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.
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.
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.
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.
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.