W. F. Spencer was a popular photographer in Delaware County, New York from circa 1859 to 1886. He operated at several locations in the area including Stamford, Gilboa and Prattsville. Despite his photographic success he was perhaps more popularly known locally as a jeweler and watchmaker.
Bloomville Mirror advertisement, April 29, 1862.
William F. Spencer was born in Delaware County, New York. The 1900 United States census shows his birth as January 1830, although other census reports show his birth year as circa 1828 or 1829. Throughout his life, many records, such as newspaper accounts, show William using the nickname “W. F.,” while some official records, such as census reports, use the first name “Whedon.”
According to census records, William and his mother Eliza were living at the village of Windham from circa 1831. Sometime in the 1850s at the village of Windham, New York, Spencer, while in his mid-20s, established a jewelry and watch business, a trade he would continue for the remainder of his life.
On the 1855 New York state census Spencer, age 28, was residing at the village of Windham in Greene County, New York. He was living with his wife Caroline M., age 25; his mother Eliza Spencer, age 48; and a boarder by the name of Mary Fink, age 18. Spencer was listed with an occupation of Watch Maker. His mother Eliza was listed as widowed. Eliza and the boarder Mary were both listed with an occupation of Milliner. The family was living in a framed house valued at $500. The census shows that Spencer and his mother had been residing at Windham for 24 years while his wife Caroline had been residing there for 4 years. Caroline was shown as having been born in Albany County, New York.
In 1857 Spencer was advertising his jewelry business at Windham, New York. “The Metropolitan Police War has kicked up quite a dust in Gotham. Everyone knows that, but everyone does not know that Watches, Jewelry, & c., can be purchased of Mr. W. F. Spencer as economically as elsewhere in the county. Economy consists in purchasing where you can get the best article for the smallest amount of money. Never send to strangers, therefore, for an article which may be as cheaply and suitably purchased at home. Read Mr. Spencer’s advertisement, in another column, and give him a call.” (Windham Journal. August 6, 1857.)
A March 1857 advertisement in the Windham Journal highlighted the many offerings of Spencer’s business.
“Opposition to Imposition. W. F. Spencer keeps constantly on hand a complete assortment of Clocks, Watches, Jewelry, And Fancy Goods, which he will sell as cheap as can be bought outside of New York city. Among his stock may be found Gold and Silver Watches, Gold Pens and Pencils, Gold Chains, Gold, Cameo and Mosaic Pins, Ear Drops and Knobs, Gold and Cornelian Finger Rings, Gold Sleeve Buttons and Studs, Silver and German Silver Thimbles, Silver and Silver Plated Table, Tea, Cream, Sugar, Salt and Mustard Spoons; Butter and Fruit Knives, Spectacles, & c. Shears, scissors, port-moneys and wallets, pen, pocket and table cutlery, and all articles usually found at such a store.
Clocks, Watches and Musical Instruments repaired and warranted. Old Gold and silver taken in exchange for work or goods.
Windham, March 21st, 1857.”
In 1857 Spencer, in addition to his jewelry business, can also be found at Windham operating his photograph gallery. He advertised in the Windham Journal for “SPANISH QUARTERS taken for twenty-two cents at W. F. SPENCER’S.”
After running his “Opposition to Imposition” advertisement in the local newspapers for a long time, and now finding the advertisement “stale,” in 1858 Spencer advertised under a heading of “New Arrangement.”
“New Arrangement. W. F. Spencer, Finding that the quick six-pence is better than a slow shilling, will offer his stock of goods, for CASH, fifteen per cent cheaper than can be bought outside of New York city. His goods consist of Gold and Silver Watches, Gold Pens and Pencils, Gold Chains, Gold, Cameo, Mosaic & Florentine Pins, Ear Drops and Knobs, Gold and Cornelian Finger Rings, Gold Sleeve Buttons and Studs, Silver and German Silver Thimbles, Silver, plated & Steel-bowed Spectacles, Plated Goods of all kinds, Pen and Pocket Cutlery, Sheers, Scissors, Razors, & c. Harrison’s J. D. Edrek’s and Lubin’s Extracts for the handkerchief. Minor’s Extracts for flavoring. Hair Oils, Restoratives, Colognes, Toilet Soaps, and Depilatory, Stationary, Port Monies, Wallets, Pass Books, & c. A great variety of Clocks, eight day and thirty hour, with and without Alarms, and all goods usually kept in such Stores, Cheap for Cash.
