I’m now ready to write the first real blog in the series, since an introduction really doesn’t count. What image should I lead off with? I decided to start with one of my favorite photographs, a stereoview of early Fort Collins that allows some speculation and has some mystery.
Stereoviews were very popular in the late 1800s. These images were produced using a camera with two lenses mounted a few inches apart. The two similar, but slightly different images produce a three-dimensional effect when looked at through a viewer, a stereopticon. By the 1870s, photographers were traveling through the western mountains taking stereoviews that they sold individually or in sets. James William Shipler and his partner, Milton A. Williamson, were two of these traveling photographers.
Shipler got his photographic start in Denver, Colorado, and had a studio there by 1875. On June 19, 1877, the Denver Daily Times announced a big change for Shipler and Williamson; they had built a photographic wagon and “intend on going from [Denver] to Cheyenne, taking in Evans, Greeley, and Larimer [County] on the way.”
It made sense that Shipler would stop in Fort Collins. His older brother, Joseph Shipler lived here, in fact Joseph was Fort Collins’ first town clerk. And stop they did, taking this stereoview of our town.
As you can see, the edges of the card are chipped but, thankfully, the images aren’t impacted at all. The label, on the reverse side, gives us the photographers’ names, where the photo was taken, and the date, September 17, 1877, much more information than you find on most stereoviews.
Let’s go in closer, looking at just one side of the stereoview.
Sitting in the wagon is a woman and probably her two children. Standing on the far side of the wagon is another woman. Fort Collins wasn’t much in 1877. There seems to be a row of homes and a couple of commercial buildings in the background. There is a sign on a building, just above one of the horses, that is almost, but not quite readable. I have spent a lot of time in Photoshop in a vain effort to find out what it says.
Now we come to the big mystery. I have shared this image with a number of local history experts and no one can figure out where in the town this photograph was taken. Please “leave a reply” below, if you know. If you know someone who might help, please share the image with them.
Let’s go even closer.
Now you can clearly see the four people. I love the top hat on the little boy, at least I assume it is a boy. Also notice that the boy has the reins.
On the back of the stereoview, is a pencil note: “Amelia & Children.” Who was Amelia? James Shipler’s wife was named “Lizzie” and was back in Pennsylvania, so it isn’t her. The other obvious choice is Joe Shipler’s wife. Lesley Struc, our local history archivist, thinks Joe Shipler’s wife is a possible candidate.
Lesley found three names for Joe Shipler’s wife. Mrs. Shipler is shown as Alice in the 1880 census, Alsameda in the Find a Grave entry, and as Alameda in her obituary in the Fort Collins Courier on May 3, 1883. With this variety, Amelia could have been the name she used. Further, at the time of the photograph, she would have been 33, with a 10 to 11 year old son, Fred, and an 8 to 9 year old girl named Alice. All these ages and genders seem to fit for the family in the wagon.
I think it’s likely that Mrs. Shipler is Amelia. Now if I could just read that sign.
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