Henry S. Fifield – The Flume Photographer (Part 1)
Henry S. Fifield was a well-known photographer most associated with his work at The Flume in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during the 1860s and 1870s. In addition, he also photographed and published a number of quality views from throughout the northern Catskills.
H. S. Fifield business imprint. Flume No. 182. 1870. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Beginning with the Hercules
With humble beginnings future photographer Henry S. Fifield was born at the rural New Hampshire village of New Hampton to parents William Fifield (1784-1828) and Elizabeth “Eliza” (Webster) Fifield (1786-1843). William, of Salisbury, and Elizabeth, of Plymouth, were married on November 17, 1808 in a ceremony officiated by Reverend Fairbank. William and Elizabeth had five children together. Henry’s siblings included Daniel Eastman Fifield (1809-1883); Albert G. Fifield (1811-1874); Hannah Fifield (1820-1841); John G. Fifield (1821-1860). Both William and Elizabeth are buried at the New Hampton Village Cemetery in New Hampton, New Hampshire.
Fifield’s birth year is shrouded in mystery amongst a range of historical documents. His headstone inscription at New Hampton Village Cemetery states that he died in 1881 at age 59, meaning he was born circa 1822. The 1880 United States census shows his age as 55, meaning he was born circa 1825. The 1850 United States census shows his age as 24, meaning he was born circa 1826. Fifield’s Civil War registration in 1863 reported his age as 36, meaning he was born circa 1827. The 1870 United States census show his age as 40, meaning he was born circa 1830. His New Hampshire state death certificate in 1881 reported his age as 50, meaning he was born circa 1831.
Henry was a direct descendent of William Fifield, who arrived from London, England aboard the ship Hercules in April, 1634. William first lived at Ipswich and then Newbury in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1638 he moved again, being among the first setters at the town of Hampton, New Hampshire (then known as Winnicomet, now Winnacunnet). He became a freeman on June 2, 1641 and would quickly become a prominent land owner and farmer. At times, he also served as town Constable, as town Selectman (a member of the local government) and as an attorney for others. He married “Mary” between 1640 and 1644, and together they had nine children. William Fifield, founder of the Fifield family in America, died at 85 years of age on December 18, 1700.
The seven ancestral generations of the Fifield family in America, traced over 250 years from William Fifield to Henry S. Fifield, include:
For more information about early Fifield family genealogy see The Descendants of William Fifield by Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. and “Fifield Family Records” by Henry Edward Fifield as published in Collections of The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania.
The Early Years
Although little is known of Henry’s early education some insight can be gained from Frank H. Keeley in his Reminiscences of New Hampton, N.H. in which he describes the early schools of New Hampton.
“The school-houses in the olden times were made for comfort rather than for elegance. The seats were built on raised or inclined planes looking toward the centre, one side for the boys, and the other for the girls. Each desk accommodated two pupils, and had lids opening on the top to make places for books, slates, and writing materials. The master’s desk was in the centre, and was furnished with ferules, both flat and round, and a bundle of tough withes for castigating dull and unruly pupils. There was a chimney at either end of the house, with a huge fireplace fed with half a cord of green wood at a time; and, in the coldest days of winter, the fire was kept roaring that the house might be comfortable.
Reading, writing, ciphering and grammar were the studies. There were spelling-schools in the evening, when all the scholars chose sides for the championship; and, when a word was missed, the unlucky scholar must be seated. In every school a few natural spellers were found, who could stand up all the evening on the hardest words.
The old district schools were little democracies, where the people met to make choice of one of their number to hire the teachers, and to raise money to pay the expenses. They discussed all question pertaining to the schools, and every one had a lively interest in the discipline and advancement of the children. They felt at liberty to criticize and make suggestions, and the talk was generally good natured and interesting, although, at times, from private grievance and pique, it became acrimonious and bitter.
It was a common custom, especially in the winter schools, for boys to test the grit and stuff of the teacher by trying to throw him out into the snow. If they succeeded, it added to the prowess of the boys, and was far more to their advantage, as they thought, than hard study. The first week of the school was devoted to settling the question who should rule,– the teacher, or the big boys. If in favor of the teacher, the school went on smoothly, and was successful; but often a timid and feeble man was obliged to surrender the school to one of more muscular ability.
Notwithstanding these peculiarities of the district schools, they were the nurseries of the future men and women of the country. Some went out from them to the academies, and became the business men and teachers; a few found their way into the colleges, and became the ministers, lawyers, and physicians. They were sound substantial men and good citizens. These schools are still to be found in the country towns through New Hampshire and the other New England states, and are fostered and encouraged as far as the financial condition of the people permit. In the large cities a different system must be adopted. Yet the pupils of these country schools will compare favorably with those of the cities, if we consider the amount of money expended for them. To be sure, they have many natural advantages for sound health and good training, which the children of large cities cannot or do not enjoy.”
On the 1850 United States census, Fifield, age 24, was living at New Hampton, New Hampshire with his brother Albert, his sister-in-law Eliza, and their children. Henry’s occupation was listed at “Carpenter.” Albert’s occupation was not listed. Two of Henry’s older brothers, Daniel and Albert, both worked as carpenters.
Henry Fifield, according to Fifield genealogy references, married Ann Willard on April 6, 1856 at New Hampton, New Hampshire. They divorced in March, 1877 with the cause being Ann’s “abandonment.” In a discrepancy regarding marriage dates, the Record of Divorce, issued by the Belknap Superior Court in the State of New Hampshire, showed the marriage date for Henry and Annie as October 1, 1864 and the marriage location as New York, New York. The 1864 marriage date is supported by the fact that the 1860 United States census showed Henry was living alone. Annie was born in Ireland, as per the 1870 United States census. For a time, she worked as a Milliner, including during the years from 1870 to 1874, when she was listed in business directories for the state of New Hampshire.
