Category Archives: Photography

“A Large Circle of Friends”

Unidentified portrait of a woman taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

In late January 2021, I came into possession of seven small carte de visite portraits, all taken by Wellington photographer William Sawtell. None of the images was identified or dated. I had purchased the lot online, so I reached out to the seller to ask if he happened to know where the photos came from. He wrote back right away, saying that he lived in Pennsylvania and was very interested in the photographic studios of the Philadelphia region. As for this grouping, however, “I found the Wellington ones locally at a flea market literally in a corn field…I was told by an elderly gentleman that they all came out of a photo album owned/signed by E. M. Hamilton.”

Unidentified portrait of an infant taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

I got very excited when I read this last bit of information. Readers of the blog may remember that Wellington was home to a school for girls–the Seminary–from 1849 until 1864. The first proprietor of the school was Mary Ann Adams. The second, and much longer lasting, was Eliza M. Hamilton. Eliza lived in Wellington for nearly her entire fifty-three years, until moving shortly before her death to live near her brother William in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. This photo album, found in a cornfield flea market, almost certainly belonged to her.

Unidentified portrait of a woman taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

New Richmond is just over the Pennsylvania state line, only two-and-a-half-hours away by car. Presumably Eliza’s 1870s journey lasted a bit longer. According to her obituary in the Wellington Enterprise, “The last three years when she should have been nursed and resting, she was toiling and teaching, until compelled by her friends to take the respite with her family that was too late to avail anything, save the comfort of being with her kindred, and receiving the care that must have come gratefully at last, to one who knew so well how to care for others” (11-15-1877, pg. 3). The respite was short-lived. Her brother’s death notice appeared above her own in the November 8th edition (pg. 3). The siblings died just six days apart.

Unidentified portrait of a woman taken by W. F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

How I wish I knew more about these seven individuals and about the photographic album that once held their likenesses. Are they members of the Hamilton family? Are they former students of the Wellington Seminary? Eliza never married, nor had any biological children of her own, though a November 29th notice announced, “‘Howard,’ the little boy adopted by the late Miss E. M. Hamilton, has found a home with a relative of his deceased guardian, in Pennsylvania” (pg. 3). Could this adopted child possibly be the infant depicted in one of the photographs?

Two more things are worth mentioning. First, one of the portraits of an unidentified woman is the same subject depicted in another Sawtell image I already owned. She is wearing the same hairstyle and clothing, though in a slightly different pose. Second, one of the photos may be the oldest I have yet acquired. It was taken at J. W. Southard’s studio when Sawtell ran it, probably a transitional moment of operating an established business in the community prior to opening a studio under his own name. If this is correct, it would date the image to sometime around 1865/66, when Sawtell completed his military service in the Union Army and relocated to Wellington.

Unidentified portrait of a man taken by W. F. Sawtell, probably taken ca. 1865/66. Author’s collection.

I have uploaded all of these images, as well as a half-dozen more, to the Sawtell page. I have also scanned and added a few Wellington trade cards to that page. If those items are of interest to you, I encourage you to click through and have a look. When I began this blog, in August 2013, one of my very first posts was about the photography of William Sawtell. I could never have guessed that eight-and-a-half years and 199 posts later, I would still be writing about him.


The Gift of Time

1908 WHS Football

The 1908 Wellington High School football team. Image measures 6 3/4″ L x 4 3/4″ W, mounted to black backing board.

I know, I know. In my recent fifth anniversary commemoration I cautioned that I would not be making as many blog entries moving forward. Yet here I am, with my third post in as many weeks. But I simply had to share this with all of you. This week, I received in the mail an enormous box of history. Descendants of the Vischer and Tripp families, who now live outside of Ohio, decided that some of their family keepsakes needed to come home to Wellington. The package was an absolute treasure trove of books, photographs and small objects. Many items pertain directly to the Tripp and Vischer families in the early twentieth century, and so are outside the immediate scope of my historical knowledge. But the images are so wonderful and unique that I include them here regardless.

Vischers behind 210 So Main

Undated image of “Vischer family & horses back of 210 South Main.” Image measures 3 1/2″ L x 4 1/2″ W, mounted to tan backing board.

