Wisconsin and Minnesota Research Trip : Day 2

I woke up refreshed after a solid night’s sleep and set up my plan for the day: probate office, register of deeds, town library, and a walk about town.

St Croix County Probate Office

After learning about Sam and Joe’s guardian, Silas Staples, I was hoping there would be some early probate and/or guardianship records. It turned out to be a VERY quick visit since, unfortunately, the office didn’t have any records from 1859.

St Croix County Register of Deeds

I’m not sure what I was expecting as I walked into the Clerk and Records office, but I ended up getting more than I bargained for! A while back ago I found a deed for 80 acres of land Samuel Sturtevant, Sr. purchased just south east of Hudson in 1856. I figured I would find a record of the sale of this land and maybe another lot in the town of Hudson, pretty-straight-forward land record research I though. However, what I actually found took me on a six hour research frenzy trying to figure out the buying and selling of multiple properties in and around Hudson.

I made two significant finds at the deed office.

One: The Sturtevants arrived in Hudson about two years earlier than I thought! Sometime in 1853. Joe would have been only 2 years old. One land sale states Jemima Sturtevant, “recently of Broome County, New York.” (1) Wow, New York! I know Joe’s mom, Jemima, was born in Sullivan County, New York, but the last I found a trace of the family was in a 1851 Boston city directory so I always assumed they traveled from Boston to Hudson. Now I have another new direction to go for research. I wonder if the Sturtevants spent some time with Jemima’s family prior to moving west?

Two: The other documents of interest had to do with the purchase and sale of the 160 acres of property father Samuel bought for his sons Samuel Jr. and Joseph. In November 1854, Samuel purchased the land near is now on the east side of state highway 35 along Glover Road about half way between Hudson and River Falls. (2) There were additional land purchases near the area called Glover’s Corner (near the train stop of Glover Station) so it makes me think Samuel, Sr. was positioning the family near an area that had potential growth in the future.

hudson-glover corner

Using old plat maps I was able to locate the approximate location of the property the family owned in the 1850s.

After Samuel Sr. died in 1859, Samuel and Joe’s legal guardian, Silas Staples, worked on the boys’ behalf to sell the land shortly after their father’s death, but it took several more years. Nearly ten years after the father’s initial $400 purchase Silas sold the 160 acres for $1200 (about $22,000 in today’s dollars) (3) It is not known if the money was held in some kind of trust for the boys or if the money was eventually transfered to their mother, Jemima for the family’s living expenses.

Hudson Library 

After collecting as many land records as possible I made my way over to the library, but I really needed to grab a late lunch. It was nearly four o’clock and I was starving! I found a nifty German restaurant on Second Street, the Winzer Stube. Some proper German food and a nice cold pilsner sounded like a perfect treat. The beer menu met with my approval and the Rinder Rouladen “Mutters Rezept” was a must! “Mom’s Recipe” for the beef rolls with spätzle and cabbage was almost as good as my own mom’s recipe.

Lunch at the Winzer Stube. Yum!

Feeling more relaxed and pleasantly full I headed over to the library to see what thier Local History Room had to offer. Luckily one of the genealogical society volunteers was still there to help me get started. She pointed me in the right directions and suggest quite a few books. Since it was so late in the day I didn’t spend much time really reading anything. I figured I would just read through everything later that night. I went into a copying frenzy of all the books and newspapers that had any kind of relevance. I took photos of anything that was too big to copy, such as some great early maps of Hudson!

There were some wonderful old maps around St. Croix County and combined with my morning property research I was able to zero in on the properties Samuel and Jemima purchased in town. It’s not known if they lived on either of the lots and they did not own the properties very long. It appears they sold the lots just prior to moving to Sauk Rapids, Minnesota in 1856. No structures of this era survive along these streets today.

hudson-downtown

The approximate location of the four properties Samuel and Jemima purchased near the heart of Hudson in the 1850s.

The library also had a great collection of newspaper issues that focued entirely on the town’s early history. These papers reprinted various letters, portions of books, old articles, and memoirs. A wonderful find to get a sense of what life was like on this little river town in the mid 1800s. The library didn’t have many photographs, but I was told to check in at the office of local paper, the Hudson Star-Observer, they supposedly have a good photo archive. I’ll have to visit the paper later, no time to get there today.

One major event that I found out about was the large fire that occured in May 19, 1866. The fire destroyed many homes in the center of town and nearly all of Hudson’s small commercial district. As with most young frontier towns, buildings were constructed cheaply and quickly using timber. Not always a safe combination with the live-flame lighting and heating sources used during the era. Few early structures still survive to this day. The only building in the business district that survived was the brick harness and leather shop on Walnut Street between First and Second Streets.