With circumstantial evidence it seems that Annie Fifield may have been a habitual drunkard who frequently ran afoul of the law while living in New York City. First, to make the connection from the Annie Fifield mentioned in several newspaper articles to our Henry S. Fifield, in the Brooklyn Times Union issue of January 7, 1878 both Henry S. Fifield and Annie Fifield are named in a public notice as defendants in a case brought by A. C. Hockemeyer. This relates to The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide issue of December 22, 1877 showing a “lis pendens,” or pending legal action, of August C. Hockemeyer against Annie Fifield. Second, the 1875 New York State census shows Henry S. Fifield and Anna Fifield living on Taylor Street in Brooklyn. This relates to an article in the Brooklyn Times Union issue of July 3, 1875 that mentions Annie Fifield as living on Taylor Street. Lastly, the same Brooklyn Times Union issue of July 3, 1875 states that Annie Fifield owns a house on Nostrand Avenue, near Park; while the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide issue of February 9, 1878 provides notice of a real estate transfer of a property on Nostrand Avenue being transferred from Henry S. Fifield to John U. Shorter for $1,000.
Therefore, assuming this is in fact the same Annie Fifield, wife of photographer Henry S. Fifield, then the following newspaper articles were published about her behavior and encounters with the law.
June 11, 1874: “Alleged Conspiracy. Annie Fifield’s Charges Against John Maloy. Mrs. Annie Fifield, a woman who has very frequently been before Justice Riley and by him committed to jail for intoxication or disorderly conduct, went to Police Headquarters this morning and filed a complaint of a rather serious character against Policeman John Maloy, of the Sixth sub-Precinct. He has the reputation of being one of the most efficient officers on the force, and has made quite a number of good arrests in the precinct to which he is attached. Mrs. Fifield lives on Nostrand avenue, near Myrtle, which is in the officer’s district, and she has always been arrested by him. She charges Maloy with being in a conspiracy against her, that he used conduct unbecoming an officer when arresting her, and, worst of all, that he is on intimate terms with a female living in the vicinity, who is opposed to her, Mrs. Fifield, on whose instigation she has frequently been arrested without cause. The case will be examined by the Commissioners this week.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle.)
June 19, 1874: “Policeman Maloy Exonerated. Mention was made in the Eagle a few days since, of the fact that a woman named Annie Fifield had preferred charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and conspiracy with one Mrs. Burns, against Officer Maloy, of the Sixth sub-Precinct, in consequence of which she, Fifield, was arrested without cause, to gratify a malice on the part of the other woman. The case was investigated before the Police Board, yesterday, and the charge against Officer Maloy dismissed, abundant evidence having been produced to show that the accusation had no foundation on fact. Mrs. Fifield is now an inmate of Raymond street Jail, awaiting trial for felonious assault on a Mrs. Bell.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle.)
November 14, 1874: “Sent to the Inebriates’ Home. Annie Fifield, well known to the criminal courts, was committed to the Inebriates’ Home this morning, by Justice Walsh, for habitual drunkenness. The complainant was the Rev. J. G. Bass. When in the cells she amused herself with alternately singing and then howling most dismally.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle.)
July 3, 1875: “Annie Fifield, of 84 Taylor Street, owns a house on Nostrand avenue, near Park, but for all her wealth, she persists in the unrefined habit of getting drunk. Yesterday she imbibed more than was good for her, and stood upon the sidewalk of Nostrand avenue, stoning every one who passed. She will be locked up in the Penitentiary for the next two months.” (Brooklyn Times Union.)
August 2, 1875. Judge Moore, of the Court of Sessions, decreed a long list of “nolle prosequi” against a long list of defendants. Nolle prosequi translates to “a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit or action.” Anna Fifield had been charged with assault. (“The Courts.” Brooklyn Daily Union. August 2, 1875.)
January 7, 1878: “County Court, Kings County. August C. Hockemeyer, plaintiff, against Annie Fifield and Henry S. Fifield, defendant. – Summons. To the above-named defendants You are hereby summoned to answer for the complaint in this action, and to serve a copy of your answer on the plaintiff’s attorney within twenty days after the service of this summons, exclusive of the day of service; and in case of your failure to appear or answer, judgment will be taken against you by default, for the relief demanded in the complaint. Dated November 5, 1877. A. C. HOCKEMEYER, Plaintiff in person.
Post-office address and office, No. 89 Broadway, Brooklyn, N.Y. To Henry S. Fifield and Annie Fifield: The foregoing summons is served upon you by publication, pursuant to an order of Hon. Henry A. Moore, County Judge of Kings county, dated the 15th day of December, 1877, and filed with the complaint in the office of the clerk of the county of Kings, at the Court House, in the city of Brooklyn, N.Y. – Dated December 15, 1877. A. C. HOCKEMEYER, Plaintiff in person.” (Brooklyn Times Union.)
Record of Divorce. Henry S. Fifield and Annie Fifield.
In 1859 the partnership of Smith Peavey published a detailed map of Belknap County, New Hampshire which included an inset of the village of New Hampton. On that map H. S. Fifield’s home was located prominently in the center of the country village. Other Fifield’s listed on the map included D. E. Fifield, located across the street from Henry, and A. G. Fifield (inset map shows A. C. Fifield), located on the western edge of the village. Daniel Eastman Fifield and Albert G. Fifield were Henry’s brothers.
Woodford, E. M, and Smith & Peavey. Map of Belknap County, New Hampshire. Philadelphia: Smith & Peavey, 1859. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2012587751/>.
New Hampton of the year 1859 appears to have been a prosperous New England village. It was situated on the Pemigewasset River in the northern section of what is now Belknap County, about 37 miles from the Flume in Franconia Notch where Fifield would make his fame. Among the businesses located there were a carpentry shop, a turning shop, four stores, a woolen mill, a sawmill, a tailor shop, a post office, a cabinet shop, a paint shop, a grist mill, a livery stable, a Seraphine and Melodeon manufacturer, the Fountain House hotel, the Free Will Baptist Church and a common school. It was home, perhaps most notably, to the prestigious New Hampton Academy, a highly regarded academic school that was founded two centuries ago in 1821 and continues to operate today. In 1859 the school was comprised of six buildings including Center House, the Female Seminary, Chapel Hall, Boarding Hall, Randall Hall and the chapel.
