Below is a scan of a photograph of two cowboys, probably in Fort Collins around 1891. This first scan shows the full photograph, reproduced as close as possible to what the image looks like if you held it in your hand.
This photograph is a cabinet card, popular in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Cabinet cards consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a larger piece of stiff cardstock. The most common cabinet cards were used for portraits and normally measured 4 ¼ by 6 ½ inches – just the right size to be displayed on or in a cabinet.
Larger sizes were often used for landscape or cityscape photographs. This card measures 4 ½ by 8 inches, though as you can see in the image, it has been trimmed on the top and bottom, probably to fit into a photo album.
Here are two scans of the card after building up the contrast in Photoshop. The second scan shows a close up of the building on the right side of the photograph. Notice the missing boards in the porch roof.
The buildings in the photograph are probably long gone. The one on the right side has great trim but it looks like it was deteriorating. The only real clue to the location of the photograph is a label on the reverse side. Here is the label.
Most cabinet cards showed the name of the photographer. Unfortunately, the trimming of this card probably cut off the photographer’s name, though it is easy to read “Fort Collins, Colo, on the right side and what looks like “Linden St.,” on the left side. There were very few photographers in Fort Collins in the late 1800s and the only one who I know had a studio on Linden Street was Stephen Seckner. I did a post on Seckner a few months ago. You can see it by clicking here. That post included this image of Seckner.
As you can see, the image matches very closely to the one on this cabinet card. Seckner took this photograph. Seckner may have taken the photograph outside of Fort Collins but, usually, early photographers stayed pretty close to home. In fact, if forced to bet, I’d bet this image was taken right on Linden Street, though we’ll probably never know.
While the location is impossible to know, we can date the image using what we know of Seckner and from the trim used on the cabinet card. Seckner advertised in the local newspapers and in May, 1891 he mentioned that he had moved his studio to 216 Linden Street. He was there until he moved to Walnut Street in 1905. At the same time, the gold trim used on the edges of this cabinet card was used for a fairly limited time, from around the mid 1880s to just after 1890. All of this would seem to indicate that this image was probably taken just as Seckner moved to Linden Street, circa 1891.
Finally, let me mention the two names shown on the front of the card – Ed Howard (probably the older man on the left) and Billie Allen (probably the younger man on the right). Searching the local newspapers of the time, I can find both names showing up in articles from as early as 1888 to as late as 1901. Unfortunately, the names are so common that I’m not sure they refer to the men shown in this photograph. In my dreams, I would have found a long article about Seckner taking the photograph of these two men, including a great back story, but no such luck.
If you have any information on this photograph or the men, I’d love to hear from you. You can respond by using the Comment box below or emailing me at email@example.com.
Stephen H. Seckner’s arrival in Fort Collins was mentioned in the July 15, 1880, Larimer County Express. He had arrived from Portland, Michigan, accompanied by his brother, H. D. Seckner. The July 15, 1880, Fort Collins Courier said the Seckner Brothers were inviting “one and all to step in and examine their stock of groceries, their prices, [and] their style of doing business.” Stephen Seckner ran the grocery for years, even after he became a photographer. But let’s back up a little.
Stephen H. Seckner was born January 27, 1847, in Lewis County, New York. His father, John, was a farmer. Seckner was 16 years old when he enlisted with Company K, New York 5th Heavy Artillery Regiment. He mustered out on in 1865 as a corporal. By 1870, Seckner was living in Michigan, where in 1873 he met and married Ida Ayres. They stayed together until Stephen Seckner’s death in 1923.
Seckner’s Fort Collins’ grocery business was quite successful and by 1883, he had his own building on Linden Street. How Seckner got into photography and exactly when he started taking photographs isn’t clear, but in the 1885 Fort Collins City Directory, Seckner is listed as both a grocer and a photographer, probably as a partner with Edward F. Bunn.
Bunn is one of my favorite Fort Collins photographers and I’ll do a post on him sometime in the future. For now, suffice it to say that Bunn arrived in Fort Collins in around 1885 and he and Seckner began working together immediately. Below is one of the Fort Collins’ images that they produced during their partnership.
Two of Fort Collins top historians, Rheba Massey and Wayne Sundberg, were nice enough to trace the location of this great, ivy-covered house. It was located off of South Mason Street on an unnamed alley, with part of the original Larimer County Courthouse shown in the background. The house shows up on some of the early Sanborn Fire Maps. Below is a portion of the 1891 Sanborn Map, with a red arrow pointing to the dwelling, courtesy of Lesley Struc and the Fort Collins Archive.
The house is gone now and, I think, a parking lot is in its place.
Seckner and Bunn mostly produced cabinet cards, thin photographs mounted on a hard card stock, usually 4 ¾ by 6 ½ inches. These cards frequently identified the name of the photography studio, either on the bottom of the card or on the reverse side. I’ve shown the complete studio identification in the captions of the photographs.
