Mark Miller was the dominant photographer of 20th century Fort Collins. He ran a studio at 146 South College Avenue from 1914 until his death in 1970. The Fort Collins Archive has over 70,000 of his photographs, mostly portraits, which were the bread-and-butter of small town photographers, but also images of the town and the Poudre Canyon. He was also the subject of the first book Barbara Fleming and I did for Arcadia Publishing – Fort Collins: The Miller Photographs.
One of the joys of doing local history books is the chance to talk to some of the principals and hear their stories first hand. In this case, we were lucky enough to interview two of Mark Miller’s children, Beth Miller Schieck and John Miller. They shared stories of their father and of their life in Fort Collins. They also shared their family photo album, images taken by their father and lovingly arranged by their mother, Effie Hall Miller. Beth and John allowed us to scan the photographs and encouraged us to use them in our book and to share them with the town they love.
Thanks to the generosity of Beth and John, here is a peek into one family’s life in early 20th century Fort Collins.
Miller started working at H. C. Bradley’s Fort Collins photography studio during high school. With that experience and knowledge in hand, Miller opened his own studio in Longmont, Colorado in 1912. He was 20-years old.
About the same time, Miller met Effie Hall at the Longmont First Episcopal Church. After a brief courtship, they were married on January 1, 1913. Their marriage is the starting point for their family album and this photograph is one of a series of the young couple shortly after their wedding.
Many of the images in the family album are of their four children growing up but in the early pages, Effie was Miller’s favorite subject and, as this composite of three images shows, Effie loved hats.
The center image is special. It shows Effie in her wedding clothes. The caption called them her wedding “trigs,” an old word meaning “sharp” or “neat.” Certainly her pointy hat fits the description.
Miller’s Longmont studio was probably in the front rooms of the young couples’ house at 438 Collyer Street. As I remember, I checked when we wrote the Miller book and this house no longer existed.
You can see Miller helping a customer at the counter, while a large studio camera is visible to the right. His photographs – mostly portraits – decorate the walls and glass cabinets.
In 1914, Miller was given the opportunity to take over the Fort Collins’ photography studio owned by H. C. Bradley. Bradley had given Miller his start in photography, when Miller was in high school. Now Bradley was involved with automobiles and happy to turn his studio over to Miller. The Longmont paper reported on May 29, 1914 that Miller was in Fort Collins purchasing a studio.
Now the Miller Studio, it was located on the second floor of 146 South College Avenue, the small building sandwiched in this photograph between the Alpert Building and Clammer’s Grocery. The entrance was a staircase on the right side of the building. While not in the Miller Family Album, this image is a crop from a real photo postcard taken by Miller in the late 1920s. The building that housed the Miller Studio still exists, with the White Balcony at street level and, I think, apartments above.
Just as in Longmont, their home was part of the studio, very typical of mom-and-pop businesses at that time. Miller was the photographer, while Effie ran the front counter during busy times. Their business was successful from the start but, with a baby on the way, the small apartment was unworkable. They needed a separate home and they found one at 315 Whedbee Street.
The Miller’s moved into the Whedbee home in 1914 and lived there the rest of their lives. Like the other homes in the area, the lot was deep, leaving room for a big garden. Happily, the house was only two doors away from the Amos Miller home, making it convenient for grandmother Mary Miller to take care of the growing family when Effie was needed at the studio.
At some point, the family remodeled the home. Unfortunately, the image isn’t dated. The shed that you see on the right side of the remodeled house was used to store older negatives from Miller’s growing business. Today, the house looks much the same.
John Miller worked as a photographer with his father before John moved to Pennsylvania and opened his own studio there. He told us a number of stories about the local photographers in Fort Collins. The photographers were as much friends as rivals. They helped each other with supplies, shared the taking of school photographs, and often met to discuss new techniques and technology. They formed the Northern Colorado Photographer’s Association and the Miller Family Album contains a number of images of the Association’s family picnics. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on the organization. If you know something about this history of this organization, please let me know by using the comment box below.
Like any family album, the Miller album is filled with casual pictures of their children, as well as professionally made family photographs like this one from 1925. The Millers had four children, all seen here with Effie. From left to right are Beth Elaine Miller (b. 1919), Mark Warner Miller (b. 1914), John Charles Miller (b. 1923), and Keith Miller (b. 1917).
Thursday’s post will conclude the Miller Family Album, with photographs of the things the family did for entertainment.