With the religious New Hampton Academy, the village was home to quite a few pastors, more than what would normally be associated with a village of its size, many of them influential within the Free-Will Baptist denomination. Reverend Ebenezer Fisk, himself a student at the New Hampton Institution as a youth, would become a trustee and president of the school. Reverend John J. Butler, Fifield’s neighbor, was a professor of the biblical school and of systematic theology, remaining at the adjacent New Hampton Academy for 16 years. Reverend Isaac D. Stewart, a mathematics professor at the school, authored in 1862 the History of the Free-Will Baptists for the First Half-Century and represented the town of New Hampton for two years in the state legislature. Other pastors shown on the 1859 map as residing in New Hampton include Reverends John Fullonton, Otis Robinson Bacheler, Roscoe G. Smith and Levi Hersey. For more information about each of these pastors, and thus the village of New Hampton in the mid-19th century, see the Free Baptist Cyclopaedia, published in 1889 by Rev. G. A. Burress and Rev. J. T. Ward.
New Hampton Literary Institution and Commercial College.
Kelly, Frank H. Reminiscences of New Hampton, N.H. Worcester, MA: Charles Hamilton, 1889. p. 78.
The town of New Hampton was incorporated on November 27, 1777, only circa 50 years prior to Henry’s birth. The region first took the name Moultonborough in 1765 in honor of General Jonathan Moulton, who would later serve honorably during the American Revolution. The Moultonborough name was later changed when the town was formed, this being at the request of General Moulton in order to honor his native town. (Hurd, Duane Hamilton. “History of New Hampton.” History of Merrimack and Belknap Counties, New Hampshire. pp. 870-875.) Colonel Rufus G. Lewis (1800-1869), a prosperous businessman and officer in the New Hampshire state militia, resided at New Hampton, being considered among its most distinguished citizens.
The Flume: Photographic Beginnings
On the 1860 United States census, Fifield, age 35, was living at the town of New Hampton. There was no one else listed as living in the household. Fifield’s personal estate was valued at $100 and his real estate was valued at $800. Fifield was listed with an occupation of “Carpenter.” Interestingly, also in 1860, The New England Business Directory listed Henry S. Fifield at New Hampton as working in the “Confectionery” occupation. (The New England Business Directory. Boston: Adams, Sampson, & Co., 1860. p. 204.) That same 1860 directory listed one photographer, Oliver B. Fisk, working at the village of New Hampton.
By the early 1860s Fifield had transitioned away from his carpenter trade to set up a photographic operation at the popular tourist destination known as The Flume, located near Lincoln, New Hampshire. His photographic start was likely circa 1861, based on information on the reverse side of an 1867 stereoview. The business imprint advertised that negatives of his work at the Flume were available for six years prior, or back to 1861. On the 1863, 1864, 1865 and 1866 New Hampshire tax assessment lists Fifield’s occupation was listed as “Photographer.” In 1865, The New England Business Directory, published by Adams, Sampson, & Co., listed Fifield as the only photographer working at New Hampton.
No. 1. View of the Flume, looking up. Franconia Mts. N.H. J. Paul Getty Museum.
The Flume, as per the state park website, “is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of Conway granite rise to a height of 70 to 90 feet and are 12 to 20 feet apart.” The Flume was supposedly discovered by accident in 1808 by 93-year-old “Aunt” Jessie Guernsey while fishing along the brook. Jessie, the wife of David Guernsey, the pioneer settler in that area, had moved to the region the prior year in 1807. Today the Flume Gorge, over two centuries after its initial discovery, and located within today’s New Hampshire Franconia Notch State Park, continues to be one of the most visited attraction in the state of New Hampshire. As in yesteryear, there is a trail and boardwalk that leads visitors through the gorge.
At the time of Fifield’s photographs at the Flume there was a massive boulder that was suspended between the walls of the gorge. The rock, approximately 10 feet high and 12 feet long, was left from the ice age. It was this section of the gorge, with the suspended boulder in the background, that Fifield used for many of his photographs.
In August 1876 a correspondent with the initials C. S. N. of the Evening Star, a Washington DC newspaper, chronicled his trip through the White Mountains, providing his impressions of all the classic sites, including the Flume.
“We stopped at the Flume House over night; accommodations very fair, and charges $2 only for supper, lodging and breakfast. In the morning we visited the great natural curiosity of this neighborhood, “The Flume,” a remarkable fissure in the side of Mt. Flume, and which affords a passage for a limpid little stream called Flume Brook. The Flume is seven hundred feet long, and its walls, seventy feet high and from ten to twenty feet apart, are almost perpendicular and parallel as if built by hand. The flume itself is curious and interesting, but it has a graphic feature in a huge oval boulder suspended between the walls by a hold so slight that the spectator underneath involuntarily shrinks away with the idea that even the jar of a foot-tread may serve to detach it. The look down the Flume is a pleasing one on account of the graceful, feathery beauty and delicate green of the ferns and other forms of vegetation lining the walls of the singular fissure.” (“Walks in the White Mountains.” Evening Star. September 11, 1876.)
In 1880 a traveler with the initials G. E. M. wrote of his impressions of the White Mountains, including a trip to the Flume.
“The Flume, however, is the popular attraction of this region, and at the base of the rocky hill that leads up to this point one is sure to find at almost any hour of the day a score of carriages and stages waiting for tourists. The hill of which I speak is at first a steep slide of rock, down which a small mountain stream flows in narrow rivulets. After making my way up this slide, not without slipping occasionally and stopping to taste more than once the fresh water of the stream, I reached the slope of a hill, now climbing a narrow road, now crossing shaky wooden bridges, and at last finding myself in front of a huge pass between the stone walls of two great heights, and looking up a picturesque fissure not unlike a portion of the Au Sable Chasm. This was the Flume, and all that I had read of this marvel of nature was fully corroborated by a first view. Once ascends the Flume over rocks and plank walks, and after a short cool stroll, arrives beneath the enormous boulder that lies wedged between the walls of the ravine at its narrowest point. This boulder, which weighs several tons, fell from the mountain above in times gone by, and was stopped in its descent down the ravine, over which it hangs menacingly. In passing under it the tourist can barely help shivering, for he feels instinctively that the boulder may fall at some unexpected moment, and no one is anxious to be hard by when it does fall. Overhead the two ends of the ravine are connected by a bridge, from which a superb view of the boulder and the Flume may be had.” (“The Franconian Country.” The New York Times. August 15, 1880.)