Clocks, Watches and Musical Instruments repaired and warranted. Old Silver taken in exchange for work or goods. Windham Center, April 21, 1858.” (Windham Journal. 1858.)
By late 1858 Spencer seemed to be preparing to leave the village of Windham. He placed the following notice in the Windham Journal, the local newspaper. “Notice. ALL PERSONS INDEBTED TO W. F. Spencer, either by note or account, are requested to call and make immediate payment, in order that he may do the same by his creditors.”
In 1859 Spencer entered into partnership with Henry L. Lemily, of Windham, with Spencer focusing on the selling and repairing of watches and jewelry and Lemily focusing on producing photographs, ambrotypes and melainotypes “in the best styles and at the lowest prices.” Their business was located within a Daguerrean Car at Bloomville, New York near the hotel of James W. Lyon. Lemily was well regarded locally, having placed second for “best ambrotypes” at the 1859 Delaware County Fair. First place was awarded to Jones & Ferguson of Kortright; and third place was awarded to O’Connor & Atkins.
In September 1859 Spencer was operating his photography business at the village of Bloomville, New York. “Mr. W. F. Spencer, Ambrotypist, requests to say that he will be here [Bloomville] on the 1st of Sept. with his Car, and attend to the wants of the people in the Picture line, and also in the repairing of Jewelry, clocks, Watches, & c.” (Bloomville Mirror. August 23, 1859.) In October 1859 Spencer sold his house and property at Windham to C. A. Mattoon, with ownership to take effect on November 10, 1859.
That same year, 1859, saw a small conflict between competing photographers, when L. D. Jones publicly challenged Spencer to compare their work at the upcoming county fair. “Andes, Aug. 20th, 1859. Mr. W. F. Spencer – As you make opposition to me in making Ambrotypes, I will give you another chance. Carry some of your pictures to the Fair and I will make opposition to you. L. D. JONES.” (Bloomville Mirror. 1859.) Jones briefly operated out of the villages of Andes, Bloomville, Delhi (at Churchill’s old gallery) and Hobart. L. D. Jones, in addition to being a photographer, was also a watch-maker and jeweler at the village of Andes, adding even further intrigue to the competition.
On the 1860 United States census, W. F. Spencer, age 32, was residing at Jefferson in Schoharie County, New York. He was living with his wife Caroline, age 30; his daughter Frances, age 4; and his daughter Augusta, age 11 months. Also living in the household was Elizabeth Washburn, age 11, who was listed as an adopted daughter on the 1865 New York State census. No occupation was listed was listed for W.F. His real estate was valued at $2,500 and his personal estate was valued at $1,000.
Augusta Spencer, W. F.’s daughter, was born in August 1859 and married Horace E. Stoddard in January 1881 at a ceremony in her hometown of Stamford. Augusta, affectionately known as “Gussie,” was a graduate of the Stamford Seminary and was considered to have “extraordinary musical ability.” (The Roxbury Times. August 28, 1915.) Horace Elijah Stoddard (1847-1937), the son of Chester (1812-1893) and Charity Stoddard (1810-1881), first worked as a farmer with his father and then worked for the Ulster and Delaware Rail Road (UDRR) company for many years as a conductor, laborer, baggage-man and expressman. The 1900 United States census reported that Horace and Augusta had seven children, six of them living at the time. Their children included Joseph (b. November, 1877), Frank (b. January, 1882), Harry (b. November, 1884), Charity (b. September, 1887), Helen (b. July, 1890), William (b. November, 1892) and Louise (b. September, 1895). Augusta passed away on May 20, 1929 at 70 years of age in New York City and was interred at Wiltwyck Cemetery in Kingston, New York. Horace passed away on April 4, 1937 in Bronx, New York and was also interred at Wiltwyck Cemetery.
Stamford Seminary, Stamford, N.Y. 1869.
Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. "Res. of Wm. Youmans Jr. Delhi N.Y. ; Christ Church & Parsonage, Walton N.Y. ; Presbyterian Church, Downsville N.Y. ; Stamford Seminary, Stamford N.Y. S.E. Churchhill, Principal & Proptr."" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1869. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-67c9-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a9
Frances Spencer, W. F.’s daughter, was born in 1855 at Greene County, New York. Like her father, she would engage in the jewelry business, partnering with him in their business at Kingston, New York. The 1900 United States census listed her marital status as single. Frances passed away at the age of 73 in New York City on October 29, 1928.
