Wellington O. Luke: From Pennsylvania to Colorado and Back Again

Wellington O. Luke was born in Bradford County, Pennsylvania on February 9, 1847.  He married Nancy “Nellie” E. Russell on September 7, 1869.  In the early 1870s, he operated a photography studio in Meshoppen, Pennsylvania.  In 1874, the Luke family moved to Colorado Springs.  He partnered with another Pennsylvanian, possibly his brother-in law, Bentley B. Russell.  They specialized in scenic stereoviews.  After his young wife’s death of  consumption in 1874 and his brother-in-law’s passing a few months later, W. O. Luke departed Colorado and set up a photo studio in Abilene, Kansas.  

W. O. Luke, photographer. [Ravine, Rocky Mountains]; 1870s; Albumen silver print; Getty Museum collection.
In Abilene, Luke managed a portrait studio and occasionally took his outfit on the road to neighboring communities.  In 186, he married Laura V. Chronister.  In 1879, Luke moved his studio into Putnam’s new block, outfitting his rooms with new furniture and backdrops.  However, a few months later, the Luke family, encouraged by Leadville, Colorado’s silver boom, moved west where Luke would continue his photo business.   

stereo prospectors
Luke & Wheeler, photographers. {Prospectors], 1879-1881. Albumen silver stereoview. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

In July 1879, Luke worked together with Danforth N. Wheeler as Luke & Wheeler, producing cabinet cards and stereoviews.  Their work included scenic views and local events, including former president U. S. Grant’s 1880 visit to Leadville, the hanging of two men, showing a large crowd of spectators, street scenes of Leadville, and miners and mining operations.  Luke and Wheeler maintained their partnership until December 1881.  

W. O. Luke, photographer. Flume for hydraulic mining near Leadville, Colo., between 1879-1892,  albumen silver print. Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, Z-14166.

In 1888, Luke and one of Colorado’s earliest photographers, Frank W. Grove, joined forces as Grove & Luke.  Their studio resided at 425 Harrison Street.

Luke worked in Leadville for more than twelve years.  Virginia Luke filed for divorce in November 1894, alleging non-support.  After their divorce, Luke left Leadville for New Castle, Colorado and later Arizona, where it has been reported that he made identification cards for Chinese people living in the U. S., as required by the Geary Act.  After a brief time in Auburn, California, Luke returned to Pennsylvania.  He spent the remainder of his photographic career in Wilkes-Barre, calling his business the San Francisco Studio.  Located in the Weitzenkorn building on Main Street, it was the only photo studio in the city with an elevator.  

Wellington O. Luke suffered a stroke and died on January 8, 1907. 

Thank you to Beverly W. Brannan, former curator of photography at the Library of Congress for proof reading this post.

Miss Julia Skolas: An Accomplished Colorado Photographer

March is Women’s History Month.  More than eighty women worked in Colorado’s photographic industry during the 19th century, as photographers, retouchers, colorists, and print mounters.  Biographical information about these women and examples of their work are often hard to find.

Earlier this year, I received a research grant from the The Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research that will allow me to travel to libraries and museums in distant Colorado locales to learn more about the photographers, both men and women, working in their communities.  I am very grateful for this support and will share my findings in this blog, so stayed tuned.

Julia Skolas
Charles A. Nast, photographer. Portrait of Julia Skolas, circa 1893. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, image no. 394-46.

Fortunately, Julia Skolas,  is one of the better known woman photographers in Colorado.  She was born to Norwegian immigrants in Wisconsin on May 14, 1863.  She grew up with her nine siblings on a farm outside Cottage Grove, WI, a short distance east of Madison.

In the early 1890s, single and about thirty years of age, she moved nearly one thousand miles from her family and home to Denver.  On December 31, 1892, she attended Denver’s annual Norwegian New Year’s Eve ball. (Rocky Mountain News, Jan. 1, 1893, p. 2, c. 1)  It is very likely that she was living in Denver at this time, but she doesn’t appear in the city directory until 1894, with no occupation listed.  Her relaxed and unconventional pose in the portrait by Charles A. Nast makes me wonder if perhaps she learned photography from him.  Nast operated at the 1624 Curtis Street address between 1891 and 1893, which matches the time Skolas arrived in Denver.  Unfortunately, no records exist to confirm my suspicions.