The larger size of cabinet cards made them more attractive to customers and by the 1880s; they were the preferred photographic format, especially for portraits. Here is another building the duo photographed, which, according to a handwritten caption on the back, is “Mrs. Robinson’s house.”
During this period, having your house photographed was a big thing. Residents tended to showcase the things they prized most. Mrs. Robinson apparently loved her white horse and her lawn sprinkler. Here is a close up of the family group.
Hopefully, you can see that the young man, holding this horse, also has a rifle leaning against his leg and that the family cat is on the table in front of the woman in white.
Many local history buffs have tried unsuccessfully to identify the location of this house. Mrs. Robinson might be the wife of then Larimer County Judge Thomas M. Robinson. If that is correct, their home might have been at Remington and Olive Street. A society announcement from this period mentioned the intersection as a location for the Judge’s home. Of course, Robinson is a common name. If you have a thought on the location of Mrs. Robinson’s home, please let me know by commenting at the end of this post or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On July 24, 1890, the Fort Collins Courier ran a short article on the partners. Seckner and Bunn had purchased an existing photographic studio and were now in position “to take first class ‘shadows’ of persons and things animate and inanimate.” But by early 1891 the partnership had dissolved and the Seckner and Bunn were running competing photographic studios. By the end of May 1891, Seckner was advertising that the “best arranged gallery in the state north of Denver [was] open to the public.” It used the second floor of his grocery store at 216 Linden Street.
While buildings interest me much more than portraits, portraits were (and probably still are) the bread and butter of photographers. Seckner was no exception. Seckner’s early portraits were simplified by turning the backgrounds almost white and by putting a vignette around the subject. It certainly made the person the subject of the photograph. I have a number of Seckner’s portraits in this style. I’ve chosen the one shown below because I was able to find something about the subject, Adolph Anderson, in the Colorado Historic Newspapers.
Adolph Anderson, a transplant from Sweden, is shown as a farmer in census records. His plot was small for a farm, only 15 acres. Anderson called it a garden but he ran it very efficiently. The July 26, 1894, Fort Collins Courier ran this article on our Swedish farmer.
“Six years ago Adolph Anderson came to Colorado fresh from the snow clad hillsides of Sweden. When he got off the train in Fort Collins his pocket contained ten double eagles which embraced the sum total of his worldly wealth. He secured employment right away as a farm hand and stuck to his job for two years.
“In the fall of 1890 he bought 15 acres of garden and grassland from W. F. Watrous for $1,000. With the money he had accumulated he purchased a team of horses, harness and wagon, an outfit of garden tools and a year’s supply of provisions. He went to work and fitted up ten acres of his land for gardening, keeping the other five for meadows and pastures.
“Every year since then he has harvested and sold from his ten acre patch, $1,200 to $1,500 worth of onions, cabbages and potatoes. . . . He also has a small catch of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, besides a few fruit trees that will soon come into bearing. He is a worker from the word go and hires but little help. He has made and is making market gardening pay in Colorado.”
By 1898, Seckner was out of the grocery business and, in 1905, Seckner opened a new studio at 317 Walnut Street, in the rear of the Frank Miller block. Seckner’s photographs were used in a number of projects, including in articles H. A. Crafts in Harper’s Magazine and Scientific American in 1897 and 1899. I shared those images in a post entitled “Building the Skyline Ditch.” You can see that post by clicking here.
But Seckner was an artist as well as a photographer. One of the earliest mentions of him in the Fort Collins newspapers reported on his “nice pen drawings.” In 1880, he had a pen and ink drawing of James Garfield displayed in the post office. In 1891, Seckner’s crayon drawing of General Sherman was used in a local memorial service and the local newspaper even praised the blackboard drawings he made to “elucidate” his Sunday school lessons. Often, Seckner tried to raise his photography to art as you can see in the following portrait.
Gone are the simplified portraits, replaced by involved studio settings. The parents of these children were H. C. and Josephine Covington. H. C. had numerous exploits reported in the local newspapers, including this one from the April 24, 1890, Fort Collins Courier.
“H. C. Covington successfully performed the daring feat of roping a wildcat while riding the range last week. The beast was discovered while hunting and finding that safety in retreat could not be depended on, assumed a defiant attitude and showed fight. A deft cast of the lariat caught the cat at a disadvantage and Covington then proceeded to secure his prize in a novel manner. Untying his overcoat from the saddle, he thrust a sleeve over the cat’s head and drew it over the animal as one would an arm. It was a tight fit, but after a chapter or two of angry growls the victim settled down in his incommodious quarters and gave up the balance of the day to a trip with Mr. Covington. At the ranch the menagerie attraction was emptied into a cage, apparently none the worse for wear.”
Seckner actively took photographs in Fort Collins at least until September, 1911. In the 25 or so years that Seckner worked as a photographer in Fort Collins, he must have taken thousands, if not tens of thousands, of photographs of Fort Collins and its people.