In 1860 Spencer, formerly of Windham, purchased the hotel owned by George W. Childs, a local merchant, at the hamlet of Jefferson in Schoharie County, New York. The property was purchased on March 6, 1860. According to the current owners of the building the Jefferson Hotel, as it was first called, got its start in 1833 and doubled as a stage coach stop. By the time of Spencer’s ownership, the hotel operated under the name of Jefferson House. The hotel was located in the heart of the Jefferson hamlet near the post office, stores, churches and across the road from the village square. At the suggestion of Revolutionary War veteran and local resident Colonel Stephen Judd the hamlet of Jefferson, and thus the Jefferson House, were named for founding father Thomas Jefferson. Spencer’s Windham jewelry business was taken over by Truman Johnson.
Jefferson House advertisement. Bloomville Mirror, October 30, 1860.
1856 map of the hamlet of Jefferson, Schoharie County, New York, including the Jefferson House.
Wenig, E, Wm Lorey, and Robert Pearsall Smith. Map of Schoharie Co., New York. Philadelphia: Published by R.P. Smith, 1856. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2008620859/>.
Jefferson House. Courtesy of Jefferson Historical Society. www.thejeffersonhistoricalsociety.com.
Spencer’s ownership of the Jefferson House did not last long, for land records show that on December 26, 1860 Spencer sold the property to James Childs. On a side note, the Jefferson House, now with the name Heartbreak Hotel, continues to operate to this day as a popular local restaurant. It is located at 149 Main Street in Jefferson, New York. For more information about their history and delicious pub offerings visit their website at www.heartbreakhotelny.com.
By February 1861 Spencer was again operating in the jewelry business, but was now located at the village of Stamford in Delaware County, New York. “W. F. SPENCER, Dealer in Watches and Clocks. WATCHES, Clocks, Jewelry and Musical instruments repaired, and warranted at short notice and reasonable prices. Old silver taken in Exchange. Stamford, Del. Co.” (Bloomville Mirror. February 5, 1861.)
W. F. Spencer advertisement. Bloomville Mirror, March 5, 1861.
Interestingly some of Spencer’s watches are today sold for higher prices, by multiples, than they ever would have sold for in the 19th century. As just one example, in 2016 the New Hampshire based horological specialty firm of Jones & Horan auctioned off a watch by W. F. Spencer for $1,700. According the condition report, the watch was created by the United States Watch Co. under a private label for Spencer. As can be seen in their photographs the Spencer watch was beautiful, and the fact that it is still working over approximately 1 1/2 centuries later is a testament to his craftsmanship.
In 1862 Spencer announced his photography business in a simple newspaper advertisement in the Bloomville Mirror: “Ambrotypes, at W. F. Spencer’s, Stamford, N.Y.”
The invention of the Ambrotype photographic process is often credited to James A. Cutting (1814-1867), an American photographer and inventor. Cutting patented his improvements on the ambrotype process in 1854, and thus attached his name to the process. Ambrotypes would reach their height of popularity in the mid-1850s to the mid-1860s. Ambrotypes were eventually replaced with Cartes de visite and other paper print photographs, both of which were easily available in multiple copies.
As per the Library of Congress “An ambrotype is comprised of an underexposed glass negative placed against a dark background. The dark backing material creates a positive image . . . The invention of wet collodion photography processes in the 1850s allowed the development of two new kinds of photographs--ambrotypes and tintypes. These new formats shared many characteristics with the earlier daguerreotypes but were quicker and cheaper to produce. Primarily used for portraiture, each photo is a unique camera-exposed image and was available in the following standard-sizes. The most common size was the sixth plate.
In 1863, the Stamford business directory, as published in The Bloomville Mirror issue on March 3, 1863, listed W. F. Spencer with the occupations of both Postmaster and Photographic Artist. Spencer was appointed Stamford postmaster on January 28, 1863, following Jeffrey H. Champlin who had served in that role since 1858. The Stamford post office had been established on September 8, 1801, with Spencer serving as Stamford’s 10th postmaster. Spencer held the postmaster position for less than two months, being succeeded by Ambrose Stevenson on March 5, 1863.