William Bentley Vischer (1863-1948) owned a piano and organ store on the south side of Liberty Street, what we now call West Herrick Avenue. The ghostly remnants of his painted advertisement are still visible on the west side of the mansard roof. William was married to Carrie Anne Tripp Vischer (1861-1940). Carrie’s father was well-known carriage manufacturer and early Wellington mayor Edward S. Tripp. But she is known in her own right as the author of “History of Wellington,” delivered as a public address and later printed as a special insert in the Wellington Enterprise in 1922.

Carrie Vischer

Carrie Ann Tripp Vischer. Oval portrait measures 3 1/2″ L x 2 1/2″ W, mounted to black backing board.

Some of the most wonderful objects in the collection are five ferrotypes, also known as tintypes. Ferrotypes are a kind of photographic image created without the use of a negative. A thin sheet of metal was coated with a chemical emulsion layer, and an image was then exposed directly onto the metal. All of these examples have rough, uneven edges and no cases. Two are inscribed that they were taken at the “Wellington Fair,” and given their overall similarities, I have to wonder if all five were.

Carrie W.B. Vischer at Fair ferrotype

Undated ferrotype etched on reverse, “Carrie T. Vischer | W. B. Vischer | Wellington Fair.” Object measures approximately 5″ L x 7″ W.

Carriage scene ferrotype

Undated, unidentified ferrotype, possibly taken at the Wellington Fair. Object measures approximately 2 1/2″ L x 3 1/2″ W.

Mary Vischer Margarete Hall 1909 at fair ferrotype

Ferrotype enclosed in paper sleeve. Marked “Mary Vischer & Margarete Hall abt 1909. Wellington Fair.” Object measures approximately 3 1/2″ L x 2 1/2″ W.

Geo Foot & Cet ferrotype

Undated ferrotype etched on reverse, “Geo. Foot & Cet.” Object measures approximately 4″ L x 2″ W.

Two women unknown ferrotype

Undated, unidentified ferrotype. Object measures approximately 2 1/4″ L x 1 3/4″ W.

The next object is also metal, though not a photograph. I have never seen anything like it. It is a small metal card, in a paper envelope addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. S. D. Terry.” Sidney D. Terry (1849-1922) and his wife, Mary E. Terry (1849-1940) are buried in Greenwood Cemetery. The card itself is a metal invitation to a party, a tenth wedding anniversary party to be precise. The tenth is the “tin” anniversary in popular tradition, and the metal card fits that theme. Though the reflective metal is difficult to scan or photograph, it reads: “1868. 1878. Mr. & Mrs. F. W. Bennett, Request Your Presence At the Tenth Anniversary of their Wedding, Friday, October 4, 1878, at Eight O’Clock.”

Bennett Anniversary

Metal party invitation, 1878. Object measures 3″ L x 5″ W.

These last two images are both of children. One is a photograph of Sadie Vischer by William Sawtell, the other an unidentified toddler taken by someone called Saunders. I find them both unusual–and terribly sweet. Sadie Vischer has a lovely dog in her image, which must have been very well behaved to sit perfectly still for the exposure time of the portrait. The toddler (possibly named George) is digging into a waste paper basket and surrounded by a floor of crumpled sheets, a perfectly ordinary daily scene that I have never seen reproduced in a nineteenth-century photograph.


Undated William Sawtell photograph of “Sadie Vischer” and her dog. Object measures 6 1/2″ L x 4 1/4″ W.

Baby w:waste basket

Undated image by Saunders of Wellington. Inscribed on reverse, “From George to Moma.” Object measures 6 1/2″ L x 4 1/4″ W.

I am so grateful to the family custodians who have preserved these marvelous glimpses into the past. I hope you have enjoyed looking at them as much as I have. I will be donating the materials to the local history collection of the Herrick Memorial Library, so that the family’s generosity may be shared by all.

Ta Da! New Blog Feature!


The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

I have recently added a new feature to the blog that I have been putting together for quite some time. Regular readers may recognize the name William F. Sawtell as a local photographer and painter who lived in Wellington in the nineteenth century. He took portraits of people not only from the village, but also from all the surrounding communities.

Over the years, I have gathered a small collection of representative images shot by Sawtell. I often find them in the “miscellaneous photos” bins of local antique stores. Since I have begun publishing this blog, several kind people have made gifts of images they owned. Most of the portraits are neither identified nor dated, but I have long wanted to make them available for viewing in a single location.