The famous boulder, the backdrop for so many of Fifield’s photographs, was hastily swept away on June 20, 1883, two years after Fifield’s passing, due to heavy rains, lightning strikes and a massive landslide. So beloved was the suspended Flume boulder, that its demise made for big news throughout the region. This same storm deepened the gorge and formed the 45-foot Avalanche Falls.
For more details of the storm, the boulder’s fate and the effects upon the Flume there are several newspaper articles with great details. Please see
During the summer tourist season from July 1st through October 5th Fifield was based out of the Flume House as the resident photographer. He worked from a basic “shanty” in the Flume just below the famous suspended boulder. With that single background he photographed travelers who sought a personalized souvenir of their visit. According to some reports Fifield averaged more than 1,000 negatives per year during his time working at the Flume. In fact, one Fifield stereoview from 1877, located in the New York Public Library digital collection, was labeled as Flume No. 1174.
Flume No. 182. 1870. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Flume, No. 79. 1878. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Meticulous in his work, Fifield labeled each stereoview on the reverse side with his business imprint and numbered the photographs each year consecutively beginning with “Flume, No. 1” followed by the year. In 1865 the price for a personalized group stereoview at the Flume cost $1. In addition to the personalized photographs, Fifield also sold ready-made stereoviews of the Flume and of other famous sites in the White Mountains. Ready-made stereoviews were not individually numbered and were scenic in nature, without people. Out of tourist season, from October to June, Fifield was located at his hometown of New Hampton in Belknap County, New Hampshire.
Based on the business imprint on the reverse side of his stereoviews it seems clear that Fifield must have maintained well organized records and negatives of his work at the Flume. An 1867 stereoview advertised that negatives were available from the previous six years, or back to 1861. Many of Fifield’s stereoviews continued to have this same business imprint in the years following. The business imprint stated that “Stereoscopic or Album Views can be had by any person who have had Negatives taken in the Flume within the last six years, by sending to H. S. Fifield, New Hampton, N. H., any time excepting in July, August and September.”
H. S. Fifield business imprint. Flume, No. 79. 1878. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Beginning in the year 1873 Fifield extended the availability of his past negatives to ten years, or back to 1863. The advertising of this ten-year storage availability continued every year through 1879. Given the estimated over 1,000 photographs taken by Fifield each year at the Flume, he would have maintained an inventory of over 10,000 photographs at his New Hampton studio. An 1880 stereoview, which would have been taken during the summer, did not advertise that negatives from prior years were available, likely because of a March 1880 fire that destroyed Fifield’s photography rooms at New Hampton.
The Flume House, where Fifield was based, was a large summer hotel located in close proximity to the Flume Gorge. The first hotel by that name was constructed in 1848, and acquired by Richard Taft in 1849. After the original house was destroyed by fire in January 1871, a new house Flume House was constructed the following year. The Flume House soon gained a reputation as one of the finest summer hotels in the White Mountains. Upon its reopening in 1872 under the ownership of Taft and Greenleaf, the Vermont Chronicle described the house. “They have made it a gem of an edifice, most admirably suited to summer boarders who would be more quiet than they can be in such a house as this, and, at the same time, would have the luxury of a dwelling in the midst of most magnificent mountain scenery. At the Flume House, whether one looks up the heights of Mt. Lafayette, or out upon the vast expanse of the valley, stretching away toward Plymouth, it is scarcely possible that he should tire of the view.” (“From the White Mountains.” Vermont Chronicle. July 27, 1872.)
The Flume House, Franconia Notch, N.H. Author’s collection.
The popular hotel was located near a number of popular sites, including a 1/2 mile from the Pool, 3/4 mile from the Flume, 1 1/2 miles from the Basin, 3 miles from Georgianna Falls and 4 1/2 miles from Profile Lake. The hotel offered sweeping views from the south verandah of the Pemigewasset valley. Views to the front and north of the hotel included “the noble line of the Franconia Mts., breaking down to the deep pass on the N., and clothed with forests to their tops. These peaks form the profile called Washington Lying in State, with Mt. Liberty for his upturned face, the highest ledge being the nose, and the ridges running to the N. forming the body and limbs.” (Sweetser, M. F. The White Mountains: A Handbook for Travellers. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1881. p. 270.)
The owners of the Flume House also owned and operated the nearby Profile House. In 1883, the Flume House, in order to accommodate the growing number of visitors, was enlarged, doubling its size. The house accommodated 150 guests. The historic Flume House burned down on June 27, 1918. It was never rebuilt.
Newspapers of the 1860s and 1870s often published articles from the traveling public as they visited popular tourist regions. Given the popularity of the White Mountains region, the Flume and the surrounding sites such as the Basin, the Pool and the Old Man on the Mountain were all frequently mentioned in these mini-travelogues. Occasionally the writer would reference photographer Fifield and his work at the Flume.
An 1862 traveler, writing of his trip to the White Mountains, described the scene at The Flume, and mentions the “photographist” operating there.
“Nearly in the centre of the Pass and fully thirty feet above the bottom is the often described boulder or fallen rock in the pass, and so nicely fitted as to form a grand natural platform in this ravine. It seems as if a slight effort would throw it down, and yet it has remained in the same position, ever since its first discovery, and seems likely to remain so as long as the rock exists. The scene from the lower part of the Flume looking up, with the pass filled with tourists, standing about on the various rocks and boulders, in every variety of costume, is strikingly picturesque. An enterprising photographist on the spot avails himself of the opportunity when there are a large number of visitors, to take photographs, for which he finds a ready market for future delivery at remunerative prices.” (“A Trip to the White Mountains.” Buffalo Morning Express. August 26, 1862.)
