Friday, September 01, 2017

Chariton's minor role in a master photographer's life

Henry T. Hiester (1845-1895), Part 1
By Frank D. Myers

Henry Titlow Hiester, nearing 40, hung out his shingle advertising Heister's Photograph Rooms sometime during the spring of 1884 on the west side of Harrison Street (now North Main) just south of the alley a half block north of the square. Yes, the sign-painter had misspelled his name.

The studio was upstairs, above a furniture store, and the sign was suspended from a pole beside the stairs leading to it. On the other side of the stairs, the photographer had rigged up a glass-doored contraption where samples of his work were on display.

Chariton must have seemed a quiet backwater to Henry, a classic rambling man of immense talent, fearless when in pursuit of new subjects for his work or just adventure. There's no explanation of why he landed here. Most likely his cousin, pioneer Lucas County physician Charles Fitch, had something to do with it.

And he didn't stick around long. By the fall of 1886, Henry had moved on again --- this time to Texas.

It should surprise no one today that Hiester's pioneer images of Santa Fe, of Texas and of the native peoples of the desert Southwest sell for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars and are avidly sought.

If you'd told that to Henry back in 1884, most likely he'd have been gratified but would have laughed you right off the street.


I aim to tell you something of Henry's story here --- in a couple of installments --- primarily because those who admire his work are a little mystified by the man, so much so that he has receded into obscurity as his photographs have increased in fame. Then there's the fact it's a darned good yarn.

For my purposes, the story commences --- between his New Mexico and Texas years --- with two Hiester photographs taken in Chariton during 1884-1886. Kaye Van Fleet turned these up a while ago while searching for Lucas County-related items on eBay. The photo at the top is of Hiester's studio location and the stretch of street near it.

The other photograph is this image of the north side of the square.

Both images are lifted from stereoscope cards offered on eBay by an outfit called The Primitive Fold. Follow this link and you'll go to the eBay page where they're offered along with one of Henry's New Mexico images that's kind of in rough condition.

Don't be surprised by the prices --- $249.99 for the street view and $199 for north-side photo. Henry's work is highly sought after. Most who write about Henry believe mistakenly that he moved to New Mexico about 1871 fresh from his studio in Chariton, so that makes the photograph that shows his studio sign especially desirable.

In fact, it was the other way around. Henry arrived in Chariton a few years after what may have been his most creative years, spent in New Mexico 1871-1878.

If you're looking to buy me an early Christmas present, I'll take the north-side photo please.

Here's the stereoscope card from which the streetscape view was lifted. The frame buildings in the photo all have vanished by now. But I do believe the brick building at the far right, north across an alley, still is there and now houses the Hurriback bar at 217 North Main. In 1884-86, it was a grocery store. Here's a clip from the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of that era showing where Henry's studio was located.

And here's the north-side stereoscope card.

To orient yourself a little, the two-story brick building on the right (the "Mallory brick") stood on the current site of U.S. Bank. The beautiful two-story brick block to its left, which housed among other businesses Maple's Book Store and The Chariton Patriot, stood on the site of the Kent Farm Management Building. The three frame buildings and the brick building that you can just catch a glimpse of to the far left (the Smyth building) stood on the current site of the identical DeMichelis and Blong Chiropractic buildings.

A big fire during 1894 destroyed the three frame buildings and heavily damaged the Smyth building on the corner, but spared both the Maple and Mallory blocks.

A 1906 fire was more severe, destroying everything that had been built after the 1894 fire and taking out the grand old Maple Block as well. Only the Mallory brick survived that fire --- and it was damaged.

More about Henry T. Hiester next time.

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