Today, I have launched a new page on this site. Under the main menu you will now see three tabs, namely Home, About, and “William Sawtell, Photographer.” I have scanned all of the Sawtell images in my possession, and included all the information I know about each one. If you happen to recognize any of the unnamed subjects, or if you happen to be related to any of the identified individuals, please leave a comment and share your story.

Recent Acquisitions

Postcard image showing the Edward Tripp house, formerly located at 161 East Herrick Avenue. Card is postmarked September 24, 1906. Author's collection.

Postcard image showing the Edward Tripp house, formerly located at 161 East Herrick Avenue. Postmarked September 24, 1906. Author’s collection.

Since I began writing this blog nearly two years ago, I have started a small collection of images and documents relating to individuals I have profiled. I thought it might be fun to write a short post featuring some of my recent acquisitions. The image above of the Edward Tripp house is from an RPPC (real photo postcard), a personal photographic image printed directly on postcard stock, which became immensely popular at the turn of the twentieth century. This card was mailed to Marion, Ohio, in the fall of 1906. The house is no longer standing, having been demolished in the 1970s.

Receipt from Huckins & Wilbur, stove and tinware merchants, to John Whiton. Issued November 21, 1870. Author's collection.

Receipt from Huckins & Wilbur, stove and tinware merchants, to John Whiton. Issued November 21, 1870. Author’s collection.

Anyone who has read this blog from the beginning knows that Noah Huckins has always been a primary focus of my research. He built the Italianate house that my family owned for a decade. I was tickled to find this receipt from his partnership with John W. Wilbur. The two men ran a hardware store on Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue) for seven years, from 1868 to 1875. Huckins later went on to found his own company–a cheese box manufacturing facility–with Charles Horr, while Wilbur continued on at the hardware store until his retirement and relocation to California in 1895.

Undated image of Mary Ethel Sutliff, taken by William Sawtelle. Author's collection.

Undated image of Mary Ethel Sutliff, taken by William Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This charming image of a little girl, hand-labelled “Mary Ethel Sutliff” on the reverse, is one of a number of photographs I have amassed taken by William Sawtell. I find Sawtell to be one of the most interesting people I have researched in Wellington’s history. His skill as a photographer is evident in all of his portraits, examples of which can be found here and here. Less well known is the fact that the man was also a talented artist. A few months ago, I came into possession of a small signed and dated oil painting that Sawtell apparently created as a gift. I am having it professionally conserved and framed, and will write a post about that process when it is finished.

Receipt for meat, written by J. M. Crabtree to J. W. Wilbur. Dated September 13, 1882. Author's collection.

Receipt for meat, written by J. M. Crabtree to J. W. Wilbur. Dated September 13, 1882. Author’s collection.

John Wilbur appears a second time, in this instance paying $18.41 to local butcher John Crabtree. Just a few weeks after I started this blog, I stumbled first across Crabtree’s meat market, and then shortly thereafter, the tragic story of his family. Crabtree lost two children and his wife in just a few weeks, during the summer of 1877. After that calamity, the butcher left Wellington for a year, but returned to resume business and remained in the village until his death in 1901.

A Room with a View

Rental advertisement, "Wellington Enterprise," 8-28-1895, pg. 8.

Rental advertisement, “Wellington Enterprise,” 8-28-1895, pg. 8.

I haven’t posted in a few days, but I found this advertisement for a seasonal cottage rental in The Wellington Enterprise and wanted to share. This is the first instance I can recall of a photographic image reproduced in the newspaper as part of a local ad. The house itself was not in Wellington, but in Vermilion, a town about twenty-five miles north on Lake Erie. The text of the ad is wonderfully evocative of certain American summer traditions. I picture lace curtains blowing in a gentle breeze while I am reading it.

Rental advertisement, "Wellington Enterprise," 8-28-1895, pg. 8.

Rental advertisement, “Wellington Enterprise,” 8-28-1895, pg. 8.

