In 2018, the Oshawa Museum will be publishing a book focusing on the amazing collection of Henry family letters that were donated to the archives in 2013. One of the more prolific letter writers was Ebenezer Henry. Who was Ebenezer Henry?
Ebenzer Elijah Henry, or E.E., was the youngest of five boys born to Thomas and Betsey Henry. Sadly for the young family Betsey died on November 12, 1829 when Ebenezer was just one year old.
The death of Betsey left Thomas alone to care for five young boys aged 9 to 1. While a sister of Thomas’s came to help the family in their time of grief, Thomas knew that the boys would need a mother. Through series of letters, Thomas began courting a young woman from Port Hope, Lurenda Abbey. They were married on November 2, 1830 and Lurenda moved to Port Oshawa becoming mother to five young boys.
By all accounts, Ebenezer had a fairly typical childhood of the time period. Lurenda took to her new role as mother and raised the five boys as if they were her own. The family grew to include ten more children. They had a farm and a fruit orchard on which the boys would have been expected to work. Thomas and Betsey built a frame home where they started their family. Sometime around 1840, Thomas and Lurenda had the stone house that stands today, constructed for the family.
Along with his siblings, Eben’s education most likely began at the small log cabin school located in School Section #2 Cedardale. The school was located approximately 2.5 kilometres from the family home. It is unclear if Ebenezer attended high school. We know that Ebenezer attended Starkey Seminary, located in Eddytown, New York. In a letter written to his father, Ebenezer recounts returning to the Seminary and once again seeing his teacher, Professor Edward Chadwick. Prof. Chadwick became head of the Seminary in 1847, and Ebenezer attended the school sometime between 1847 and 1851.
It appears that during his time in New York State, Ebenezer met Harriet E. Mills. Harriet was living wither mother and step father and is listed as a student in the 1850 US federal census. While it is not yet clear if Harriet was a student at the Seminary, as it was approximately 23 kilimotres from the family home, it is clear that this is when Ebenezer met Harriet. Sometime between 1850 and 1852, the couple wed and moved back to East Whitby Township and settled in a frame house located close to his father’s home.
In around 1857, the couple left East Whitby Township and headed east to Port Hope, the hometown of his step-mother Lurenda. Once there, Ebenezer opened a photography studio. He not only created ambrotype photographs for his patrons, he could also produce copies of daguerreotypes, engravings, painted portraits and other such art work. The studio moved several times during his time in Port Hope, but it did appear to be a successful business venture.
In 1866, Ebenezer and Harriet moved from Port Hope to Leavenworth, Kansas where he once again opened a very successful photography studio. Even with the distance between them, Ebenezer maintained relationships with his family in Canada. The letters sent by Ebenezer to his father offer us a unique opportunity to learn more personal details about the family and provide glimpses into family dynamics. While Ebenezer would return to Canada to visit family, he made Leavenworth this home until his death February 7, 1915.
As the research for the upcoming publication continues, it has been pleasure to learn more the Henry family on a more personal level.
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.
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.
Hi there, it’s Emily again, and I’ve continued the transcribing of the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, which I mentioned in my previous post. Through the transcribing and digitizing I have looked at numerous very interesting pieces related to Thomas Henry, and the Henry Family. But there are two pieces in particular that stand out for me within this collection. One of which is a photograph taken by E.E. Henry, the son of Elder Thomas Henry. This photograph is titled a “Spirit Picture,” and contains the image of two men and one women, one of the men however is deceased, being “[b]orn again into the spirit life, July 20th, 1825.” The second piece from this collection that is very interesting is a correspondence letter, which was written by Thomas Henry, June 10th, 1873, and addressed to E.E. Henry. This letter is especially interesting because it is Thomas Henry’s response to the Spirit Picture sent to him by his son.
The elder Henry’s response to his son is a very interesting read after looking at the Spirit Picture, because being a Christian Minister, one could assume that Thomas Henry has very firm beliefs in regards to the spirit word. The correspondence letter sent to E.E. is strongly worded, long, and firm, scolding his son for taking part in what Thomas believes is unsavory activities. Thomas states in his letter, “I do not dispute but what the picture has been taken. It is not of god, in my humble opinion, But of the Divil[SIC], and show very clearly to me a falling away from God, and disbelieving his word.” Thomas Henry continues through his letter to argue to his son the abomination that is the Spirit Picture sent to him, and writes of the story of King Saul, Samuel, and the Medium at Endor.
The relationship between Thomas and E.E. Henry is very fascinating because after scolding his son through this letter, and yet Thomas ends is letter by writing, “you might have taken the old prophets picture, and now I would not wonder, but what Dr. Taylor and his medium might get a picture of some of your friends if so send me one.” In another unrelated letter from this collection E.E. writes to his father, “you well know you have left me out in the cold as it were, and I have had to paddle my own canoe for myself. You have as you say in your letter helped all the rest, but me, and now you tell me that I am the favorite. Well God knows I am glad and hope it is so.” It seems to me that parental approval was one of, if not the most important aspects of life for Victorians. And that the Spirit Picture may have been a way that E.E. was seeking that approval by showing to his father his work.
This collection has been fascinating to go through, and has helped me understand the Henry family, and Victorians, much more than I had before by the digitizing and transcribing of these letters and pictures.