It was just after the Civil War when the first photographers set up a studio in Evansville. Mr. and Mrs. E. B. Rice advertised they would
photograph people and their residences, and their possessions.
Evansville had two photographers working in 1866. The Evansville Citizen newspaper noted the two men and their photography studios in
the August 1, 1866 issue. " Owen is always on hand for a good picture. Between him and neighbor Rice, judges must decide." None of
Rice's photographs have been discovered, and there are only a few photos demonstrating Owen's work.
Unidentified Owen Photographs
Owen advertised that he would do ivory types, ferrotypes, ambrotypes and photographs. To supplement his income he also offered a
lending library. Books were loaned at a fee of 10 cents each. Other products included card photographs at $1 a dozen and in one three
month period in 1870, Owen produced more than 7,000 pictures.
In 1868, G. C. Carleton took over Owen’s studio. Carleton was from Waukesha. The gallery was on East Main Street on the west side of
Allen’s Creek. Carleton did not stay long and in March 1870, Owen announced that he would only be in Evansville for only three months
more. He promised to sell his negatives to anyone who wanted them for a reasonable price.
Owen sold his gallery to George Staley in 1870. The following news item appeared in the June 15, 1870 Evansville Review, "Having
recently purchased the property known as the Owen Gallery, and given it a thorough repairing, I am prepared to do all kinds of work in the
photographic line. George Staley."
Staley was 35 years old when he started his photography business in Evansville. One of his first pictures was of the new public school built
just a year earlier. He gave the picture to the editor of the Review to hang in his office.
George Staley renovated Owen's gallery and advertised that he would specialize in pictures of children. He promised "a perfect likeness in
every instance". The new photographer gave a very interesting set of instructions for those who wanted their pictures taken.
In 1873, Staley began to train George Jenkins of Newport, N.J. in the art of photography and sold the business to him. All persons who
owed money to Staley were asked to pay him before he moved on to Venton, Iowa where he had bought another photography business. He
hoped for a fresh start in this newly opened land further west.
Jenkins took photos called chromos and stereoscopic views. The stereoscopic views were two identical photos placed side by side on a
card. The card was placed in a stereoscopic viewer that gave the photo a 3 dimensional effect.
When he first came to Evansville George I. Jenkins' studio was on the second floor of Dr. Evan's drug store at the southeast corner of Main
and Madison Streets. He hired Mattie Babcock, a talented local artist to touch up the negatives. The retouched pictures sold for $3.00 per
dozen and untouched photos sold for $2.25 per dozen. In 1874, his studio was at the "Foot of Main St. at the first door west of the bridge"
This would have been the location of Owen's first studio.
Although many photographers of the time advertised themselves as artists, the photographs were often retouched by other artists hired by
the photographer to enhance the quality of the photo. Many artists also used photographs as an aid to creating portraits.
Jenkins stayed in business less than 6 months and by June of 1873, he rented his gallery to Fred Eldridge and moved on. Eldridge
remodeled the studio over the drug store and took more than 2,000 photographs. Three years later, when he had decided to pursue the
study of theology in Chicago, he sold all of his photography equipment to E. N. Shaw. Shaw claimed to be an artistic photographer and
In 1875, Theodore Robinson, began to advertise that he would do crayon portraits from photographs. Young Theodore had always shown
great skill in art work and after he finished his school work at the Seminary, he began to earn his living making crayon portraits in
Janesville, Madison and Evansville.
Even after he went to school in Chicago and later in New York, he arranged to do portrait work for local people when he came home on
vacation. The cost was $10 for a 20 x 24 inch portrait. Smaller sizes were proportionally less.
In August 1875, Robinson had decided to leave for Europe to pursue his study in art and he asked anyone wanting a crayon portrait to
contact him immediately. He did not return to Evansville until 1879 but when he did, Robinson once again advertised that he would do
However, this time he also offered oil portraits as well as the crayon drawings. Robinson's advertising requested that "All wanting work done
in crayon or in oil, please leave orders immediately, I am leaving January 1, 1880". Robinson became a internationally known impressionist
artist, whose work hung in the galleries of many of the finest galleries in the United States and Europe. Those who had his original works
Fred Eldridge was a photographer for a short time in Evansville until in 1876, he decided to pursue a career in the ministry. In August
1876, he sold his photography equipment and moved to Chicago to attend a theological seminary.