According to an anonymous letter written to the Bloomville Mirror, published on March 31, 1863, there may have been some local intrigue around Spencer’s appointment as postmaster. “STAMFORD, March 28, 1863. Mr. Mirror – A correspondent of yours, few weeks since, stated that W. F. Spencer had been appointed Post Master at this place. I think Mr. Spencer received notice that he would be made a P. M., and probably the old P. M. though so, too, for the post-office was hustled off to Spencer’s, where it remained until yesterday, when Ambrose Stevenson, Esq., the newly commissioned Postmaster at this place, mover the office back to its old locality opposite the Delaware house. This fact may not be very pleasing to the Harpersfield man, who simply wrote a letter to procure Spencer’s appointment, and then made a journey to Washington to prevent the appointment of Stevenson. PATRON.”
In 1864 The New York State Business Directory listed W. F. Spencer as a photographer at Stamford. Spencer was the only photographer then operating at Stamford. Other Delaware County photographers listed in the 1864 directory included James D. Ferguson at Andes, Myres Hill at Downsville, Jacob Churchill and Benjamin F. Gilbert at Delhi, Willson H. Stewart at Hamden, Wm. H. Barber at Margaretville and Norman Taylor at Walton.
On the 1865 New York State census Spencer, age 38, was residing at Harpersfield in Delaware County, New York. He was residing with his wife Caroline, age 32; his daughter Frances, age 9; his daughter Augusta, age 5; and his adopted daughter Elizabeth Washburn, age 16. Caroline was born in Albany County, New York while both Frances and Augusta were born in Greene County, New York, likely at Windham where Spencer was residing at the time of their births. Spencer was listed with an occupation of Merchant. The family was living in a framed house valued at $600.
In 1866 Spencer announced the reopening of his photography business in a newspaper advertisement in the Bloomville Mirror. “NOTICE. W. F. SPENCER Has again opened his Picture Rooms in Stamford, where he will be pleased to see his former customers, and all others who may favor him with a call. November 3, 1866.”
W. F. Spencer advertisement. Bloomville Mirror, January 1, 1867.
In March 1868 Spencer announced his return to the jewelry business at Stamford, although it’s unclear where he was in preceding year. “IMPORTANT! – W. F. SPENCER would respectfully notify the people of Stamford and adjoining towns that he has returned to this village, and will, as heretofore, pursue the business of Repairing Watches, Clocks, Jewelry of all kinds, Melodeons, Accordions, Music Boxes, Sewing Machines, & c. Jewelry of solid Gold or Silver manufactures. Engraving done to order. Agent for Sewing Machines. Stamford, March 15, 1868.)
In September 1869 Spencer “bought Gilbert & Maynard’s old office, and carries on the Jewelry and Drug business, besides dealing in papers, books and music. He is putting up an addition to the building.” (Bloomville Mirror. September 7, 1869.) That same year he became the exclusive agent at Stamford for the Davis Lock Stitch Sewing Machine, “a late invention – decided improvement over all the old shuttle machines – great simplicity, and great case of management.”
On the 1870 United States census Spencer, age 41, was residing at the village of Stamford in Delaware County, New York. He was living with his wife Caroline, age 39, who was listed with an occupation of “Keeping House”; his daughter, “Franklin,” (Frances) age 15; his daughter “Susie,” (Augusta) age 11; and his adopted daughter Elizabeth Washburn, age 20. Both Franklin and Susie were listed as having attended school within the past year. Spencer’s occupation was listed as “Jewelry.” His real estate was valued at $2,000 and his personal estate was valued at $600. In 1871 Libbie Washburn advertised that she was available at W. F. Spencer’s “to make coats, pants and vests, promptly.” (Bloomville Mirror. 1871.)
In 1870 Spencer advertised the sale of a wide assortment of goods including watches, clocks, musical instruments, sheet music, music books, and even drugs and medicines. (Bloomville Mirror. June 7, 1870.)
W. F. Spencer advertisement. Bloomville Mirror, December 13, 1870.
W. F. Spencer advertisement. Bloomville Mirror, February 7, 1871.
In 1870 The New York State Business Directory listed W. F. Spencer at Stamford under the profession of “Watches Jewelry Dealers.” Photographer E. O. Covill was listed as operating at the village of Stamford. Other photographers listed as operating in Delaware County included B. F. Gilbert and M. Johnson at Delhi, and Burton Hine at Franklin. (Sampson, Davenport, & Co. The New York State Business Directory. Boston, MA: Charles Van Benthuysen & Sons, 1870. p. 1024.)
