Imagine this: Salida in 1880 is just rooted. First Street is a dirt road into town, with wooden houses being built every day, and trains from Denver and Rio Grande chugging into Leadville. Commercial travelers get off the train and advertise their profession in the city’s freshly minted newspapers.
Some of these vendors were photographers, drawn by the attraction of the mountains and drawn by the city dwellers’ money. Messrs. Brumfield and Byers are opening what may be the first permanent photography business quarters in Salida, above the Cheap Charley clothing store on First Street. They were there for about a year.
In 1884, C. Henry Clark opened his gallery via Wheeler’s Hardware Store on F Street and began taking pictures. There was no lack of material; the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad offered good fares. Clark was often seen taking pictures of D&RG fraternity conventions at train stations or on Marshall Pass to photograph trains in the winter.
A triple tragedy struck Clark before the decade was over, the first when his son died in 1887. Then in January 1888, Peter Mulvany’s new hotel caught fire and burned much of downtown, including Clark’s studio, which was next door to the Craig Opera House on F and Second Streets. Clark was about to move, so most of his equipment was saved, but his collection of early Salida negatives was a total loss.
Clark’s new studio was at 229 F (now 227), on the second floor of Hall & Howard’s grocery store, where “a large drawing room is an attractive place to wait for you to sit in front of the camera.” Later that year, Clark worked with Charles W. Erdlen, a Buena Vista photographer known for his landscape photography. Erdlen switched to Salida, but kept his BV business open.
The following year brought the final calamity to Clark. His daughter fell ill with typhoid and Clark turned down medical help because he believed that illnesses are mental, not physical, and can be cured with faith rather than science.
The townspeople soon found out about it and the reprimand was quick and hit the headlines across the region. The Leadville paper was devastating: “He is a Christian scientist and will not call a doctor. He believes that because of his faith he has the power to heal without medical help. Citizens have never been so outraged. Clark let a son die for lack of attention a year ago. It is said that his son had dropsy (or edema). The daughter, who is now ill, is currently worse. “
When the authorities intervened, it was too late. Ada was almost dead, and Clark became a self-made pariah. The Salida paper eulogy for Ada was an unfortunate one: “Regarding the death of this child, we can only say that this is one of the saddest circumstances we have ever known and we hope that this is an instructive lesson for us is the parents who work according to what we consider to be a very erroneous and dangerous belief. The child was in the care of two of our local doctors at the time of her death, but we cannot help believing that if they had been called earlier, she would have been alive today. “
CH Clark and his wife left town within a week and Erdlen took over the running of the photo studio. In addition to portraits, Erdlen sold pictures of the local landscape, which he refined with colored pencils, watercolors and ink. It was a popular technique of the era when photographers touch up black and white negatives with color.
The local newspaper boasted of his skills: “He is not only very successful in portrait photography, but has also acquired an almost supraregional reputation in the field of buildings and mountain landscapes. Its beautiful views of the Rocky Mountain landscape are sent across the country. Mr. Erdlen’s gallery is one of the best-equipped galleries in the country, and all the work he does is first class. “
In the 1890s the photo business was booming in Salida. In addition to Erdlen, Newell Meigs, Joe Barber and Frank Ray were also active during this time. Ray eventually took over Erdlen’s studio.
In 1892 Charles E. Skinner came to the city from the east in the hope of opening a gallery. For a while he ran a studio in a small iron-clad building on Second and E Streets, selling cabinet cards for $ 3 a dozen. He didn’t stay long, hopped on a train going west and ended up in San Francisco.
Salida waved him back and in 1900 bought the vacant lot next to Ray’s studio. Charles set about working with an architect on the new building, which was to have the following design: “It will be 25 feet forward and 15 meters deep, and will be purpose-built to house a photo gallery. CE Skinner has leased the building long term and it will be built according to his plans and will only include the gallery. There will be a neat front and a fine skylight in the rear. The total cost of the building is around $ 1,500. “
When Skinner’s gallery opened, it was boasted that it had “the most fully equipped studio in Colorado outside of Denver and Colorado Springs” with wide-angle lenses and a new electric flashlight machine “up and running” instantly.
Charles was so successful that he advertised Baby Days in the gallery at Christmas time and offered free portraits of children under 2 years of age. The local paper reported on one of Skinner’s Baby Days: “It was a big day … there were about ninety-two mothers there, each with a bright little toddler to be entertained remotely while sitting alone, long enough to make an acceptable one Film getting made negative. At the end of this Baby Day, initiated by the enterprising artist, a hundred excellent negatives had been taken and all declared that it was a hugely successful event. It is not an easy matter to entertain the baby and keep him in the right mood and position for a good photo, but Mr. Skinner rose to the emergency and finished his hundred seats in good order. “
Skinner left town in 1903 and Frank Ray was the last photographer left. Ray then moved to California in 1908 and the studio and business were sold to a newcomer from the east, Henry R. Hay. The local newspaper greeted him: “Mr. Hay came to the west in search of a new location, and since Salida’s surroundings and the wonderful climate corresponded to his ideal, he decided to throw his lot among the people of the gem city. “
Henry immediately made 229 F his own. He took watercolor classes in his upstairs studio and honed his skills with classes in Denver to keep up with new techniques. And he hired Helen Hanks, a Salida High graduate.
Henry bought the building directly in 1923. He renovated and transformed the place into Salida’s newest social scene with “the reception room (a cozy salon for the ladies of Salida where they are always welcome”).
In the 1920s, coloring was a thing of the past and Hay began to advertise all of his pictures with the “Kodak finish”. His work was recognized nationwide and appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.
After Henry’s death in 1937, Helen took over and kept the name The Hay Studio. Today the Hay Studio sign is still on the outside of 227 F St.
Joy Jackson is a receptionist and archivist at the Salida Regional Library. follow twitter.com/SalidaArchive historical pictures of Salida can be seen.