A. R. McKinney opened a new photography studio in the building he built at 13 South Madison Street in 1876. The building of this new
gallery added significantly to the commercial buildings in Evansville.
The original photography studio near the depot had been sold to L. H. Cook in the late 1870s. He continued to serve as a minister and
filled in at local churches when had an opportunity. The following article appeared in the Evansville Review in December 1878. "Rev. Mr.
Cook of Second Advent persuasion, as we understand, occupied the M. E. pulpit, Sunday evening. Mr. Cook is a photographic artist, and
works at that business, near the bridge."
He took stereoscopic views of Main Street from the drug store corner looking east. Cook photographed the interior of the drug store. He
also photographed houses and created stereoscopic views which he sold for 15 cents each.
George Wise bought out Mr. McKinney's photograph business in 1882 and he moved to Evansville from Stoughton. Doctors and other
businessmen began to have photographs made to hand out as business cards to their customers.
Wise expanded his knowledge of photography by attending national conventions. In 1884, he closed his studio for two weeks while he went
to the Photograph convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. He advertised the latest techniques including instantaneous negatives. The new process
made it possible for Wise to take pictures of "nervous subjects, weak eyes, light or dark complexions".
Wise stayed in Evansville until 1885 when he sold his business to Ferris Beals in 1885. Wise continued to encourage Evansville customers
to use his Janesville studio.
Beals advertised himself as an "Artistic Photographer". Beals' major contribution to the photographic history of Evansville were his group
pictures. He took pictures of the Baker machine shop employees, the six Spencer brothers who had located in Evansville, Benjamin Hoxie's
family, and the Sawin family during a reunion. He also completed photographs of the community band in full uniform, family reunions, and
veterans groups between 1885 and 1889 when Beals sold his studio and went to Elgin, Illinois to open a new photography business.
First Row left to right:
C. W. Backenstoe, George L. Pullen, W. A. Narracong, J. W. Fiedlier, J. Frantz, C. J. Jenkins, J. P. Porter, P.
Second Row left to right:
N. A. Reed, J. F. Emery, W. O. Narracong, F. W. Tolles, F. Van Wart, Fred G. Wilder
Farmers were often so proud of their pure-bred livestock that they hired Beals take pictures of their animals. N. N. Palmer of Spring Valley
hired Beals to photograph three of his cows, Dean's Glory, Badger Girl, and a bull named "God of St. Lambert."
Beals sold his studio in the red brick building at 11 South Madison to one of Evansville's best known photographers, Elmer Combs in 1889.
Combs purchased 10,000 glass negatives that had belonged to Beals and Wise.
Combs had competition from Evansville's first woman photographer, Hattie Spencer, who had opened a studio in 1887. Her father, George,
had purchased a house on North Madison Street and remodeled the second floor of the house into a studio for his daughter.
Hattie married William Metcalf in 1878 but the marriage was short-lived. When she divorced her husband, she took back her maiden name.
Her only son, Lloyd, born the year after her marriage, also used the name Spencer. Her brother, George, who was a physician, dabbled in
photography as a hobby.
Hattie Spencer took many photographs over the years, including pictures of Evansville's circus operated by George W. Hall and his
descendents. She also photographed many of the Seminary classes. When her son was old enough to attend the University of Wisconsin,
she moved to Madison and continued photography work there. Lloyd Spencer died in 1905 and Hattie died in 1917. She was buried in
Maple Hill cemetery.
After Hattie moved to Madison, Elmer Combs became Evansville's only professional photographer. Combs was probably the most
aggressive salesman of all the photographers who had worked in Evansville. He made post cards, picture buttons, folders of city buildings,
stamps, medallions and other novelties. He had a catalog of his work printed and sent to his customers.
The photo buttons Combs turns out are beauties. The fad of wearing a button with a picture of yourself, or one of your family is becoming
more and more popular, and you should be in line with the rest. Photos of buildings, society emblems, pets, etc. placed on buttons in first-
class style and at very little cost, read one of Combs' ads in the late 1890s.
He also sold amateur photography supplies, as did the drug stores. Many of the early cameras used glass plates and he advertised
cameras, plates, paper, and other supplies for hobbyists. If you purchased film from Combs, he would make one print from each exposure
at no cost.
In 1893, Combs built his own studio on North Madison Street.