The day after the fire, May 1866. Looking southwest from approximately Walnut and Second Street. Courtesy of the Hudson-Star Observer.

The day after the fire, 1866. Looking southwest from approximately Walnut and Second Street. Courtesy of the Hudson-Star Observer.

Last building standing in the central business district after the fire. The structure has been nicely restored.. Photograph taken May 2012.

It has been difficult for me to track the Sturtevants in Hudson since there are only a handful of sources I have found from the 1860s. I know the family moved from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota back to Hudson around 1858/1859 since Jemima is listed in the May 7, 1859 Hudson Chronicle business directory as having a millinery and dressmaking shop above the Post Office. The Local History Room volunteer told me that the Post Office was most likely located on the southeast corner of 1st and Buckeye at this time. Joe’s brother Samuel enlisted into Company G of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry in December 1863 while living in Hudson and he came back on a medical furlough for several months beginning in September 1864. (4)  I am not entirely sure the family was still living in Hudson at the time of the fire, but one final, well-timed detail makes me believe they were ousted by the disaster. The 1867 St. Paul, Minnesota city directory lists Jemima and Joe for the first time living and working in the heart of the city so they must have moved across the river sometime the previous year. (5)

Walk-about Hudson

After a couple of intense hours at the library gathering everything I could locate, I decided to stratch my legs and took a pleasant walk around town as the sun was getting low in the sky. I wanted to get a view of town from the water so I walked about half-way across the former levee road to get a few shots. This road was for many years the area’s main connection across the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Today only bicycles and foot traffic are allowed.

Looking west to Hudson from the middle of the St. Croix River/Lake.

Looking west to Hudson from the middle of the St. Croix River.

Standing on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border   in the middle of the St. Croix River.

Standing on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border in the middle of the St. Croix River.

I also wanted to see the area where Samuel’s grocery store was located. Newspaper advertisements place his store “nearly opposite the American House, 1st street.”(6) The Local History Room volunteer at the library told me the American House was located where the old train depot now stands on the southeast corner of 1st and Commercial Streets. I haven’t found any details yet to indicate exactly which “opposite” direction the grocery store stood. Maybe on another trip I will have more time to uncover some more clues on the actual location.

Samuel's grocery store.

Ad for Samuel’s grocery store in the “Hudson North Star” newspaper in 1856.

DSCN2400

The old train depot on at the southeast corner of 1st and Commercial Streets. This is the general neighborhood where Samuel had his store.

After my whirlwind day of record-gathering I packed it in, got dinner and made plans to take a road trip over to Minnesota for the next day.

———————–

(1) St. Croix County, Wisconisn, Deeds, B:140, Lorenzon and Sarah E. Hender to Jemima Sturtevant, warranty deed, 21 Dec 1853; Register of Deeds, Hudson.

(2) St. Croix County, Wisconisn, Deeds, H:300, Byron Brown to Samuel A Sturtevant Junior and Joseph B. Sturtevant, warranty deed, 20 Nov 1854; Register of Deeds, Hudson.

(3) St. Croix County, Wisconisn, Deeds, P:390, Silas Staples for Samuel and Joseph Sturtevant to James Chinnock, warranty deed, 23 May 1863; Register of Deeds, Hudson.

(4) Compiled service record, Samuel A. Sturtevant, Pvt., Co. G, 4th Wisconsin Cavalary; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917, Record Group 94; Na- tional Archives, Washington, D.C. ; Additional evidence in the matter of the Original Invalid Pension claim, W. P Knowles, 31 Mar 1800, in Samuel A. Sturtevant claim (Pvt., Co. G, 4th Wis. Cav, Civil War), pension Inv. no. 270,484, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861–1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

(5) St. Paul Directory for 1867, vol 3. (St. Paul, MN: Bailey & Wolfe Publishers, 1867) 83, 211.

(6) “Hudson Market,” Hudson North Star, 2 April 1856, p3 c6.

Getting My Hands Wet in Joe’s Trade – Wet Plate Collodion – Part 2

I woke up Friday morning, ready to go, and prepared for my brain to hurt by the end of the day. The drive to the studio was quick and when I arrived I found everyone there excited and chomping at the bit to learn!

We did the obligatory introductions and talked about why we were all taking the workshop. Everyone else had much stronger photographic backgrounds than I did, but at least I have darkroom experience and know my way around a camera. I wasn’t worried about getting lost. Quinn spent some time discussing his background and spoke in-depth about early photographers and the history of photography. It was a great overview that gave me a better grasp on how to approach learning about how Joe worked.