The explosion in U.S. domestic tourism in the decades following the Civil War–made possible in part by the rapid expansion of the (mainly northern) economy and transportation infrastructure–has been written about extensively. I love the fact that individual rooms in this house could be rented for $0.50 per day, and that “meat, milk and provision wagons” were circling the neighborhood looking for customers, like modern-day ice cream trucks. Note also that female renters were “expected to care for their own rooms,” presumably even those traveling with their families, but men traveling alone were assured that their rooms would be cleaned, apparently at no additional charge.

Linwood Park, founded as a religious community in 1884, still exists today. I wonder if this particular house is standing. If so, it just celebrated its 119th birthday. Should any readers happen to be from Vermilion, I would appreciate it if you would post if you recognize the property. I would love to see it in person.

I am presently researching five future entries. I have also been doing quite a bit of work on the Council records project I mentioned in an earlier post. The Wellington Genealogy Group is considering various platforms for sharing the records digitally, and has just embarked on a website redesign to expand its online offerings. The group recently joined Facebook, as well. If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to learn more about the stories of your own family members, please consider attending a meeting.

UPDATE: I was able to track down a book called Through These Gates: Linwood Park. It was published in 1984 to celebrate the centennial of the community. The text is more than two hundred pages long and has no index, but I found an appendix listing all the individual cottages with their builders and years of construction (pgs. 177-181). I found three separate street listings with “George Matcham” noted as the builder, on Linden, Walnut, and Ash Streets. Curiously, all three had two years of construction listed, and in every case the later year was 1910.

Working backward, I learned that all three properties were destroyed in the same catastrophic fire, which tore through the eastern side of Linwood on April 1, 1910. At least two references to Matcham are in the text. Page 78 notes: “George and Emma Matcham were particularly active in this period, having built four cottages on the east side between 1894 and 1903.” Then on page 80, a description of the fire states: “Three of the four Matcham cottages were among those burned. Goetz, Matcham and Cora Sherod rebuilt their cottages that year.” Based on its suggested construction date of 1894 (the listing cautions that dates “may be off by 1 or 2 years”), I believe that the house shown above likely stood at 406 Ash Street, but was destroyed by fire fifteen years later.

I also found a cemetery listing for George Matcham in Pittsfield’s East Cemetery, which includes his photograph. I have not seen Matcham’s obituary personally, but this page states, “According to his obituary, he invested in lots at Linwood park on Lake Erie and helped to develop the resort. He built several cottages there and had spent his summers there for several years.” Though the commemorative book credits Matcham’s second wife, Emma, as being his “particularly active” partner in building, he did not marry her until 1907. It would have been his first wife, Marion, who was with him during the initial construction phase and who signed the 1895 advertisement above, “Mrs. M. W. Matcham.”

When This You See, Remember Me

Verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author's collection.

Verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

One of my earliest posts was a small grouping of images taken by local photographer William F. Sawtell. I have continued to collect samples of his work while writing this blog, and I thought it would be enjoyable to feature a few more portraits in this entry.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This little beauty has an unknown substance sprinkled across her surface, but I like her both because I think it is a charming composition, and also because she is the only example I have that features the photographer’s identification on the front of the card. Sawtell clearly used at least two variant spellings of his last name during his career.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

Ladies far outnumber gentleman in my small sampling. This is one particularly strong image of an older man.

Verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author's collection.

Verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

The style of the back of a portrait is sometimes as compelling as the photograph itself. I particularly like the two versos that I have featured here. Both include a camera as well as an artist’s paint palette. While this is likely a visual allusion to the photographer as artist, I like that it also calls to mind Sawtell’s actual talents as a painter.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This young lady is a stunner. The verso of her image is identical to the one shown at the top of the post. Note the similarity in backdrops to the gentleman above.

I wish there was a way to determine the identities of any of these individuals. They might be the relatives of someone reading this blog. As much as I love collecting these old photographs, it also makes me a tiny bit sad. When I visit local antique shops, and search through endless piles of such pictures–keepsakes once so precious to their original owners–I can’t help but think of them as orphans. They are cut adrift in time. Remembrances, without the remembering.

Making a Mark on History

Engraved image of "City Hall and Opera House," published in "The Wellington Enterprise," 1-28-1891, pg. 4.

Engraved image of “City Hall and Opera House,” published in “The Wellington Enterprise,” 1-28-1891, pg. 4.