In 1920, Seckner and his wife moved to San Diego, California, and a year later to Spokane, Washington. On January 24, 1923, the Fort Collins Courier ran his obituary under the headline “Stephen E. Seckner Dies Suddenly at Spokane, Wash.” His body was coming back home to Fort Collins for the funeral and burial.
Below is an iconic view of Colorado Agricultural College, now CSU, taken circa 1887. Unlike the last two images I’ve posted, many of you have probably seen this image. It has been used in a number of local histories, including Fort Collins: Then & Now written by Barbara Fleming and me and Democracy’s College in the Centennial State: A History of Colorado University written by James E. Hansen II. I hope this post can tell you some things you didn’t know about the image and, even if it doesn’t, it is still a phenomenal image.
When I decided to post this image, I approached the CSU Archives for help in identifying the buildings. Victoria Lopez-Terrill, Librarian and Assistant to the Coordinator, at the Archives and Special Collections, an always helpful resource, sent me to Gordon “Hap” Hazard. Many of you may know Hap, he is a History Researcher at the CSU Archives, and, by chance, was also investigating this image. Hap knew the buildings and had a wealth of information on the setting of the photograph. Together, Hap’s knowledge of the campus and the buildings and my knowledge of the photographers allowed us to establish a date for the photograph that we think is right, plus or minus a few years.
First, let’s look at the photographers.
This photograph is a cabinet card. Cabinet cards are photographic prints mounted on card stock, which made the prints stronger and more durable than the photographic print alone. They came to be called “cabinet cards,” because they could be easily propped up and displayed in a home, especially in a cabinet in the parlor. Eventually large albums were made to hold the cards, which soon became a staple in almost every home in the United States. They were introduced in the 1860s and reached their peak of popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.
They are big photographs, typically 4 ½ x 6 ½ inches, though this one is bigger, about 5 x 8 inches over all, though the image itself is slightly smaller. Often, cabinet cards had room on the front for the photographers name but on this card, the information is printed on the back.
Edward F. Bunn and Stephen H. Seckner both began photographing in Fort Collins around 1885. Exactly when they became partners is harder to know. A Fort Collins Courier article dated July 24, 1890 says the two men had just purchased an existing photographic studio together but they could have been working as partners before then. A newspaper advertisement in January 1891 indicates that Seckner was working by himself, which gives us an end date for the partnership.
Looking at the date of the photograph just from the point of view of the photographers, gives us a range of 1885 to 1891. This date span corresponds well when Hap compares the buildings in the photograph to the early construction history at CAC. Both lead us to think that circa 1887 is a reasonable date estimate for this image. Now let’s move on to the location of the photograph and the buildings in the image, using Hap’s knowledge of CAC’s history.
This image was probably taken on South College Avenue, close to where the South College Gymnasium and Glenn Morris Field House are located today. The buildings are labeled in the slight enlargement shown above. Below are two enlargements that show the buildings better, along with a little information about them.
Just for fun, I have cropped this image to match the section Dr. Hansen used in Democracy’s College. The images shows Old Main on the left and the Dormitory Building, which we now know as Spruce Hall, on the right.
Old Main, the first classroom building on the campus, was opened in 1879. Old Main was all-purpose, with classrooms, offices, and living quarters for the college’s first president. Almost a century and several additions later, the rambling building was destroyed by fire, deliberately set during a period of student unrest in the 1970s. I’ll do two posts in the future on Old Main, one showing some early images of the building and a second to share a number of photographs of the fire that destroyed this College and community landmark.
Early in its history, CAC was having trouble growing its student population. It was hoped that adding a dormitory for out of town students would help the school grow. The Dormitory Building was constructed in 1881. It has served several purposes since then and was renamed Spruce Hall. Spruce Hall is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Click “CSU’s Spruce Hall” for an earlier article and photos I have posted on this building.
The Barn, shown on the left side of this image, probably has the most complicated history. The barn was built in 1882, for the veterinary program, and converted into a chemistry laboratory a year or so later. Since then it has served various purposes, including becoming the school’s first freestanding library in 1905. We now know it as Laurel Hall, home of the Office of International Programs.
The building on the right side of the enlargement is the Mechanics Shop built in 1883. It was the first stage of four stages that would form the Mechanical Engineering Building or what is now known as the Preconstruction Center. The building is on the Colorado State Registry of Historic Properties. I’ve also done an earlier post on this building and you can see more photographs and get more information by clicking “Mechanical Engineering Building.”
Finally, I tried to guess where this photograph was taken and I’ll end by showing a “Now” image from the spot I chose on South College Avenue. The neighborhood certainly has changed since 1887.
Next, I will post two great images only related by being taken in 1911 – the Fort Collins Telephone Exchange and the start of a July 4th motorcycle race. I will try to post one on Wednesday or Thursday and the second image on Sunday. I hope you enjoy them.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page can click the “Colorado State University” category to see the rest of my CSU posts.