North Cheyenne Canon
Julia Skolas, photographer. North Cheyenne Canon, hand-colored photograph. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, image no. 394-17.

By 1896, Skolas lived in Colorado Springs, where she ran a photographic studio for a decade.  She was a member of the Monday Progress club, a women’s social and educational organization.  The members would give talks on current events and the arts.  The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jan. 29, 1905, p23) reported on  a debate about “Labor organizations,” with Mrs. C. L. Smith  of Manitou, taking the union side, Skolas, the non-union.  In 1903, at the club’s annual day-long picnic, held among the wildflowers in North Cheyenne Canon, “Miss Skolas…presented each guest with a puzzle, which proved to be a little sketch illustrating the name of the individual.” (Colorado Springs Gazette, June 28, 1903, p. 16, c.6)  She was also a founding member of the Colorado Springs Badger club, a group of ninety-one residents of the Springs who claimed Wisconsin as their former home.

Madonna and Child, Taber-Prang Art Company Illustrated Catalog, 1923, p. 162

In 1906, Skolas sold the copyright of her photograph “Madonna and Child” to the Tabor Prang Art Company, a well-known producer of art prints based in Springfield, MA.  Prang continued to offer this print for sale well into the 1920s.  Skolas submitted a several photographs to the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office between 1907 and 1912, but they do not appear in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  In 1911, James Alexander Semple, singled out Skolas for inclusion in his book Representative Women of Colorado.


In 1907, Skolas moved her business to the mining town of Cripple Creek.  She photographed the interiors and exteriors of mines extensively, even making and selling real photo postcards that were just gaining favor as souvenirs. She remained there until around 1920, leaving many of her glass plate negatives behind.

Julia Skolas, photographer. Elton Mine, circa 1908, gelatin silver postcard.Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, image no. 394-29.

In her sixties, Julia  moved temporarily to Madison, Wisconsin, but she was back in Denver by 1924, working  as a photographer. She placed the following advertisement in the January 18, 1925 Denver Post: “ONE 8 x 10 view camera, 1 8 x 10 portrait lens, cheap.  Skolas, Apt. 29 1/2 1720 Logan.” signaling the end of her photographic career.

In later years she worked as a milliner, candle maker, and in candy sales.  This list of careers may show how difficult it was for an older woman to make a living.  By 1931 she had returned to Madison, Wisconsin, where she lived until the end of her life.  She died of a heart condition on December 31, 1934, and is buried at the West Koshkonong Lutheran Church Cemetery, in Stoughton, Wisconsin.  

Additional resources:

See more Julia Skolas photographs online at the Pikes Peak Library.

Here’s a podcast that features information about Julia Skolas and a few other early Colorado women photographers.

Bathke, Nancy and Brenda Hawley.  “Searching for the Early Women Photographers of the Pikes Peak Region.”  in Film and Photography on the Front Range.  Colorado Springs:  Pikes Peak Library District, 2012.

Thank you to Beverly Brannan, recently retired curator of photography at the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, for editing 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














Where Was Gold Hill?


Acme Mine
Edward F. Bunn, photographer. Acme Mine, Gold Hill, Wyoming, albumen silver print, 1891, Denver Public Library, western History Collection, X-61518.

It seems like every western mining region has an area named Gold Hill.  For years, researchers have assumed that Edward F. Bunn’s 1891 photographs of Gold Hill were made in Boulder County, Colorado.  Today, a drive up the steep, unpaved road to Boulder’s Gold Hill reveals a landscape quite different from that seen in Bunn’s photographs.  And with a little digging (pun intended), we can now prove that Bunn’s Gold Hill photographs were not made in Colorado, but in southern Wyoming.  

Edward F. Bunn, circa 1900, Fort Collins History Connection.