The oldest surviving photograph was created as early as 1826, but newspaper printing operations of the nineteenth century did not have the technological capability to reproduce photographic images. Instead, they sometimes printed engravings, though not nearly as frequently as we see photos used in modern publications. Advertisements would sometimes have a small, generic (i.e. reusable) illustration, and–later in the century–articles about national figures would occasionally have an accompanying portrait. But newspapers simply could not afford the expense of creating customized images on a regular basis.

To produce an engraved illustration, the artist began by composing an image on paper, either from life (or imagination, as in the recreation of a crime or disaster scene) or copied from a photograph. Some of the engraved portraits used, for example, in History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) include the caption, “Photos by W. F. Sawtell, Wellington, O.” The paper image was then copied by hand, in reverse, onto an engraving plate, which could be made from wood or copper. Images were created on wood by cutting away the empty spaces with a blade; copper plates were incised using a burin, or steel engraving stylus. Either method was a labor-intensive and time-consuming undertaking.

Some of the first locally produced engravings that I have found in The Wellington Enterprise are shown here. The image below, a bird’s-eye view of the Wellington Machine Company, appeared on the front page of the December 24, 1890 issue, accompanying an article about the new factory. This was a departure for the paper, which in the late 1800’s devoted the left side of the front page to local advertisements, and the right side to correspondent reports from neighboring settlements.

The Enterprise reused the same plate one month later, together with the engraving of the Town Hall shown at the top of this post. The January 28, 1891 edition gave over nearly half of its pages to describing local businesses and amenities. State-of-the-art images of an impressive new civic space and thriving private enterprise underscored the growth potential of the community.

Engraved image of "Works of the Wellington Machine Company," published in "The Wellington Enterprise," 12-24-1890, pg.1 and 1-28-1891, pg. 8.

Engraved image of “Works of the Wellington Machine Company,” published in “The Wellington Enterprise,” 12-24-1890, pg.1 and 1-28-1891, pg. 8.

Sawtell’s “Most Famous Pupil”

Hand-painted ceramic plate attributed to Laura Tissot, held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum. Photo by author.

Hand-painted ceramic plate attributed to Laura Tissot, held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum. Photo by author.

“While in the hospital [Sawtell] took up china painting as a diversion and has followed this line of work at intervals, and when in fair health, since. With his fine artistic taste he soon acquired wonderful proficiency in this line. He never offered his work for sale, but many homes are adorned by his beautiful workmanship in china, given by him in token of friendship” (The Wellington Enterprise, 4-28-1909, pg. 7).

In my last post, I gave a brief biographical sketch of Wellington photographer William F. Sawtell. One element that I did not touch on in that account, because I wanted to give it a fuller treatment, was Sawtell’s artistic pursuits. According to his obituary, quoted above, he first took up painting while in a voluntary, two-year commitment at the Newburgh State Hospital.

I do not know the dates of his stay, but his obituary seems to suggest that his time in the hospital occurred after he discontinued the photography business in 1888. Either I am misreading the obituary or else it is incorrect. I have found several notices in the Enterprise dated much earlier than 1888 that mention Sawtell’s painting. Here, for example, is part of a small piece entitled, “Ceramics at Home,” from January 15, 1880: “Mrs. W. R. Santley, who has for years done a good deal of creditable work with pencil and brush, and Mr. W. F. Sawtell, our photographer, who is an artist in a larger sense than in the skillful use of camera and chemicals, we find have each learned the different methods of painting upon chinaware and porcelain at a school in Cleveland, and have done some handsome decorating of single pieces and sets, the annealing or burning in of the colors being done at Rice & Burnett’s, Cleveland” (pg. 3).

And this, from three months later: “W. F. Sawtell frequently changes off from his regular art work for a diversion in color painting and silk, satin, leather, tin, everything ministers to his decorative skill” (4-29-1880, pg. 3). It may be coincidental, but I also located an advertisement for a Miss Watkins offering “lessons in charcoal, sketching and crayon drawing” from her studio “in front of Sawtell’s gallery” in 1882.

