankle and several bruises.  The mishap occurred between Fort Collins and Denver when the horse was spooked, throwing Mrs. Masters from the carriage.  Masters spent two weeks convalescing in Greeley, Colorado.  

Mrs. E. A. Masters, photographer. Portrait of an unidentified child, albumen silver print on carte de visite mount, 1874-1876. History Colorado. Accession #95.200.1065.

By August 1874, Mrs. Master’s gallery was up and running.  A couple of weeks later, the telegraph office opened in her rooms and Masters offered to teach the telegraphy craft to others.  But running the two businesses did not bring financial success.  The local newspaper reported that money was tight and that Masters would accept ranch products in exchange for work.

Mrs. E. A. Masters, photographer. Portrait of Sadie Bosworth, albumen silver print on carte de visite mount, 1874-1876. Peter Palmquist collection of women in photography, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Masters moved to Greeley, Colorado by the summer of 1876, offering portraits, cartes de visite, large photographs and views of residences. She claimed she made a speciality of portraits of babies.  A couple of months later, she advertised her photographic work under the surname of her first husband, Mrs. E. A. Hammatt.

After her time in Greeley, Hammatt’s whereabouts are unknown until 1884, yet her close-up head and shoulders portrait of the ethereal-looking baby shown above may forecast her interest in the spirit world.  

cdv
Back of carte de visite. Peter Palmquist collection of women in photography, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Hammatt left the photographic field to pursue a decades-long interest in spiritualism.  Her family disapproved of this profession, and forced her into a California mental institution for several months.  Following her release, Hammatt traveled around the country giving lectures on spiritualism.  Her experience in the mental institution understandably left her with an enduring interest in assisting other spirit mediums.  She purchased land in San Diego County and planned to open a home for ill and retired mediums and orphaned children. 

Based in California, newspaper journalists described Hammatt “as a lady of striking appearance; she has a firm, resolute expression, and possesses high intellectual acquirements and is a very intelligent conversationalist.”  In 1886, she participated in Oakland, California’s Spiritualists’ Summer Assembly, occupying Tent No. 41. The Oakland tribune reported that  “She has a materializing cabinet inside of a protective rubber string room, which is one of the central attractions in the camp grounds.  This lady has a wide reputation in mediumship, and has given satisfaction to those who have tested her powers, and she claims to be giving entire new knowledge from the spirit world, which she is in possession of.  Mrs. Hammatt can be consulted at her tent until the close of the camp meetings.” 

Eliza Ann Hammatt died in California in 1908.   It is unknown if she was successful in opening her home for mediums.  

Thank you to Elisabeth Parker, former assistant chief, Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C., for  proof-reading this post.   Jori Johnson, Collections Access Coordinator, History Colorado  provided research assistance.  Keegan Martin, Digital Imaging Assistant, History Colorado and Naomi Saito at  The Beinecke Library provided the scans.

The William B. Coston Collection at the Wray Museum

Coston exhibit
William B. Coston exhibition, Wray Museum. Courtesy of the East Yuma County Historical Society, Wray Museum Collection.

One of the many exhibitions on display at the Wray Museum, on Colorado’s eastern plains, is devoted to the work of photographer  William B. Coston.  Coston carried on a photography business in Wray for decades.  The exhibition, comprised of copy prints made from Coston’s original prints and negatives, document the people and events of Wray, Colorado.

William “Will” B. Coston was born in the small farming community east of Skidmore, Missouri to Alonzo Coston and Ursula  Farris Coston on October 18, 1870.  The family lived on a 160 acre farm and operated a blacksmith shop.

Coston Family
Front: Alonzo and Ursula Coston Back: William Buford, Viola Belle and Semer Alonzo. Photo from http://www.cogenweb.com/yuma/photos/pioneer/CostonAM.htm

In March 1886, Alonzo Coston and his son, Will, loaded the family possessions, including farm implements and livestock, onto a boxcar and rode to Wray.  Will’s mother and two of his siblings waited for the pair to get settled before taking a passenger train to Colorado.  Alonzo resumed working as a blacksmith and Will set type for the local newspaper, The Wray Rattler.

Will met his future wife, Emma Grace Mason, at Wray’s Presbyterian church, where Grace played piano and Will sang in the choir.  The couple continued to engage in musical activities throughout their lives.  Grace offered piano lessons in the community and Will sang, played the cornet and served as bandmaster.

Will and Grace married in June 1894 and homesteaded north of Wray, practicing dry farming.  In an effort to find work during a drought in the late 1890s, the Coston’s moved to Greeley, Colorado.  It was there that Will Coston learned photography under Clark  M. Marsh.  He also learned the surveying trade.

William B. Coston’s cameras and posing chair. Courtesy of the East Yuma County Historical Society, Wray Museum Collection.

Around September 1, 1898, Coston opened his photography studio in Wray, dividing his time between the studio and his farm.  He made photographic portraits and also documented Wray’s businesses, celebrations, and farms.  Patrons came from western Kansas and Nebraska for portrait sittings.  Coston continued to be active as a photographer through the 1940s.

Chief St.
William B. Coston, photographer. Chief Street looking north, 1902. Courtesy of the East Yuma County Historical Society, Wray Museum Collection, photograph #213.539.4.

In 1910 Coston built a new one-story pressed red brick building for his studio.  The building measured 25 feet long and 70 feet long and included a large sky light, a modern portrait camera, a new  posing chair, and a shadow screen to direct light on the sitter.  He shared the building with The Peoples State Bank.

Sanborn map
Detail of Sanborn map, Wray, June 1912, Sheet 1; Coston studio at 309 S. Chief Street. Notice that there is another photo studio across the street at 334 S. Chief Street.

In late October 1922 a fire destroyed the Coston home when a kerosine lamp exploded.  The house was a complete loss and many of the photographer’s negatives were damaged in the blaze.   Over the years Will Coston pursued many occupations in addition to photography. He sold insurance, mined for gold and silver northwest of  Loveland, drilled for oil in Wyoming, operated the Olive Lake Resort, and held the position of Yuma County surveyor for several years.

Will Coston died on March 12, 1967 at the age of 96.  He was predeceased by his wife.  His remains rest in Grandview Cemetery, Wray, Colorado.

I am grateful to Ardith Hendrix, Director of the Wray Museum for her assistance during my visit and to The Peter Palmquist Memorial  Fund for Historical Photographic Research for providing funding for this research trip.  Thank you to Beverly W. Brannan, former curator of photography, Library of Congress, for proof-reading this post.