Some of his most difficult work was photographing the animals from the Hall circuses.
Photographs of children were a specialty advertised by Combs.
Occasionally Combs had competition from itinerant photographers. In November 1908, one team, Mr. and Mrs. Van Brintnall, set up shop
in the upper floor of the Baker Building at 101 East Main Street and advertised penny photographs.
It was Combs' innovation and imagination that kept his customers coming back. During the 47 years that he was in business, Combs
produced more than one million photographs from some 86,000 negatives.
Combs went out of business in 1936 and the Hauser Studios of Janesville opened a branch studio in Evansville. Two years later, they hired
A. A. Kaltenborn to be their manager and Kaltenborn purchased the studio at 12 East Main in 1939.
One of the first promotions Kaltenborn ran after purchasing the business was a baby picture contest sponsored by various businesses,
including the Evansville Review. The judging of the contest took place at the Magee theater.
Children under 5 years old were eligible and Kaltenborn made the pictures free of charge, expecting that parents and relatives would want
to purchase prints. He made slides of the 125 entries and showed the pictures on the big screen at the theater during the judging. The
winners were Sue Anderson, Ronald Nelson, Elizabeth McKenzie, Beth Elaine Kauth, Nancy Rasmussen, Buddy Meredith, Jack Covert, and
Betty McCaffrey. Over the years that Kaltenborn was in business, he photographed many more children, high school graduates, brides,
One of the last professional photographers to work in Evansville was Don Every who opened a studio in the McKinney block in November
1939. He had operated his photography business out of his home. At his new location, the business was called Every's News and Photo
Service. He did photography for newspapers as well as portraits. He also sold amateur camera supplies at his studio.
Every formed a camera club to encourage and teach amateur photographers and opened his dark room for demonstrations. He showed
Eastman films and slides on photography techniques and encouraged members to bring in photographs they had done.
Over the years, the Evansville's professional photographers have created a wealth of photographic history of the buildings, people, and
landscape of the city.
Many of the early photographs are easily dated because the photographers stayed in Evansville such a short period of time. The later
artists, Combs, Kaltenborn and Every took many pictures, over many years, making exact dates of photos harder to determine.
Only three of Owen's
photographs are in the
archives of the Eager
Free Public Library.
They are of unidentified
people, a young girl and
two women. On the back
of each photo is Owen's
name and "Evansville,
Wis." The earliest date
is March 11, 1868.
Reverse side of
The Owen Gallery was leased to A. R.
McKinney in January 1867, and the
operation continued to operate under the
name of W. H. Owen.
Within two years, Owen had once
again leased his studio "at the
foot of Main Street" In 1868, G. C.
Carleton opened a photography
studio in Owen's old studio. He
later took in S. M. Taylor as a
partner. Carleton sold his interest
in the business to Taylor in 1870
and the advertisements told the
public that Taylor could create
beautiful "life size solar
photographs". He also made
frames for his customers.
"If you come the next morning after
being out nearly all night at a party, no
matter how pleasant an expression you
may assume, tell-tale photography will
peep out in your photograph. If you
wet or oil the hair too much it will make
a gloss on it that will appear white in
the picture. Do not try to be anything
but yourself. Children should be
brought on bright, clear days."
Another Jenkins ad, December 15, 1874
One stereoscopic view created by
Cook survives as evidence of his work
in Evansville. Like a previous
photographer, Cook also decided to
become a minister and left Evansville
to take over as pastor of a Green
County church in 1879.
Wise photo of
Dr. George Spencer
Reprinted in July 1, 1874,
Wise advertisement, March 27, 1885,
July 14, 1885, Janesville Gazette
article republished in the Evansville
Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
Unidentified Beals photos
Richard Reese Family photo by Beals
Back Row: Lucinda Finn Reese, Ada Reese
Front Row, Louis, Richard, Charles, William
Advertising on the
back of Comb's
Hattie Spencer's father,
George Spencer and
Hattie's son, Lloyd Spencer
Combs advertisement 1892
FOR MORE SAMPLES OF BEALS
PHOTOGRAPHS, CLICK ON THE LINK
November 25, 1908, The
Enterprise and The Tribune, p.
1, col. 7, Evansville, Wisconsin
Evansville Review, p. 4, col. 2, May 21,
1886, Evansville, Wisconsin
|Don Every with his son Don ca. 1945