Local historian Robert Walden published several columns that mention Sawtell, and two in particular discuss his work as a painter. He wrote, “In photography, Mr. Sawtelle [sic] excelled and was prominent in that field, but it was in the decoration of china that he did his finest work. He was successful as an instructor in this media. His most famous pupil was Miss Laura Tissot, so proficient and prolific in her art that scores of homes still have and cherish the sets of china dishes she decorated for them. Mr. Sawtelle [sic] signed all of his china decorated dishes with his initials, WFS, on the back of each piece” (Robert Walden Notebook, #B16).

This was the first mention I ever read about Laura E. Tissot (1863-1943) but Walden helpfully provided more detail about her in a separate column. Tissot was “an institution in herself. She has never had and will never have a duplicate here,” he gushed. He dubbed her one of the “unique personalities who have helped in shaping the mentality of this town” (Notebook, #B35). Walden places her studio on the second floor of the Wells Insurance Building, on the east side of South Main Street, next to the Herrick Memorial Library. I have also seen an image of a now-demolished wood-frame structure on the west side of South Main Street, currently the parking lot of Farm & Home Hardware, identified as “Miss Tissot’s shop in the ’30s.” Perhaps both are correct.

Laura Tissot was one of the organizers of the Wellington Cemetery Association, and was passionately committed to the preservation of both the “Pioneer” and Greenwood Cemeteries. Interestingly, William Sawtell’s obituary notes, “He was deeply interested in the beautifying and improving of our cemeteries, and the present cemetery organization really owes its existence to his untiring efforts” (The Wellington Enterprise, 4-28-1909, pg. 7). Walden never mentions Sawtell in his description of the launch of the cemetery association; it is impossible to know which painter developed the interest first or whether s/he influenced the opinions of the other.

The Tissot family headstone in Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Tissot family headstone in Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Around the turn of the century, Laura and her brother, Will H. Tissot, purchased a painting from local milliner Mary Cady. It was a pretty street scene of the town and some Wellington residents believed that Miss Cady herself had painted it. It was, however, the work of artist Archibald Willard, now called simply “Village of Wellington.” After Laura Tissot died in 1943, her estate made a gift of the painting to the Herrick Memorial Library. It hangs there still.

So, gentle readers, check your china cabinets and attics. Look for anything with the initials “WFS” on the base, or any ceramics hand-painted with bright, floral motifs. Without even realizing it, you may hold a small piece of nineteenth-century Wellington history in your hands.

William F. Sawtell (1843-1909)

The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author's collection.

The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

“In mentioning the business houses of Wellington, our list would not be complete without Sawtell, whose popularity as a first-class artist, is not confined to Wellington, or Ohio only, but in many other States of the Union. His pictures in all their different varieties, are acknowledged by all who have seen them, to excel those of many who make far greater pretensions than our modest photographer” (The Wellington Enterprise, 10-11-1877, pg. 3).

When I began this blog, one of the first posts I wrote was about the photography of William Sawtell. I promised then that I would relate the story of Sawtell’s life at some future date; it seems incredible that I have made more than forty posts since then. My apologies to those who have been waiting patiently for me to keep my promise.

Undated image of William F. Sawtell. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Undated image of William F. Sawtell. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

William F. Sawtell was a native Ohioan, born in Cleveland in 1843. His mother passed away when he was only seven; his father died two years later. The boy was sent to live with a family called Bostwick in Medina, where he remained until he enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Sawtell received a debilitating injury during the conflict, one that would trouble him for the rest of his life. While seeking shelter in the trenches during the battle of Vicksburg, he was struck by a large limb torn from a nearby tree by a cannonball. The men on either side of him were both killed by the limb; William was knocked unconscious and seems to have suffered damage to his spine, which caused him to require crutches to walk for years after the event. He was discharged “for disability” in April, 1863 and sent home to Medina to heal.

But he insisted on rejoining the fight. “He determined to re-enlist and went to Cincinnati and offered his services, but was again refused. Upon his declaration that he walk to the front if not accepted, he was finally accepted and enrolled as a private” in October, 1863 (The Wellington Enterprise, 4-28-1909, pg. 7). He served nearly two more years, until the end of the war.