In 1865 a visitor by the name N. W. G. wrote of his travels through the White Mountains on foot, which included a brief description of the boulder and of Fifield’s business.
“Many trees have fallen into the cleft, where they still remain as they fell, adding wildness to the scene, while others have fallen over it, affording convenient foot bridges for those who have enough of the Blondin disposition to enable them to cross,– and also another and different view of the yawning chasm beneath. Altogether this is a scene which for wild grandeur and sublimity, nature seldom surpasses. There is a picture gallery here, though the gallery is mostly out of doors, the little shanty at which my letter is dated being used as a sort of laboratory or workshop by the Artist, who furnishes a good stereoscopic view of the Flume with the purchaser in it, for the moderate sum of one dollar. I had a mind to have one taken, but South thought that a view of the scenery with us left out would be preferable, and as they had them ready made we concluded not to stop for new ones.” (“A Trip to the White Mountains on Foot.” Green-Mountain Freeman. September 19, 1865.)
In September 1867 a traveler by the name of “Thwing” wrote in The Berkshire County Eagle of his trip to the Franconia Mountains.
“Further on is the Basin, a bath fit for a goddess, and further still, the grand old Flume, with its dark, damp, massive walls, covered with moss and shutting in a brawling stream that foams and rushes over the slippery rocks till it finds a smooth, granite bed and spreads out into silvery sheets. You must enter the gorge over the platform of the photographer Fifield, who is “always at home” and ready to “negative” your party.” (“Franconia Mountains.” The Berkshire County Eagle. September 5, 1867.)
In August 1869 Reverend Ollapod wrote of his visit in the White Mountains including stops at the Old Man of the Mountain, The Basin, The Flume and the Profile House. While at the Flume Ollapod described Fifield’s photographic operation.
“We follow up the stream several hundred feet further; it is one continual succession of tumbling falls over little precipices for a long way up the mountain side. We leave it with regret, but our presence is needed for the foreground of a picture of “Dame Nature in Her Wildest Moods.” An enterprising photographer has set up his “gallery,” in the shape of a little board shanty right over the stream where it escapes from its narrow rocky walls, and is taking photos of the wonder almost any hour in the day, including the visitors scattered on every rock within the chasm. By inclosing “the small sum of one dollar” to the “presiding genius” of the place, for “No. 216,” you will be able to obtain as good a representation of “The Flume” as can be put in a stereoscope, together with a striking likeness of the allapod, perched on the most dangerous pinnacle of rock therein.” (“Vacation Rambles – No 11.” Lawrence Daily Journal. August 18, 1869.)
In September 1878 the Earl of Dunraven and his party visited the Franconia Notch area. On the itinerary was a stop at the Flume, where they were photographed by Fifield.
“Among the notables who have recently created a flutter in the society of the Profile House by their visit to the Notch was the Earl of Dunraven, his wife and three daughters and members of his suite. They were perfectly charmed with the beauties of this wild and romantic Notch. Several discharges of the cannon at Echo Lake were ordered in their honor, and the party expressed their amazement at the echo, which bounded and rebounded from Lafayette to Cannon Mountain and crashed down through the Notch with startling distinctness. While at the Flume, the old hermit, Mr. H. S. Fifield, who is a good photographer by the way, took pictures of the party.” (“Breezes from the Flume.” Boston Post. October 2, 1878.)
No. 156. Profile Lake from the Boat House. Franconia Mts. N.H.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1870). Profile Lake from the Boat House. Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-82bc-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
No. 145. Eagle Cliff from Echo Lake. Franconia Mts. N.H. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Philosopher of the Pool
Among his well-known subjects Fifield took a number of photographs of the legendary John Merrill (1802-1892), better known as the “Arctic Philosopher,” the “Mountain Philosopher,” “Director of the Pool” or the “Philosopher of the Pool.” From 1853 to around 1887, Merrill held court at “The Pool,” a deep basin set among towering cliffs along the Pemigewasset River, where he entertained tourists with his philosophical and geological musings.
In 1858 Merrill, based on his supposed study of geology, published the unique pamphlet titled “Lecture Delivered at the Flume House Parlor, before a Company of Editors, on the System of the Earth’s being Hollow: by John Merrill, Director of the Pool, Natural and Practical Philosopher, and Geologist to the Franconia Mountains.” This pamphlet was expanded several years later into a book.
Among Merrill’s beliefs, as written in 1860 in his Cosmogony; Or Thoughts on Philosophy, were that “the evidence is abundant and clear that this earth is not a solid sphere, but a hollow world, more flattened at the extremes than is usually admitted; that it is open at the northern and southern extremities admitting heat, light, air and space inside; and that there are continents and oceans within as habitable and navigable as those on the outside.”
As for how Merrill’s time at the Pool began, “in the course of his wanderings, he came to the Pool in 1853, and on this first visit he happened to meet a party of forty sight-seers who wished to get near the fall. To accommodate them he set to work and constructed a rude boat, which he lowered down to the river by means of a rope. Thus, by chance he found what was to be his summer vocation for many years, as he was induced to return annually . . .” (Kilbourne, Frederick, W. Chronicles of the White Mountains. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916. p. 261-262.)
Whether or not visitors found the talkative and eccentric Merrill to be believable, it was generally accepted that he provided entertainment, and was generally sought out by the traveling public. Reverend E. P. Thwing wrote of Merrill: “as to whether the old man’s story is a shrewd money-making scheme, or whether he really believes it, and is deranged, or not properly ar-ranged, mountain travellers do not agree; but all affirm that an hour at the Pool is a delightful episode in a visit to the Franconia Notch.” (Thwing, Rev. E. P. “White Mountain Memories.” Oliver Optic’s Magazine. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1867. p. 431.)
At the Pool, Merrill would calmly paddle his paying customers across the water in his skiff as he elaborated on his peculiar ideas. Quite the showman he was said to have made a good living offering his philosophies while selling photographs and copies of his book. Five visitors, the first in 1865, the next in 1867, one in 1871, one in 1876 and the other in 1884, wrote of their always memorable encounters with Merrill at the Pool.
