March 1994

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of Hammondsport, New York


Richard G. Sherer

A Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, a painter by training, first perfected his photographic process in 1839. By the early 1840s almost every American town of any size had a daguerreotype studio. By the late 1850s a new process called ambrotype and tintype had replaced the daguerreotype. Paper photographs, called cartes de visite were gaining popularity and soon became the rage. During this early period small towns were visited by itinerant artists that would set up temporary studios and when business became slow would move on. There are several views of Ham-mondsport that were taken during this period.

Mollie Van Housen became Hammondsport's first permanent photographer. There were but few occupations that a woman could pursue in the 1850s and 1860s, but being a portrait artist was one. After her husband, Joseph, died in 1858 Mrs. Van Housen opened her gallery on Pulteney Street sometime in the mid-1860s. In addition to portraits she made some views around her town. At least two are still in existence today. Mollie Van Housen stayed in Hammondsport until the late 1870s, when she went to Avoca for a short time and then to Prattsburgh by 1880. She died there on lanuary 16, 1918, at the age of 82.

Hammondsport was without a photographer until June of 1890 when F. P. Allen came to town and opened a gallery in a small building between 18 and 20 William Street. The best known of his photographs is the birdseye view of the entire village taken from the hill on the west side of town. The view is 12" x 50" and was taken in April, 1891.

Many traveling photographers visited the town because of its scenic views, among them a Mr. Harris in December, 1896. White and Brown, photographers of Avoca, came for a week in June, 1897, taking pictures of homes and business places. Many of these photos still exist.

In September of 1897 H. E. Saylor set up a small garage-size studio at the foot of Shethar Street. He stayed until May, 1901, when he sold out to A. B. DeGroat, of Bath, and moved to Union, New York.

A man named Smith, from Prattsburgh, set up a gallery over the Wire Hood Factory on Water Street in March, 1902. It is not known how long he stayed in competition with Mr. DeGroat.

In 1906 a local man by the name of Harry Benner was gaining a reputation for his fine views of Hammondsport and surrounding country. On November 27, 1907, A. B. DeGroat sold his photographic business in Hammondsport to Harry Benner, and in October, 1908, Mr. Benner purchased the "flatiron" building on the point of Pulteney and William Streets and installed his photo gallery on the ground floor. He added a second story to the building for his living quarters. Harry Benner is the photographer who chronicled the evolution of early flight in Hammondsport by Glenn Curtiss. As an old man in the 1930s Harry Benner had a gas station and photo studio just south of the New York State Fish Hatchery.

Mr. George DeWitt, from Trumansburgh, opened a photo gallery in Prattsburgh and Hammondsport in 1912, again over the Wire Hood Factory on Water Street. It is not known how long he stayed.

In the 1920s George Atanesian, who had worked at the Meadowcroft Balloon factory, opened a photo gallery in Hammondsport, but soon moved to Bath and had an active studio for many years on Liberty Street.

Because Hammondsport was so blessed by these many people for so many years, it is perhaps the most photographed small town in New York State.

© 1994, Richard G. Sherer
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