In 1866, William moved to Wellington and opened a photography studio, probably on North Main Street. Two years later, he married Estella Le Hentz Rasor; they had one son, Edwin, born in 1870. The young family rented a house on Courtland Street before purchasing their own lots on the same street in 1884. I have found that it was not uncommon for a business to be listed in the corporation tax records as belonging to a man, while the family home was listed as belonging to his wife. That is the case with the Sawtells, and the 1885 volume records E. L. H. Sawtell, i.e. Estella Le Hentz Sawtell, as the owner and taxpayer on lots 4,84 and 4,85. The same entry shows the construction of a new house, valued at $1,505.

Detail of 1885 Wellington Corporation tax record for E. L. H. Sawtell. Note the insertion of "House $1,505."

Detail of 1885 Wellington Corporation tax record for E. L. H. Sawtell. Note the insertion of “House $1,505.”

Those lot numbers correspond to the present-day address of 309 Courtland Street, which still stands today. After I pieced this evidence together, I was reading a copy of Ernst Henes’ Historic Wellington Then and Now (1983) and found a short entry for “William F. Sawtelle” [sic] which concludes, “He is thought to have built the beautiful home at 309 Courtland St., now the residence of Carol Waldner” (pg. 78). The house and land remained in Estella Sawtell’s possession until they were sold to Charles T. Jamieson in 1909, the year both spouses died.

309 Courtland Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

309 Courtland Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Around 1875, Sawtell relocated his studio to Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue), on the second floor of the building also later occupied by grocers Bowlby & Hall. His services seem always to have been in high demand with town residents, and frequent notices were printed in the Enterprise similar to this one: “W. F. Sawtell wishes to inform the public that after Thursday (to-morrow) he can take no new negatives promising to have the pictures therefrom done for Christmas. The number of bright days in which printing can be done are so few, that he has sufficient work promised for all he can print by the 25th” (12-14-1881, pg. 3).

Local historian Robert Walden met William Sawtell as a young man; Walden’s aunt, Mary, was an employee of Sawtell’s photography gallery. He wrote several columns that mentioned Sawtell, chiefly in connection with painter Archibald Willard. “Archibald F. Willard, William F. Sawtelle [sic] and Edward F. Webster, all veterans of the Union armies, were life-long friends” (Robert Walden Notebook, #B16). Willard is said to have observed the 4th of July parade that inspired “The Spirit of ’76” from the window of Sawtell’s studio. I have even seen a publication state that Willard and Sawtell shared a studio, though I have yet to find any primary documents that support that assertion. There was at least one other retail space on the second floor of the building; I have found several announcements of various businesses operating in “the room in front of Sawtell’s Gallery” (The Wellington Enterprise, 9-13-1882, pg. 3).

Another employee of the studio was Charles Spicer. Charles’ father was a local blacksmith and his mother briefly ran a dressmaking shop in the other room of Sawtell’s floor. In addition to his photographic duties, Charles served as one of the models for “The Spirit of ’76.” (Sawtell made numerous photographic studies of people from Wellington, from which Willard created the painting.) Spicer seems to have apprenticed to Sawtell, and in 1876 announced in the Enterprise that he had purchased all “furniture and fixtures” associated with Sawtell’s old North Main Street gallery. He proposed to enter the business himself with “tin-types a specialty” (1-27-1876, pg. 3). I have never been able to discover the details of what happened to Charles, but he apparently left Wellington within a year of announcing his new business venture, “under a cloud somewhat larger than a man’s hand” (7-8-1880, pg. 3).

Young Edwin Sawtell was a promising newspaper reporter working for The Cleveland Leader when he died of tuberculosis in 1892, only twenty-two years old, a blow from which his father is said never to have fully recovered. Robert Walden recalled that after Edwin died, “His father’s mind became clouded and direction of the family affairs was turned over to their lifetime friend, Edward F. Webster. Mr. Sawtelle [sic] withdrew entirely within himself. Some evenings you might see him walking with his head bent low, recognizing and speaking to no one” (Notebook, #A134).

His old war injury had recurred and finally forced him to close up his studio for good in 1888. Sawtell also had mental health issues (a “nervous condition,” in the language of the time) even before the death of his son, and was committed in 1889 to the Newburgh State Hospital, an asylum in Cleveland. He lived there for at least a year before returning home to Wellington. In 1909 he had an attack of apoplexy while visiting friends. He lingered for several months in very poor condition, before suffering a fatal stroke in April. He was sixty-six years old. His widow, Estella, died of intestinal cancer just six months later. All three members of the family are buried together in a single plot in Wellington’s Greenwood Cemetery.