Edward F. Bunn was born in July 1855, in Muskingum County, Ohio, to Elnathan  Raymond Bunn, Sr. (1817-1908) and his wife Dorcas Crumrin Bunn (1823-1882).  He was the fourth of six children, born into a farming family, an occupation that Edward himself would pursue in Missouri.  Edward even patented a cultivator in 1884. 

Edward married Mary Ann Dyer (1856-1940) in 1877 in Missouri.  The couple visited northern Colorado in March 1885, before moving to Fort Collins that June (Rocky Mountain News, March 13, 1885, p3, c1). Mary Ann’s mother and step-father, William T. Campton, and their two sons also lived in Fort Collins. 

It is not known when Edward Bunn learned photography.  In 1890 he and Stephen H. Seckner formed a  short-lived photography partnership.  The following year, Bunn worked alone, out of the old  stand he formerly shared with Seckner, as well as his horse-drawn photographic wagon.  While he did make portraits, Bunn enjoyed working outdoors and specialized in landscape views.  He also offered “one chance in a lifetime” to learn photography. (Loveland Reporter, February 26, 1891, p1,c2)

Edward F. Bunn, photographer. Edward F. Bunn’s photography wagon and tent, albumen silver print, 1891, Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, Z-3084.

Health concerns led Bunn to visit Wyoming’s rugged Medicine Bow Mountains in July 1891.  The timing was fortuitous, as gold had been discovered in the mountains the previous summer, but too late in the season to fairly assess the prospects.  Bunn arrived on the scene and found the miners at work.  He could not pass up the opportunity to make photographs, and  accepted an assignment from the Board of Trade to photograph the Gold Hill Camp and Battle Lake (The Saratoga Sun, July 14, 1891, page 3, column 2). 

The blog’s lead photograph shows a group of well-dressed men standing behind a pile of egg-sized ore nuggets from the Acme Mine and a log structure under under construction.  The mine operated double shifts, with plans to ship the ore to Omaha, Nebraska.  (The Wyoming Commonwealth, August 9, 1891, p2, c2)

The Saratoga region had seen brief bursts of activity briefly before.  Back in 1868, the area supplied railroad ties for the Union Pacific Railroad.  Bunn photographed one of the abandoned camps.

Edward F. Bunn, photographer. Coe & Carter’s Tie Camp, albumen silver print, 1891, Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, Z-5449.

Bunn planned on staying in the Saratoga area for about three weeks, but he spent at least an additional three weeks in the region.  He set up a temporary studio on the west side of town in late July and early August, making portraits of local citizens, charging $4.00 for popular cabinet-size portraits. (The Saratoga Sun, July 28, 1891, page 4, column 5). These portraits measured 4 x 5-1/2” and were mounted on heavy card stock.

The Platte Valley Lyre reported on July 30, 1891:  “E. F. Bunn, a photographer from Fort Collins, has taken a number of fine views of the Battle Lake country during the past week.  He has fifteen views in all, giving one a very clear idea of the beauty of this lake on the summit of the Sierra Madres and the magnificent scenery surrounding it.  We have seen quite a number of views of the lake, but none of them equaled those taken by Mr. Bunn.  He also visited Gold Hill, securing as many photos in that region, but his plates were accidentally injured.  He will therefore visit the camp again soon…” 

By the late 1890s, the Wyoming gold camps had petered out, as did Bunn’s photographic career.   The 1900 federal census lists Edward Bunn as a photographer at St. Cloud, north of Fort Collins.  A few years later, he moved to Collbran, Colorado, in Mesa County, where he had success as a dry farmer.  Over the years he grew wheat, Concord grapes and sweet corn.  He also did carpentry work, enlarging the photo studio of R. C. Phipps (The Plateau Voice, June 2, 1916, page 1, column 1).

Edward F. Bunn died on May 6, 1947.  He is buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery. 

Additional photographs by E. F. Bunn are available at the Denver Pubic Library’s website: https://digital.denverlibrary.org/digital/

An earlier version of this post appeared in Annuals of Wyoming: The Wyoming History Journal, v84, no. 4 (2014), p20-26.