In 1872 Spencer moved his business to a new location. “Mr. W. F. Spencer has moved his Jewelry establishment to the Mirror office building. This together with the Printing works, Book Store, Post-office and Railroad Engineers office, make it one of the most lively establishments in Stamford.” (The Jeffersonian. May 15, 1872.)
In 1872 Boyd’s New York State Directory listed W. F. as operating at Stamford with the profession of “jeweler and music dealer.” A photographer by the name of R. M. Gibbs was listed as working at Stamford. (Boyd, Andrew. Boyd’s New York State Directory, 1872. 1873. 1874. Syracuse, N.Y.: Truair, Smith & Co., 1872.)
That same year, in 1872, Spencer visited his old home at the village of Windham. The Windham Journal in their March 7, 1872 issue wrote an extremely positive announcement about his return, including his contributions the establishment of that newspaper.
“We had a very pleasant call yesterday, from Mr. W. F. Spencer, of Stamford, who has a jewelry store there. He deals largely in gold and silver watches, pianos, organs, melodeons, & c. Mr. Spencer will be remembered as a resident of Windham Centre about a dozen years ago. He was one of a number who kindly furnished means to buy a press to print the JOURNAL on, while our paper was in its infancy. – We were shown by Mr. Spencer, a large variety of solid gold and silver watches, some of which contained the celebrated Spencer movement. Also, shown some very unique ladies, and gentlemen’s sold gold chains and rings, not easily excelled. Parties from New York and Albany have purchased goods of him, knowing they could obtain a superior article, at reasonable rates. – Reader, if you ever meet Mr. Spencer, and he has anything you want, - just one word from us, - you will find his goods as he represents them. Can we say as much of the jewelry peddlers traveling the country?”
Spencer’s business seemed to move frequently around the village of Stamford. Having just moved the Mirror office building in 1872, he was again on the move late that year, moving to rooms over Hubbard & Van Dusen’s Store in December 1872. In the spring of 1873, he again moved, this time “permanently located at No. 1 Delaware St.” In June 1875 he moved again to the Sturgess Store, two doors down from the offices of the Stamford Mirror, the local newspaper.
In 1873, the Stamford business directory, as published in The Stamford/Bloomville Mirror issue of February 11, 1873, listed Spencer with an occupation of Jeweler. The 1874 Stamford business directory, as published in The Stamford/Bloomville Mirror issue on March 23, 1874, also listed Spencer with an occupation of Jeweler.
In 1874 Spencer became the sole agent of “Crescent Spectacles” within the village of Stamford. The glasses were manufactured by the firm of Fellows, Holmes & Clapp of New York City. It was claimed that the spectacles were “guaranteed superior to all others in the market. For clearness and distinctness of vision they are unrivaled, the total absence of prismatic colors and refractory rays always found in Pebbles render them especially desirable. Being ground with [Trade Mark] great care, they are free from all imperfections and impurities. They are mounted in Gold, Silver, shell, Rubber and Steel frames and will last many years without change.” (Stamford and Bloomville Mirror. January 27, 1874.)
W. F. Spencer advertisement. Stamford and Bloomville Mirror, January 27, 1874.
In 1874 Spencer was listed in The New York State Business Directory published by Sampson, Davenport, & Co. under the category “Watches and Jewelry Dealers.” The guide incorrectly published his name as M. T. Spencer. There was another watch and jewelry dealer operating at Stamford by the name of Warner. There were no photographers listed as operating at Stamford that year. Other photographers operating in Delaware County included Wm. H. Crawford at Andes, Mrs. E. K. Taft at Ashland, M. L. Farrington and B. F. Gilbert at Delhi, Francis Allen at Franklin and Burton Hines at Walton.
On the 1875 New York State census Spencer, age 53 (incorrectly stated), was residing at the village of Stamford in Delaware County, New York. He was living with his wife Caroline, age 45; his daughter Frank (Frances), age 19; with Augusta Spencer, age 15, listed as a niece, although previous census information listed her as a daughter; his niece Mary E. Washburn, age 25; and a servant, Francis Hildreth, age 18, born in Schoharie County, who listed with an occupation of “Apprentice.” Spencer’s occupation was listed as “Jeweler.” The family resided in a framed house valued at $1,900.