1865: “. . . and the Pool, also, in the Pemigewasset, not far from the entrance of the stream on which are situated the Cascade and Flume. Both are small basins in the rocks, worn out apparently by the eddying motion of the water, which whirls within them still, but a huge pile of rock yet remains to be worn away. Perhaps the greatest natural curiosities at the Pool are the old man and his wife who gain a living – and I should judge a good one – by rowing visitors across it, and by selling pictures and books, though I think the only book they have for sale, is a small, crazy work on “The Philosophy of Creation,” written by the old man himself, and which is a curious specimen of literature, although I guess it sells well, as they say they have sold over six thousand copies at their stand. On the side of the rock opposite the boats, he has drawn some diagrams which are enveloped in mysterious letters and figures, a la the Plantation Bitters; and if you ask him what they mean, he will propose to row you over for a quarter of a dollar, and explain to you the whole thing, and when he has done so you know just as much about it as you did before, and probably just as much as he does. He also has several letters which he supposes were written by royal hands in Europe in appreciation of his “Philosophy” – including one from Louis Napoleon, and one from Victoria and Prince Albert, which last was “signed in the Grand Culinary Department with a Royal Goose quill.” The truth is they were “signed” and written by some cute gentlemen who were stopping at the Flume House several years ago, and who played it on the old man so cleverly that he thought they were genuine documents, and that he was really being courted by royalty. So he had the letters printed, and keeps them open at his stand to prove to visitors that he is a man of consequence in the world of letters and science. He thinks he is playing the lion, and that he has roared so as to make the Duke say “Let him roar again; let him roar again.” The old man has been here for many years, and is familiar with all this region, and is not altogether unacquainted with the world, being a man of more than ordinary intelligence, but he made the mistake – though he is not alone in it – of trying to tell a little more than he really knew.” (“A Trip to the White Mountains on Foot.” Green-Mountain Freeman. September 19, 1865.)
1867: “In the Valley of the Pemigewasset, three quarters of a mile from the Flume House, is the Pool, for many years the summer haunt of the famous John Merrill, whose amusing oddities, no less than the natural beauties of the place, attract thousands of visitors. A company of lively New Yorkers and Bostonians, on this occasion, pushed their way through the woods to pay the old philosopher a visit. We found him and his ark of a boat just where they long have been, at the foot of the steep, winding, and somewhat perilous path which leads to the Pool. This deep excavation seems hewn from the granite of the mountain to hold the waters of a beautiful cascade. The width of the Pool is a hundred and fifty feet, and its depth forty feet . . .
Having enjoyed a sail on the water, and a taste of a so-called “mineral spring,” we all begged the boatman to give us one of his scientific lectures. He accordingly arose in the boat, bared his head, and begun elucidating his wonderful theory of creation. Notwithstanding frequent interruptions and ludicrous questions, he kept his temper admirably. “I say, old man,” inquired one, “what’s the difference between hemisphere and atmosphere?” “Please talk louder, for we’re very deaf,” chimes in another. “How can John Franklin’s men see on the inside of the glove, so deep in the hole you speak of?” asks a third. With an answer for every questioner, the lecturer provided with great gravity, and concluded by offering for our inspection a copy of a royal dispatch, supposed by him to have been received from England several years ago through Lord Napier.” (Thwing, Rev. E. P. “White Mountain Memories.” Oliver Optic’s Magazine. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1867. p. 431.)
1871: “Rode up about four miles, when we came to the Flume-house stable, – put the good steeds in and started to find “The Pool.” A wild, rugged path led to it. It is beautiful, hidden as it is far away from the haunts of man, but not wasting “itself upon the desert air.” Pictures of it give but a poor idea of the grandeur of its high walls and cool depths. Coming out we came across a man who styled himself “Professor Merrill.” He had stereoscopic pictures of White Mountain scenery to sell. Believes this world is a huge hollow ball, with a large opening at each end, wherein the air rushes to keep alive a race of human beings not unlike ourselves; thinks the time is not far distant when his theory will be proved and believed; the Arctic explorer, Hall, will find the opening this time, and let the world know the truth.” (“Among the Mountains.” New England Farmer. August 26, 1871.)
1876: “. . . a visit to the Pool, where the Pemigewasset river falls into a basin 100 feet in diameter and 40 feet deep, surrounded by cliffs 150 feet high. It is said to look Stygian, and all that by daylight, and was certainly a somber looking hole in the dusk of evening. An odd sort of genius haunts the Pool, and takes passengers out over its depths on a rude float. Then he talks philosophy to them and expounds theories of his own upon the cosmogony of the world, and altogether gives the impression of a dreamy visionary, too unpractical to make his way amongst his fellow men in the rude jostle of life. But he is no fool. He comes here from the West, has summered here twelve years, and in that time has saved enough from acting as cicerone at the Pool to buy two large farms in Minnesota [Wisconsin].” (“Walks in the White Mountains.” Evening Star. September 11, 1876.)
1884: “Old Charon. But this unsocial being is to these mountains born, and here he domiciles the whole year round. At the Poole, not far from the Flume House, is an aged man of mare than the average intelligence. He comes yearly from Wisconsin, and actually poses on a grand pseudo scientific hypothesis. This old man of the Pool is in his 84th year. He has a farm of his own, West, and is really well-do-do. With his boat on the cold troubled waters of this natural basin in the Pemigewasset, with his uncouth aspect he is suggestive of Charon of the Styx. As a scientific theorist he discourses learned gabble as a cosmogonist, having a doctrine about the hollow of the world which would delight JULES VERNE. He also plays the role of genealogist, and it is surprising to see how many ladies leave the hoary deceiver impressed with the knowledge that they are descended from noble and imperial lines on the other side. For nineteen years has this old fellow in this way played the sponge. For a seat in his boat or a dose of his gabble, he charges twelve and a half cents, by which he secures thirteen cents, and if fifteen are offered, he is too much occupied with “the hole in the earth” to make change. One leaves the old theorist with a new conviction that the world is hollow. But sponges may become too dry to suck and cranks too weak to turn – so it is said this year is his last, and it looks as if his namesake may soon call to ferry him over.” (“White Mountain Letters.” Monmouth Democrat. September 18, 1884.)