Sawtell family  headstones. Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Sawtell family headstones. Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

UPDATE: Since publishing this post, I have found a great deal more information about the Sawtell family’s living situation in the 1880s. Apparently Mrs. Sawtell suffered from very ill health and it made her unable to “keep house.” A series of notices in the Enterprise chronicle the impact this had on the family. In September 1883, a Mr. and Mrs. Locke moved into the Sawtell household and the way the piece is written, it seems that Mrs. Locke is Mrs. Sawtell’s mother, perhaps remarried. In January of 1884, the Sawtells relocated to the American House hotel. The next month, Sawtell sold the family house and lot–apparently on Magyar Street–for $2,800. “He will build a handsome residence on Cortland [sic] Ave. between Dea. West’s and Prof. Kinnison’s. The Avenuites are happy to welcome him back again” (2-27-1884, pg. 5). Finally, in June, it was announced that building had commenced on the new Sawtell residence, while the family spent the summer living again with the Lockes. Sawtell must have been doing well financially at this period, because at the very same time that he was building a large house on Courtland Street, he completely refurbished and redecorated his studio on Mechanics Avenue. “A tapestry carpet, tinted walls, new furniture, lace draperies and rich hangings, elegant frames for display of his work and handsome paintings upon the walls, are some of the features of attractiveness he has added to his art gallery” (2-20-1884, pg. 5).

Frozen in Time

The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author's collection.

The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

I recently obtained a small collection of photographs by 19th-century Wellington photographer William F. Sawtell. Since my first posts were text-heavy, I thought it might be fun to post some period images, in the vein of my last entry on “setting the scene.”

Sawtell had a fascinating, but sadly difficult, life. I will tell his story in a future installment. For now, the important thing to know is that he was a Wellington resident for many decades and kept the preeminent photography studio in town from 1866 until 1888. During the “Cheese Boom,” Sawtell was the man most likely to preserve you for posterity. On April 17, 1873, The Wellington Enterprise reported, “A couple of ‘bon-ton’ picture takers hung out their sign here for a few days last week, but left for want of patronage, the people liking Sawtell’s photographs better than the Co.’s cheap pictures” (pg. 3).

There are ten photographs in this little grouping. Nine measure 2.5″ x 4″ while one is a 4″ x 6″ print. The smaller images are a form called “carte de visite” and the larger was called a “cabinet card.” Both were enormously popular in 19th-century America. For those interested in reading more about the history of albumen prints, I highly recommend James M. Reilly’s Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints (1986).

Here are some highlights from this small collection:

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

The photographer’s advertising information shown at the top of this post is on the verso of this photograph, featuring a grouping of three young women.

Undated photograph of

Undated photograph of “Addie Dudley” by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This is the only image that has identification attached to it. The name “Addie Dudley” is marked in pencil on the bottom of the card. I have not been able to find any additional biographical information about her.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This is the 4″ x 6″ cabinet card, showing an older, bearded man. It was clearly framed for some part of its existence, and the acidic matting materials used have caused staining around the edges of the photo. The shape of the mounting card and the size and complexity of the photographer’s advertisement on the verso suggest a date of 1880 to 1890. Since Sawtell ceased operations in 1888, the dating window becomes even narrower.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Undated photograph by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

Verso of image above by William F. Sawtell. Author's collection.

Verso of image above by William F. Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This image of a young boy is on pink-tinted paper, as you can see on its verso. According to James M. Reilly, “The discovery of new synthetic dyes during the 1860s made possible the tinting of albumen paper. Pink, blue, and violet dyes were added to the albumen before it was coated. The slight highlight coloration that dyes provided lent a pleasing effect and tended to mask the yellowing of the albumen itself. Tinted paper gained popularity during the 1870s, and the bulk of the albumen paper sold after 1880 was tinted. Pink shades were the most popular” (pg. 6).

I love these photographs. I love the idea that I am looking at the faces of people who nodded or tipped a hat to one another daily on the streets I now call home. I love the idea that I smile and nod at their descendants on the same streets. For me, a totally unexpected result of this research project has been a deepening sense of connection to place and community. I have learned that buildings and landscapes and even faces have secrets that can draw you in, if you let them.