In 1875, Spencer, in addition to his photography and jewelry businesses, became the sole agent for the sale of the Secor Lock-Stitch, Shuttle Sewing Machine. His exclusive rights to sell the Secor sewing machine extended to “all of the mountain towns in Greene County, and a portion of Delaware and Schoharie [Counties.]” The machine, created by Jerome Burgess Secor (1839-1923), was advertised as the “Most Practical and Most Desirable Machine ever presented to the Public.”
W. F. Spencer advertisement. The Windham Journal, October 12, 1876.
W. F. Spencer advertisement. The Gilboa Monitor, October 27, 1881.
In 1876 W. F. Spencer photographed extensively in the area in and around the village of Stamford, New York. He produced approximately 100 unique stereoscopic views, all of which were available for purchase at his shop. Spencer’s photographic work was frequently highlighted in the local newspapers.
The Jeffersonian, July 26, 1876. “W. F. Spencer, of Stamford, is prepared to take pictures of all styles and sizes. Special attention given to copying and enlarging. All work warranted. Prices cheap.”
Stamford Mirror, 1877. “PICTURES. – Our readers should not forget that Mr. W. F. Spencer, in this village, is engaged in the picture making business. His specimens, exhibited to us a few days since, will compare favorably with those made by parties from abroad, and at as low prices. Mr. Spencer is an industrious mechanic, and our home people should patronize him.”
Stamford Mirror, 1877. “Mr. Spencer, of this village, takes the best Photographs nowadays that have ever been made in Stamford. If you don’t believe us, call at his shop and see specimens.”
Stamford Mirror, 1876 and 1877. “NOTICE. THE UNDERSIGNED takes this method to inform the inhabitants of Stamford and the surrounding towns that I am still to be found a all times at my shop, (notwithstanding all reports to the contrary,) where I have every facility, and am ready and willing to give my attention to the repairing of all WATCHES, CLOCKS, JEWELRY, & c., that may be intrusted to me. ALL WORK WARRANTED, and at prices as low as good work will admit.
Also, in connection, I have a PHOTOGRAPH GALLERY, Where all sizes and styles of PORTRAITS, STEREOGRAPHS and LANDSCAPE WORK can be obtained. Having made arrangements with first-class Artists in New York, I am prepared to furnish ENLARGED COPIES, FROM OLD PICTURES, EITHER IN INDIA INK, WATER COLORS, OIL PAINTING, OR CRAYON WORK. Give me a call. W. F. SPENCER.”
Stamford Mirror, March 19, 1878. “H. H. Bailey has sold his Photograph Car to W. F. Spencer, of Stamford.”
Stamford Mirror, May 20, 1879. “W. F. Spencer is building a photograph car near his residence on Delaware street.”
Windham Journal, July 17, 1879. “Mr. W. F. Spencer of Stamford, photographist, is in town for a few days, taking portraits, views, & c. Call soon.”
On the 1880 United States census Spencer, age 51, was residing at the village of Stamford in Delaware County, New York. He was living with his wife Caroline, age 50, listed with an occupation of “Keeping House”; his daughter Frances, age 24; and his daughter Augusta, age 20. Spencer was listed with an occupation of “Jeweler.”
Spencer’s photography business continued to be highlighted in the local newspapers throughout 1881 and 1882.
Windham Journal, January 13, 1881. “W. F. Spencer of Stamford, has opened a photograph gallery at Gilboa.”
The Gilboa Monitor, January 27, 1881. “Photographing in all its branches at the gallery opposite post office, Gilboa. Copying a specialty. W. F. Spencer.”
The Gilboa Monitor, June 2, 1881. “W. F. Spencer has moved his photograph car to the Devasego House, between here and Prattsville.”
Stamford Mirror, June 7, 1881. “W. F. Spencer, of this village, has opened a photograph gallery at Devasego Falls.”
Windham Journal, June 9, 1881. “W. F. Spencer has moved his photograph car to the Devasego House, near Prattsville.”
The Gilboa Monitor, May 25, 1882. “W. F. Spencer, of this village, has gone over to Devasego Falls to take photographs of city people who visit the Falls during the summer season.”
The Gilboa Monitor, August 9, 1883. “W. F. Spencer, practical watch-maker and jeweler, has located at Devasego Falls.”