The large, open studio was pretty chilly that November morning so after all the intros Quinn got us up and moving around rather than sitting and talking about chemistry. We’d hit all the nineteenth-century chemical recipes after lunch. Quinn just jumped into the deep end and started walking us through the process of making some photos!!

Photo of me taken by Quinn Jacobson, full plate black glass ambrotype, 2011.

I was the first guinea pig to sit for a photo. Like little ducklings we followed Quinn to his portrait set-up near the front window. I sat on a stool to get properly framed and focused. Because these photos can have long exposures you need to be as still as possible. I leaned into one of those old-style head rests to keep my head steady for focusing. At first it felt odd with a lobster-like clamp on the back of my skull, but once I relaxed I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about having a wobbly and blurry head in the final photo.

All set! Jumping off the stool I eagerly walked with Quinn and the others back to the work area to watch the magic unfold. Each one of us sat for a photo that used a different approach. Whether it was a different substrate (clear glass, black glass, or black aluminum) or photographic technique (different lenses or depth of field) we learned how to create various looks that we could play with the next day.

Quinn took us through the entire process:

1. Cut the glass. No matter the size of glass you decide on, make sure it fits into the plate holder you will use in the camera.

2. De-burr the glass plate. This not only keeps you from cutting yourself, but it also creates a little ridge allowing the liquid collodion emulsion to stay on the plate.

3. Clean the plate. A mild abrasive removes any oils or impurities off the glass allowing the collodion emulsion to properly adhere to the plate.

4. Pour the collodion. This is really when you need to double-check your plan of attack  because once the collodion is poured, it’s the point of no return…everything needs to happen quickly since the emulsion needs to stay wet. Pouring a puddle of collodion is easy, it’s the spreading of the emulsion that takes a steady hand. (I get to find that out the next day!) Once the plate is covered, hopefully with no spills, the extra liquid is drained back into the bottle. Now the clock starts ticking.

Quinn coaching a student through pouring collodion on day 2.

Quinn talking through the delicate process of spreading the collodion on the plate, and KEEPING it on the plate.

5. Sensitizing the plate with silver. Off to the darkroom! (Sorry, no darkroom photos.) The collodion should be skimming over ever so slightly as you dip the plate into the silver nitrate bath. Three minutes later the plate is light-sensitive. It’s now ready to leave the bath, get its edges and back dried up a bit, get mounted into the light-tight plate holder, and finally on its way to make an image.

6. Taking the photograph. Sit your subject back into place (I jump back onto the stool), and double check the head rest, subject positioning, and lighting. Think about what your exposure should be (I’m still figuring out how to do this). Since the initial framing and focusing happened before the whole process got rolling, you should only need to fiddle with fine-tuning the focus. Get the black drape over your head, shoulders, and camera, and take a close look at the image on the glass plate on the back of the camera…remember the image is upside-down and backwards. If it all looks good, time for the “film.” As the plate holder gets mounted on the back of the camera, it’s an unnerving and wobbly affair. You can’t help but think the whole camera is out of whack and out of focus at this point, but it’s the only way to do it, and it all works out fine. Make sure the cap sits loosely on the camera lens, pull the divider out of the plate holder, take a deep breath, take off the lens cap, count out your exposure, put the lens cap back on, and place the divider into the plate holder before removing the whole frame from the camera. Once again off to the darkroom!

7. Developing the image. Remove the plate from the holder. Make sure you have the emulsion side up. It’s difficult to believe there is an image trapped in that cloudy emulsion on a simple piece of glass. Under the red light you hold the plate in one hand, a shot glass of developer in the other, take a moment to collect yourself and quickly pour the developer over the emulsion trying to make it in one smooth movement. One pass is usually not enough so the extra developer goes back in the shot glass and poured again. Shaking the plate slightly helps the developer move around and do its magic. In about ten seconds the image begins to appear. The nerve-wracking point is that you only have one shot at creating this image…you need to figure out where the sweet spot is in the development time. There is no magic number, experience is the only way to really understand how to look at the image and know when it’s right. Once it’s where you want it, stop the development with a rinse under the water faucet.

8. Fixing the image. Fixing removes the excess silver from the plate and stabilizes the image. The excess silver makes the image appear as a milky negative. Once in the fixing bath the silver is washed away, the glass clears up, and the positive image reveals itself.

9. The final wash. To finish things up the plate just needs to sit in a water bath for about 5-10 minutes. Then the plate can be dried and varnished for an archival finish.

Check out a second part of Quinn’s interview on Channel 4 to watch the process!