Merrill was born at Bristol, New Hampshire on April 10, 1802. He married Rhoda Cilley (1803-1885) on September 13, 1824, and together they had six children, including Abby R. Merrill (1825-1906), Charles C. Merrill (1831-1863), Willard C. Merrill (b. 1833), William C. Merrill (b. 1833), John Samuel Merrill, Jr. (1837-1919) and Peter Hatchett Merrill (1841-1918). John and Rhoda lived on Periwig mountain, then at Andover, followed by Dorchester and lastly in Wisconsin.
For many years Merrill lived on his Pardeeville, Wisconsin farm during the offseason, while returning to New Hampshire during the summer season. In all his years residing at the Pool, which included the company of his pet hedgehog and pet raccoon, it was claimed that “he has never known a sick day.”
“From the Pool he carried away annually enough money to provide a comfortable living for the rest of the year. Indeed, it is said that the gratuities given him by tourists for paddling them over the Pool and for expounding to them his cosmogony were in the aggregate far from inconsiderable. While he was undoubtedly an oddity, it is hinted that there was method in his peculiarity, some of his notions and characteristics being assumed for their value in extracting money from visitors to this beauty spot.” (Kilbourne, Frederick, W. Chronicles of the White Mountains. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916. p. 261-262.)
Rhoda Merrill passed away on January 10, 1885. John Merrill passed away on September 20, 1892. They are both buried at Pardeeville Cemetery in Wisconsin.
Fifield’s well-known photograph of Merrill titled “Arctic Philosopher in the Pool” shows him sitting alongside his wife Rhoda in his “rude” skiff at The Pool. In the background one sees a waterfall as the river drops into the calm waters of the basin, while offering just a hint of the surrounding cliffs.
No. 149. Arctic Philosopher in the Pool. Franconia Mts., N.H.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Arctic Philosopher and Wife in the Pool, Franconia Mts., N.H." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1870. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-82ae-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
According to Andrew Griscom, Fifield took a number of pictures of the Pool, some of which included John Merrill. Fifield stereo view numbers 90, 148, 149 and 501 included Merrill in the picture. Griscom noted that several different images were used by Fifield for numbers 148 and 149; and that stereoview number 501 was the same as 149. Other photographs of the Pool by Fifield included numbers 150, 365 and 500, although numbers 365 and 500 were like number 150. (Griscom, Andrew. “John Merrill. Philosopher of the Pool.” Stereo World. Volume 8, No. 4. September/October 1881. pp. 12-14.)
Griscom noted that “Merrill is preserved historically as one of the most widely photographed individuals in American stereo-photography.” Other photographers who published stereoviews of Merrill include S. F. Adams, G. H. Aldrich, Charles Bierstadt, Kilburn Brothers, Littleton View Company, J. W. and J. S. Moulton, J. P. Soule, F. G. Weller, F. White, O. R. Wilkinson and G. W. Woodward.
Although Fifield’s photographic monopoly at the Flume largely remained intact through his passing in 1881, he was far from the only photographer whose attentions were charmed by the White Mountains. The market for scenic views from throughout the region, driven by the growing tourist audience, seemed to grow every year, and that growing demand, in turn, attracted even more photographers. It was estimated that “by 1870 nearly every sizeable New Hampshire town had its own stereo photographer.” (Southall, Thomas W. The Kilburn Brothers Stereoscopic View Company. 1977. p. 17.) Below are brief descriptions of just a few historic White Mountains photographers as well as some of Fifield’s regional competitors.
The Kilburn Brothers Stereoscopic View Company was founded in 1865 in the rural town of Littleton, New Hampshire. The company was comprised of brothers Benjamin Kilburn (1827-1909) and Edward Kilburn (1830-1884). The company was perhaps most noted for their work in the White Mountains, but also published stereoviews from throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Kilburn Brothers would become the world’s largest producer of stereoscopic views, reaching annual peak production of over five million stereoviews in the first decade of the 20th century. The company operated until 1910. For an interesting read about the history of the company see The Kilburn Brothers Stereoscopic View Company, written by Thomas W. Southall and published in 1977.
Nathan W. Pease (1836-1918), born at Cornish, Maine, was a popular photographer based at North Conway, New Hampshire. He published a wide range of landscape stereoviews from the local area of the surrounding White Mountains, “becoming one of the leading producers of stereo views, portraits and landscapes in the area.” (Walker, Ray. “N. W. Pease. Granite State Photographer.” Stereo World. Vol. 1, No. 5. November-December 1974. p. 4.) “Though operating on a smaller scale than the famed Kilburn Brothers of Littleton, fifty miles north, it is apparent that he was well able to hold his own in competition not only with the Kilburns but with a score of other photographers who “worked” the area.” (Walker, Ray. Ibid.) Pease operated his photography business at North Conway continuously from 1858 to 1913, the only break being his honorable service during the Civil War in 1861-1862. During the Civil War he served with the 11th Maine Volunteers. He later served as a member of the New Hampshire state legislature. Nathan W. Pease passed away at 82 years of age on September 29, 1918.
Franklin G. Weller (1833-1877) was born on December 3, 1833 at Hanover, New Hampshire. Weller, a former coach and wagon painter, established his stereograph business at Littleton, New Hampshire in 1861. He was mentored by photographer Franklin White of Lancaster, New Hampshire, and later purchased a half interest in White’s stereoview business. His original focus was stereoviews for the tourist trade, notably landscapes and architecture of the White Mountains region. When the Kilburn Brothers operation “surpassed Weller’s landscape efforts, Weller began to emphasize the comic and allegorical stereographs for which he became famous.” (Southall, Thomas W. The Kilburn Brothers Stereoscopic View Company. 1977. p. 20.) He was perhaps most well-known for his “Stereoscopic Treasures,” “a series of subject pictures representing American life, both sentimental and comic, taken from living subjects in appropriate costumes and positions to represent the natural scene, and tell the story in the most effective manner.” Beginning in 1871 Weller issued over 400 of these “treasures.” Weller passed away of tuberculosis on December 8, 1877 and is buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Littleton. With Weller’s passing his business was succeeded by photographer George H. Aldrich (1842-1889).
