The Oshawa Historical Society and the Leavenworth County Historical Society share a history and an interest in a gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Elijah Henry.
E.E. was the last of five sons born to Thomas and his first wife Betsey. His childhood was spent along the shore of Lake Ontario where the family lived and cared for their farm and orchard. As E.E. reached his late teens, he attended Starkey Seminary in New York State, and it was here that E.E. met his future wife Harriet. They married, lived briefly in a home close to Henry House before moving to Port Hope where E.E. opened his first photography studio. Photography appears to have been E.E.’s passion and one he took with him when he and Harriet moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. It is here that he began, unbeknownst to him, a photography collection that would document the growth of Kansas and showcase the people who called Leavenworth home.
We have been fortunate to create a partnership with the Leavenworth County Historical Society. This partnership will help both sites to better understand the life and impact of E.E. Henry. The following article showcases the hard work by their Historical Society to bring this collection home and to make use of it to learn more about their history.
Guest Post by: Mary Ann Brown, President of the Leavenworth County Historical Society
Museums around the world often count a historically significant photographic collection among their holdings. While sometimes taken for granted by the general population, as common place as they may seem, these collections offer an instantaneous window into history, many times without the need of accompanying commentary. Such artifacts will maintain their importance overtime and henceforth gain wider acclaim, appreciation, and recognition in their own particular time and place in history. It is not every day that a collection is uncovered that spans 100 years of a single town’s history, specifically from the early days of its founding and from work carried out by its pioneer photographers. What is even more significant is the that these images depict life in a western town, from which the United States border advanced. Before Kansas became a state, the western most border of the United States was the Missouri River and the infant town of Leavenworth became the First City of Kansas.
In 1998 the Leavenworth County Historical Society in Kansas acquired such a collection in the form of thousands of photographic negatives—glass plates, nitrates and safety film—representing the first century of Leavenworth history, from the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage (now known as “The Autry National Center”) in Los Angeles, California. That same year, nearly 4,000 negatives were acquired from David R. Phillips, photographer-collector of Chicago, Illinois, who had purchased the original collection from the Miss Everhard Photography Studio in Leavenworth upon her retirement in 1968, when her efforts to sell it locally were unsuccessful. Over Labor weekend, four tons of glass plate negatives were removed from Miss Everhard’s Leavenworth studio, loaded into a U-Haul van and transported to Chicago, Illinois. Comprised mostly of portraits, the collection represents the elite and founding fathers of Leavenworth, Kansas, the first city of Kansas and gateway to the West. In addition to the cross-section of the people of Leavenworth County, from the wealthy businessmen and society wives, to coal miners, Ft. Leavenworth soldiers, store clerks, and children, there are also photos of Leavenworth homes, the Old Soldiers’ Home, St. Mary College, storefronts, parades, and government buildings.
Miss Mary Everhard, for whom the collection is named, had purchased the studio of early Leavenworth photographer, Harrison Putney in 1922. This studio had been established in 1866 by E.E. Henry, for whom many of the older and later notable residents posed. Henry and step-son, Harrison Putney had produced thousands of photographic images over the years which Putney left with the studio. In 1940, another photography studio closed in Leavenworth, the city’s oldest, which had been opened by Richard Stevenson in 1858 and continued by his son, Harrison. Their negatives were left behind in the vacated studio so Miss Everhard added those to the Henry/Putney collection. While Phillips eventually sold portions of the collection to the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and other museums, he recognized the value, as did Miss Everhard and her predecessors, in not only preserving but sharing an amazing photographic record of a most historically significant town. Images made from these negatives are beyond compare. A debt of gratitude is owed Mr. Phillips for saving this wonderful collection of early Kansas history, for when Miss Everhard approached a Leavenworth banker in hopes of using it as her retirement fund, the banker laughed and suggested it was of no value and ought to be thrown into the muddy Missouri River!
In the summer of 2015, the LCHS launched a major campaign to bring back to Leavenworth the balance of the collection still held by Mr. Phillips. It consisted, in part, of the oldest studio portraits and a very rare collection of wet-plate stereonegatives. Mr. Phillips was finally convinced that these negatives needed to be back in Leavenworth. For nearly 50 years he had preserved and promoted the collection with exhibits, published articles, and books. This final piece of the original collection of Leavenworth history is considered the centerpiece of the entire collection and a national treasure. Several trips were made to Chicago to transport negatives back to Kansas as funds allowed. The museum also purchased from Mr. Phillips a 24” Epson printer to be able to make over-sized prints from the negatives for sale as a means of support for the museum.
Besides a general plea to the museum’s membership, town leaders were called upon to make generous donations. A dinner theatre fundraiser and kick-off breakfast were held early in the campaign. Grants were written to secure funding for exhibits of a selection of prints made by Mr. Phillips, news articles were written and a series of presentations were made locally explaining what a glass negative was and what effect the ownership of the collection would make on the museum and Leavenworth. Grants were also written to foundations, with little luck, and the campaign stalled.
The deadline to raise the necessary funds was set for December 31, 2016 and as it fast approached, the funds needed to acquire the collection were significantly short. In the fall of 2016, it was discovered that a Kansas City, Kansas resident had ancestral ties to Leavenworth—Mr. Henry Wollman Bloch. Now in his 90s, Mr. Bloch had founded successful and nationally recognized H & R Block, a tax preparation company and the H & R Block Foundation for his philanthropic work. Mr. Bloch’s ancestor was the Jonas Wollman family, early settlers in Leavenworth, owning and operating a clothing store in the early business district. The family later relocated to Kansas City and then New York City, where they became quite wealthy. Remembering his roots, Mr. Bloch sent a personal check to the museum right before Christmas (Hanukkah for him), to make up the shortfall, thereby officially ending the campaign and securing the balance of the collection.
Now the museum seeks to begin Phase II of the campaign—to raise the necessary funds to design, build, and maintain an annex, where this and other collections can be archivally stored and studied as we seek to become a research center for early Kansas history. The annex will be a carriage house style building, reminiscent of one that once stood on the property. Handicap facilities and accessibility, as well as parking, will also be included. An extension of the Victorian herb and heirloom gardens is also planned to incorporate the original Planters House Hotel steps from which Abraham Lincoln stood on his first and only visit to Kansas and Leavenworth in 1859.