After lunch we went through the seriousness of creating all the chemicals needed to undertake this fascinating art form. We learned nineteenth-century recipes for making everything: the plate cleaner, to the collodion, the silver nitrate bath, the developer, two types of fixers, and the varnish. I won’t go into much detail here since I’m not very knowledgable about chemistry in general. However, the one thing that is important to note is that one of the fixers commonly used in this form of photography is potassium cyanide. Even though it is a weak solution it can still be very dangerous. A bit unnerving to say the least, but the images it produces are incredibly beautiful. There is a safe fixer that produces similar results, so there is another option.

Besides being overwhelmed and excited about this new knowledge and really having a feel for what Joe did for a living, I now have a much better eye at how to look at old photographs. After this day was over I realized two significant things. One is that when you look at a tintype (or an image on dark glass) you are looking at that portrait in a different way than you’d think. Because the image is reversed, you are seeing that person as they see themselves in the mirror. So if you have old tintypes, scan them and flip them in an image editor to see what someone really looked like!

  

 

Two, because the collodion is ultraviolet (UV) sensitive, it reacts to a different range of the color spectrum. To put it simply, the high end of the collodion range goes into UV so areas that reflect UV will appear white in the photo even if our eyes don’t see that brightness. The low end of the collodion range starts dropping off around green, therefore anything that is mainly yellow, orange, or red will appear black. It made me think that the world was a much more colorful place than we assume based on all those old images. Next time you look at old photographs and see people wearing so much black…think again, the clothing might have been much more vibrant and stylish than what we thought!

Day Two of my workshop, coming soon!

Getting My Hands Wet in Joe’s Trade – Wet Plate Collodion – Part 1

It was a Tuesday morning and I saw a spot on the Denver Channel 4 news covering local artists for open studio events on the upcoming Second Saturday. I rarely watch this channel but I happened to be flipping through when I noticed a reporter doing a piece about a photographer in the River North Arts District who specializes in nineteenth-century photographic techniques. I watched in fascination and I kept saying to myself, “I gotta interview this guy!” How cool to talk to someone who understands and practices the photography that Joe did for a living.

I looked up Quinn Jacobson’s website to find out how to contact him, and what I found totally blew my mind. He offered CLASSES in how to do this technique!?!?!? NO WAY! The though of taking a class seemed like it would be such an amazing learning AND research experience. Then I saw the schedule…he was offering a class on Friday…as in three days! *Gulp* Could I get in on such short notice? I’m sure he already has the maximum of four people for the class. Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

I quickly wrote Quinn an email explaining my goals and asking if it was possible to squeeze me in. If not, I told him I still wanted to talk to him until the next time he offered the workshop. About an hour later he emailed back, stating the class was full but there was one person he wasn’t totally sure would be there. He told me to hang on a couple of days and check back.

Argh! Those were an anxious couple of days! I checked in with him again Thursday morning, ready to accept my defeat, and kindly asked when he planned to hold his next workshop. About 20 minutes later, just as I’m leaving for work, I get the email…I’M IN! Since he wasn’t sure when he would offer another workshop and he liked my reason for taking the class, he said he’d squeeze me in!! I was giddy all day.

I knew about photographs on glass plates, but I didn’t know that was called wet plate collodion. I did a little bit of research that night, but still went into the class pretty clueless about what to expect. What I found out, to put it simply, was that this process, developed by Frederich Scott Archer, essentially killed the one-of-a-kind daguerrotype. This photographic technique made it possible to create a positive image on glass against a dark background (an ambrotype), a positive image on metal (a tin type – aka ferrotype) or a glass plate negative for creating multiple prints.

The reason it’s called wet plate is that the emulsion (collodion) needs to stay wet through the entire process; from pouring the emulsion on the plate, to sensitizing it with silver, taking the photograph, and then developing and fixing the image. This gives you about 5-10 minutes to do EVERYTHING!

"Unidentified soldier in Union uniform and unidentified young man sitting on the ground and whittling," between 1861 and 1865, quarter-plate tintype, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C, AMB/TIN no. 2797.

Just think about all those Civil War-era images you seen in documentaries, online, or in your own family’s collection. If they are dated from the early 1850s to roughly the 1880s, the photos were most likely produced using this technique. For those of you familiar with the western photographer William Henry Jackson, he made all of his famous survey images using this process.

By the 1880s the glass plates were mass-produced using a dry gelatin emulsion making the wet plate less common. The new dry plates allowed for more flexibility, no need to develop the image immediately, and allowed for faster exposures.

I was anxious for what the next two days would bring. I got up early that Friday morning ready for a long and exciting day!  Follow my journey in the next couple of posts…COMING VERY SOON!!!