The Littleton View Company was established in 1883 by William H. Bellows, George S. Bellows and artist John Ready with the purchase of the George H. Aldrich stereoview business. Ready, a Civil War veteran, left the business three years later in 1886 to open his own photograph studio at Boonville, New York. The company operated out of the village of Littleton, New Hampshire, continuing operations for 17 years, before going out of business in 1900.
John P. Soule (1828-1904), of Boston, took up photography in 1858, apprenticed under J. W. Black, worked briefly for the Bierstadt brothers, and then established his own business two years later in 1860. Although well-known for his photography in the White Mountains he also sold stereoscopic views of Niagara Falls, Boston, Washington, Harper’s Ferry, “Scenes of the Great Rebellion” and the Hudson Valley. In 1882 Soule sold his business to W. B. Everett and his younger brother William Stinson Soule (1836-1908), also a renowned photographer, which after operated as the Soule Photograph Company. Soule then traveled to the west, photographing in Colorado and Utah. In 1888 he moved to Seattle where he continued working as a photographer, being noted for his photographs of the 1889 Great Seattle Fire and its aftermath. John P. Soule died of apoplectic stroke at age 76 in Seattle on November 27, 1904.
Franklin White (1813-1870), operating out of Lancaster, New Hampshire, began his career as a landscape painter before transitioning to becoming a daguerreotypist in the mid-1850s. Originally focused on portrait photography he then moved his attentions to the landscapes of the White Mountains, eventually being credited as “the most significant influence on the early development of the stereoscopic industry of the White Mountains.” (Chamberlin, Gary N. “Franklin White. Pioneer Photographer.” Stereo World. Vol. 2, No. 4. September-October 1975.) White mentored Franklin G. Weller, who later purchased a half interest in White’s business in 1867. He published several viewbooks which captured the beauties of the region. A frequent subject was Mount Washington and several of the well-known resorts such as the Glen House at Gorham, N.H. and the Profile House in Franconia Notch. Franklin, at various times in his career, partnered with his brother Luther White, a photographer at Montpelier, Vermont, sometimes operating under the name White Bros.
Franklin B. Gage (1824-1874) began his photographic career in 1851 with the opening of his St. Johnsbury Portrait Gallery at St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Gage, who often referred to himself as “the man with the long flowing beard,” is considered the pioneer photographer at St. Johnsbury. By 1856 Gage advertised that his gallery was the largest photographic establishment in Vermont and by 1860 it was written that Gage was “one of the most experienced of American photographers.” (“A New Toning Process.” The Photographic News. Vol. 4, No. 116. November 23, 1860.) Gage was a man of many talents, being an inventor, patent holder, a poet, a prolific author and publisher of many stereoviews of both Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Gage continuously operated his St. Johnsbury gallery for 24 years until his passing. Gage passed away from “blood poison” on August 23, 1874 and is buried at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery at St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Upon Gage’s passing in 1874 his gallery was purchased by George H. Hastings, a then young up-and-coming photographer who would become the President of the Photographers’ Association of America.
Ora C. Bolton was an ambrotype artist from Littleton, New Hampshire. He was the first resident photographer at that village, having established his studio in 1859 in the attic of the Gile’s Main Street building. Bolton mentored several photographers in the trade, including Franklin G. Weller, Edward Kilburn, of Kilburn Brothers, and John Smillie of Barnet, Vermont. Bolton’s business was purchased by his student Edward Kilburn, who operated it until 1868. Kilburn, in turn, sold the business to J. Smillie, another student of Bolton’s, who then operated the studio for another 15 years.
Clough and Kimball was a brief, but productive, photographic partnership between Amos Franklin Clough (1833-1872) and Howard Algernon Kimball (1845-1929). The business, located at Concord, New Hampshire, published hundreds of stereoviews, but was perhaps most noted for their series titled “Views taken on the Summit of Mt. Washington during the winter of 1870-71.” Clough and Kimball were part of a six-member scientific team that spent the winter of 1870-71 at the top of Mountain Washington. Photographs included the Tip Top House, the Summit House, the Lizzie Bourne Monument, winter closeups of frost, snow and ice, views from Mount Washington and many more. For more information about Clough, see In Search of Amos Clough, written by Robert W. Averill and published in 2019. For interesting details about the winter scientific mission upon Mount Washington, one in which Kimball almost died, see the Clough and Kimball 1871 writeup that was included as part of Mount Washington in Winter or The Experiences of a Scientific Expedition Upon the Highest Mountain in New England.
“George H. Hastings was born in Irasburg, Vt., January 3, 1852 . . . Early in life young Hastings evinced a taste for artistic pursuits, beginning the study of photography at Lyndonville, Vt., when only seventeen years old. The following year he succeeded his employer, O. C. Bolton, in the photographic business. In 1872 Mr. Hastings removed to St. Johnsbury, Vt., and there he bought out the old poet-photographer, F. B. Gage, remaining in St. Johnsbury until 1876. He then sold out this establishment, and, after working in different cities for some time, settled in Newton, Mass., in 1878. Here he conducted a very successful business for two years. Mr. Hastings then commenced his Boston career, establishing the partnership of Ritz & Hastings, at Temple Place. At the end of four years he bought Mr. Ritz’s interest in the partnership, and since that time has conducted this large establishment alone. In addition to his Boston establishment, Mr. Hastings owns a half interest in the summer studio of E. C. Dana, at Newport, R.I. Mr. Hastings’ reputation as an artistic photographer has steadily increased until now he enjoys as fine a patronage as any photographer in the city, and is classed in the very first rank of photographers, both in photographic circles and by the public generally.” (“The President of the Photographers’ Association of America.” The Photographic Times. Volume 21. No. 512. July 10, 1891.) Hastings would later become one of the youngest men to serve as President of the Photographers’ Association of America.
To be continued next week . . .
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