Devasego Falls, where Spencer operated his seasonal photography business, was a popular waterfall along the Schoharie Creek near the villages of Prattsville and Gilboa. The falls were approximately 50 feet high and 125 feet wide, and were a popular location for church picnics and as a day trip for summer tourists in the surrounding villages. According to the History of Greene County, New York, originally published in 1884, the falls “were named after a French Indian who resided in this vicinity. In a deed, executed in 1765, these falls were termed Owlfleck, a name generally unknown to the residents of this place.” (Page 384.) An 1847 newspaper article in The Evening Post beautifully described the attraction of the falls.
“Devasego Falls. - Three miles north-west of Prattsville are the Falls of Devasego. The Schoharie Kill at Devasego is about eighty yards wide. The water plunges seventy or eighty feet nearly perpendicularly, over three stair-like rocks, and then rushes furiously several hundred yards along a deep and rocky channel. These falls have, like Niagara, gradually receded, so wearing away the rocks as to form high and perpendicular walls of sold rock on each side of the river below the falls. The most favorable place from which to view these falls is from a rock overhanging the stream below the falls. The spectator, in this position, takes in at a single glance a view of the entire sheet of water as it plunges over the rocks, and of the deep and rocky channel below the falls. Just as the falls on the left stands an old mill. Above them the placid surface of the river may be traced in is meanderings till it is lost in a beautiful grove which encircles the delightful and romantic residence of the S--- family. Excepting the objects now described, nothing else is seen but the wild and craggy mountains and the valleys that intervene. These falls, of course, do not compare with Niagara, but their beauty and the wildness and ruggedness of the surrounding scenery will not fail to please and interest one who loves to contemplate the grander works of nature. C. G.”
The falls were also home to the ever-popular Devasego House, which later changed names to the Devasego Inn. In 1878, just a few years before Spencer began photographing there, the Devasego House was described to be a very charming destination by a local visitor from Stamford.
“Resuming our journey, our next stopping place was Devasego Falls, situated about one mile below Prattsville, which are the most beautiful falls among the Catskills. Situated about 200 yards from the falls in the Devasego House, which is kept by Peckham and Rappelyea. This house is open this Summer for the first. It is large, (having accommodation for about sixty guests,) convenient, well furnished, and a more beautiful location could not be found. For city people desiring a cool, pleasant, country home, it is just the place, and for all who wish a place to go for a ride or picnic it cannot be beat. The proprietors and employees are all that can be desired in gentlemanly, accommodating people.” (“A Trip From Stamford to Pratt’s Rocks and Devasego Falls.” Stamford Mirror. July 9, 1878.)
For many years the popular hotel, famed for its “real country hospitality,” was owned and managed by the “fine hotel man” Starr D. Mase (1877-1935), who later operated the Cold Spring Farm Inn at Stamford. At its peak the Devasego Inn accommodated 200 people. Unfortunately, the inn was razed on January 13, 1925 and Devasego Falls is no longer possible to view the waterfall as it was submerged with the construction of the Schoharie Reservoir during the 1920s.
Devasego Inn advertisement. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 4, 1916.
In 1885, as published in the Stamford Mirror issue of February 3, 1885, William F. Spencer was listed in the Stamford Business Directory as both a Jeweler and as a Photographer. The second photographer listed in the business directory at Stamford was S. S. Cornell. Schuyler S. Cornell (1843-1927) was a popular photographer who operated out of the village of Stamford in Delaware County, New York for nearly 50 years. He operated a portrait studio on Main Street in the village and was also well known for his landscapes of the surrounding western Catskills.
Throughout his time at Stamford Spencer was active in local community organizations, perhaps most notably in the local Masonic lodge. For the year 1863 he was elected as an officer in the St. Andrew’s Lodge No. 289. In 1870 he was elected as officer for the Delta Chapter, No. 185, Royal Arch Masons, of Stamford, New York. In 1871 he was elected Secretary of the Delta Chapter. For 1883 and 1885 he was again elected as an officer of the Stamford chapter.
In 1886, after living for approximately 25 years in the village of Stamford, W. F. Spencer left the northern Catskills and moved to the city of Kingston, New York along the Hudson River. With his daughter Frances he opened a jewelry store there, which he operated until his passing. The shop was located at 535 Union Avenue, which is now Broadway, which takes you from the edge of the historic Stockade District, through business-focused midtown, and to the charming Rondout district on the Rondout Creek.
In an 1892 trade publication about prominent businessmen in Kingston and Rondout the entry for Spencer makes it clear that he was highly regarded throughout the community.
