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A LOOK BACK: Springville Photographers Preserving the Past

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By Jolene Hawkins

Looking back to all the wonderful, delightful photographs that we have in our archives, I’m sure you have some of your own in various photo albums and boxes that your aunts, uncles and grandparents kept and passed on to you.  You know the ones I am talking about— the ones where there is a person standing or sitting in front of a house, or a barn with a cat or dog next to it, and the only thing on the back is the name of the dog or cat, no date, no name of the person, no idea for sure where it is even taken or when, but it is your family…. or is it? Who took the pictures in the 1800s and 1900s?  You would go and have a photograph taken, or the photographer would come to your event and take photos for you.  Then in the late 1800s, there were ads for cameras where you to could take great photos yourself. And of forefathers sure did. They never thought that anyone would not know who they were.

In our little town alone, we had so many photographers over they years, and I want to share some of their history with you.From 1872 to 1889, Ann Pierce had a studio on the corner of Main and Buffalo Streets.  Her ad from 1875 says to bring the babies and little children on a bright day between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.  “You will be sure of a good picture!”

On the opposite corner from her photography studio, also on Main and Buffalo Streets, was the photography studio of S E Spaulding. Spaulding purchased the gallery and equipment of a former photographer here in town from M. Gaylord.  He was continuously involved in photography, having a studio on Main St. and later at his house, up until his death in 1923.  During the Civil War, he was in the 116th NY Vol. Company F as a drummer and later on, he played the horn with the brass band.  In time of battle, he would often be found assisting the wounded.  His first ads indicate that he did “Photographs, Ambrotype and Ferrotype” (the last two being tintypes). Spaulding was known to take photos at several family reunions.  He was very active in the GAR in Springville,  several other of the organizations of the town while taking photos. There were also Egdar Spaulding, Spedding, Cochran, Freeman, Van Ostman and the list goes on and on.

By 1894, Kodak was advertising for amateur and professional photographers to get their supplies from them.  Cameras ran $6-100.

Another ad in an 1898 newspaper says the Monroe folding pocket camera is available for $7.50.  It claimed to be the only pocket plate camera that takes a picture 3 ½ by 3 ½ inches.

By 1901, Brownie Cameras were only $1 … an ads claimed that “The Kodak we sell speaks a tongue known of all people.  The perfect Camera, adapted to all persons and places, all climates and conditions, yet so simple that a quite a little boy or girl may use it.”   Can you imagine, taking a photo, all the way to the end of the roll of film, taking it out in a darkened room, sending the film, or in some cases the film and camera, off to be developed.  Waiting several weeks before you get the package of photos back to see if the picture is blurry or not?  If you cropped off someone’s head?  In our day of cellphones taking photos and seeing an instant image, this would be mind boggling to our ancestors!

There are ways that you can date a photo by what the person is wearing, hairstyles, toys seen in the photo, backgrounds, or by when some of the photographers were in business.  Or at a family event, have the photos out and see if anyone can ID them.  Either way, the photographers of the past help us remember the past, by capturing our ancestors, or a train track as it is being built, or to see the storefront that they had, old cars, just a treasure trove of our past to be seen by us and those in the future.

Preserve yours, and if you want to come and see what we have at the Lucy Bensley Center. … maybe… just maybe … you can help us ID some of the great photos we have!

Lucy Bensley Center located at 23 North Buffalo Street in Springville is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.   And bring your photos for us to see!

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