World Photography Day: Part I Winchester’s early professional photographers | Winchester

WINCHESTER—In 1902, the town purchased its first camera. This was not, at the time, insignificant. However routine the use of photographic evidence in business has become, it was novel in 1902.

The idea came, apparently, from the Boston & Maine railroad which had been using a camera for several years to place evidence before its officials.

Seeing its applicability to town projects, in August 1902, the Board of Selectmen Instructed Town Engineer Elmer D. Fletcher to buy a camera. Fletcher spent $18 of town money purchasing equipment from Edgar A. Holbrook, who had set up a photography shop (possibly the town’s first) about five years earlier.

“Winchester, we believe, is the only city or town that has called into use the aid of the camera,” The Winchester Star reported. “This being so the Selectmen should be given credit for originating another ‘Winchester idea.’”

Photographs meant that Fletcher could show the selection defects in the streets or drainage which they would otherwise have to inspect personally. But, unlike the Star reporter, one reader was not impressed, writing that there exists a vast difference between the railroad and a municipal cooperation where the rule had been to visit the problem sites. The writer also wondered if it would be cheaper to hire a regular photographer.

In point of fact, the town did hire a professional photographer from time to time. Prior to 1902, there were a very few recorded instances of this, when the police department paid Woburn photographers to take pictures of criminals. But this situation was about to change when a professional photographer put down roots in town.

Early photo studio

Though photography was practiced in town many years prior to the 1890s, the first known professional photography studio in Winchester was located in that decade on the second story of the Wentworth Building at the corner of Main and Thompson streets. In 1897, Holbrook (1854-1906), a grocer who was also a photography enthusiast, used that space for a short while.

Holbrook’s name also shows up in connection with the first known exhibit of local photographers, part of an 1895 art exhibition which included amateur and professional oil and watercolor paintings, painted china, furniture, wood carving, needlework, statuary, architects’ sketches, and specimens of photography. Only three photographers were represented (one deceased). Holbrook was one, as was Henry M. Shepard (1849-1913), a lumberman who retired about 1901 due to ill health. For about two months in the fall of 1902, Shepard advertised photography services in the Star but evidently did not stick with it.

The Wentworth Building studio passed through a few hands quickly. In 1899, a Dorchester resident, Jennie C. Dowse, was listed at the studio, but not one further thing is known about her.

In 1901, the partnership of Burton and Wolstenholme advertised a business there. A resident of Dorchester, Andrew Wolstenholme (1851-1910) had been working in a Boston photo shop while his new partner had recently moved to Winchester. Both were of British origin.

Capt. Edward Frederick Hugh Burton (1841-1904) was the son of an army man and nephew of Sir Frederick Burton, former Director of the National Gallery in London. He served in the military before immigrating but afterward changed his occupation. He worked as an artist in Brooklyn, though in Winchester he expanded his work to include photography (though no surviving works in either medium are known). The business is only about a year.

When Burton abandoned photography to re-focus on painting, Frank Henry Higgins (1875-1940) moved into the studio. At this point, Winchester had a resident photographer responsible for many unique and invaluable views spanning several decades of Winchester history.

Frank Higgins

About a month after the town bought its first camera, Higgins left Somerville and took over the Wentworth Building studio. A native of Cambridge, Higgins had been employed at the studio of the Sprague Hathaway Company (portraits and frames) in Somerville and was described in pre-Winchester records as a solar printer. In Winchester, he advertised services for portrait and landscape photographing – “every picture guaranteed” – as well as developing, printing, and enlarging.

For about 30 years, Higgins was the town’s resident professional photographer. A couple others advertised occasionally but only briefly. His real competitors were located in adjacent towns and Boston.

For decades, Higgins was the only photographer hired by the town. He was hired by the fire and police departments, by the park, highways, bridges, and water departments, the Committee on the Pollution of the Aberjona River, and the selectmen.

Higgins’ photographs surviving in the Archival Center document the Kellaway river improvement program of 1914-15, the creation of Elliott Park, the new fire station, and the appearance of parks, schools, and churches as they were in the early 19th century.

In 1909, when the Edison Electric Illuminating Company issued several booklets illustrating communities near Boston, it used photographs by Higgins in the Winchester booklet. Not that he was given any credit in the publication, but a copy handed down through the family has a notation by son Don that the photos were taken by his father. A half dozen of the views were also used on postcards, another medium where photographers went uncredited.

Higgins also shot portraits and group photographs, such as the high school football team and St. Mary’s baseball team. The Star, in 1903, noted that he had interesting photos printed on fabric on display at his studio, including one of the YMCA football team on a sofa pillow. (It may be noted here that Higgins was a devotee of sports, winning prizes for bowling at the Calumet Club and for games at IOOF field meets, as well as taking part in track events, including the very first Boston Marathon.)

After Higgins moved his studio during the fall of 2015 to the two-year-old Lane Building (13 Church St.), the Main Street studio was taken by Herbert J. Darley who advertised “Mary Pickford Style Portraits.” Despite half-price offers, Main Street window displays, and a variety of glamorous appeals such as “Lottie Pickford style” and “Ruth Chatterton style,” his last ad ran only four months after the first.

Others rented the Main Street studio, while Higgins carried on his space overlooking the common for another decade. Finally he moved his studio to his Kenwin Road home soon before leaving Winchester. The last year he advertised (1936) saw two new major items in the newspapers, the first ads for the Winchester Camera Shop run by James Connelly and news that a building permit for a new residence on Euclid Avenue had been granted to Arthur Griffin. A new era in Winchester’s photography history was beginning.

(Examples of local photography, including Holbrook’s and Higgins work, may be viewed by visiting

Next – Part II, Winchester’s early amateur photographers