“W. F. Spencer, Practical Watchmaker and Jeweler, No. 535 Union Avenue, Kingston, N.Y. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that everybody carries a watch nowadays and hence everybody is interested in knowing where watchmaking and repairing is done in a skillful and durable manner at moderate rates, and we can supply that information by calling attention to the establishment of Mr. W. F. Spencer, located at No. 535 Union Avenue, for he is a well-known and reliable watchmaker and jeweler, and although he does strictly first-class work, and handles only the best lines of goods, he charges no fancy prices, but on the contrary quotes rates which can hardly fail to prove satisfactory to even the most economically disposed. Watches, clocks, jewelry, etc., are extensively dealt in. We would therefore advise our readers to examine his stock and prices before buying elsewhere. Mr. Spencer, being a practical watchmaker and jeweler, is prepared to do all kinds of watch, clock and jewelry repairing, filling orders at short notice and doing the work strongly and durably, as well as neatly. He is a native of New York State and is well known and highly respected throughout Kingston and vicinity, having opened his establishment in this city in 1886, where he has built up quite an extensive patronage which is still steadily increasing.” (Bacon, Geo. F. Kingston and Rondout. Their Representative Business Men and Points of Interest. Newark, N.J.: Mercantile Publishing Company, 1892. Page 36.)
Spencer’s jewelry store was the subject of several newspaper articles in 1899 after it was robbed by Thomas “Dykie” Miller, a well-known Poughkeepsie criminal.
“THIS ROBBER WAS BOLD. The Kingston Jeweler Comes to Poughkeepsie and Identifies the Watches Stolen from His Store by “Dikey” Miller.
Sergeant Cahill, of the Kingston police force accompanied by Mr. W. F. Spencer and his daughter, arrived in Poughkeepsie early Friday morning for the purpose of trying to identify the eight watches found on Thomas, alias “Dikey” Miller, the man arrested by Officer Scanlon Thursday. Mr. Spencer was accompanied by his daughter, and as soon as they saw the eight watches Miss Spencer identified them immediately. Miller was brought before Recorder Morschauser, and the young woman said, “Oh, that’s the man beyond doubt.”
In telling of the robbery she said to an Eagle representative, “I was in the back room of our store about half-past six o’clock Wednesday evening. I heard a noise in the front store, and looking around the partition I saw the man reaching over the counter to a shelf after the watches. He had a handful. I screamed, as a woman will when she sees a burglar, and ran into the store behind the counter. As I grabbed at his arm he pulled it back and started for the door which leads to the hall. I ran after him and when he slammed the door the lamp went out. I grabbed him by the coat, but he got away from me and ran down the street.” Miller and the Kingston party returned to Kington Friday morning, and as the Ulster County grand jury convenes next week, Miller’s freedom is very much limited.” (Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. February 18, 1899.)
Thomas “Dykie” Miller had previously been sent to jail for burglary and several petty offences. One newspaper article described him as “one of the best known crooks that Pokeepsie ever produced.” (The Evening Enterprise. Pokeepsie, NY. February 24, 1899.) “Miller is a criminal by choice, by nature and by profession. For years he has cared only for living without doing any work, and it has been his pride and he has made his boasts that his livelihood was gained by crime . . . Housebreaking and thieving were his specialties, and no specialist ever applied himself with greater energy than did Miller. He was what the police of New York would term a “degenerate.” He preferred a life among the low, criminal classes, to a life among the more intelligent criminals, and among them he squandered ill-gotten gains. For years before he was convicted in this city, he made annual trips from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific slope, leaving at all places along the line the marks of his violence and criminal propensities. Wherever he went he committed crime, and in nearly every state in the United States the police and detectives are still looking for the perpetrator of some crime committed by Miller.” (Pokeepsie Evening Enterprise. February 25, 1899.) For his burglary of Spencer’s jewelry store Miller was sentenced to 10 years in Dannemora prison.
On the 1900 United States census Spencer, age 70, was residing in Ward 9 at the city of Kingston, New York. He was living with his daughter Frances, age 38. His occupation was listed as “Watch Maker” and he rented his home. His birthday was listed as January 1830 and Frances’ birthday was listed as May 1862. He was also listed as “widowed.”
William F. Spencer died suddenly at the age of 74 on January 4, 1902 in a chair at his home in Kingston, New York.
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