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Town of Hunter Tidbits: How photography helped preserve the history of our Mountain Top

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Photographer John Rusk and his up to date camera, c. 1898.
April 25, 2018 11:45 am Updated: April 25, 2018 12:05 pm

This article is about the history of the mountain top photographers and their cameras. They are the ones credited with preserving the stories behind our hotels, boarding houses and their peoples. Our local historians learned years ago to appreciate the old-time mountain top photographers and all they did to preserve the history of our area.

At first, I thought I’d find just a few local photographers in our area. By taking the time to look through my own post card collection, I was surprised to find quite a few others within a short travel of our town. By capturing, in pictures, the look of our small town and its many points of interest, we can enjoy those images today. At the time the popular photographers might have been considered just another local business, but it was a business that captured visions that would not have otherwise been saved for future generations to appreciate.

A list of some of our well-known photographers, along with others found is:

1. C. O. Bickelmann-Tannersville

2. Samuel Rusk-Haines Falls

3. A.J. Jenne-Windham

4. Rusk’s nephew, John Rusk-Haines Falls

5. Bob Wyer-photo post cards

6. Rusk & Andrews-Haines Falls

7. G.S. Young’s imprint on Platte Clove post cards

8.O.C. Becker-Haines Falls

9. Swiss Novelty Shop-Haines Falls

10. Frank Smith’s General Store-Haines Falls

Mr. Bob Wyer’s photo post cards are sought after by local collectors for their accuracy.

According to the 1930 obituary of Mrs. Lola Rusk, Sam Rusk worked for the Eastman Kodak Company before setting up a photography shop in Haines Falls. It told how the Rusks started up the Rusk & Andrews photography shop when they first arrived in Haines Falls, in the late 1880s. It was at that time he partnered with Cyrus Andrews. According to the obituary, the site of the present business was at one time the location of the Blue Stores, (present building belonging to Rory and Julia France). When the Rusks took over the property they added a large theatre (The Wauwanda) to the rear for the purpose of showing motion pictures. This enterprise was the first of its type that the Haines Falls section of the Catskill Mountains ever saw. t was after Mr. Rusk’s death that Mrs. Rusk discontinued the moving pictures and the hall was sub-let to the Rip Van Winkle Players of Woodstock.

Mr. Samuel E. Rusk is also credited with an 1879 guide book on the Catskill Mountains called “An Illustrated Guide to The Catskill Mountains, With Maps and Plans.”

C. O. Bickelmann operated a Souvenir, Bazaar and Photograph Gallery on 6023 Main Street, in Tannersville from 1876 through 1943. Two generations of Bickelmanns were photographers in Brooklyn and Tannersville - Conrad O. (1855-1914) and his son, Herman G. (1881-1943). Conrad came from Germany in 1872 and settled in Brooklyn. Conrad was listed in the 1880 Brooklyn census as an artist, which was what photographers were commonly referred to then (as they are today). The 1905 census lists his occupation as hotel proprietor, while the 1910 Tannersville census says he was a photographer. Herman was listed as a photographer in the 1905 census. I want to thank Windham Historian Patti Morrow for her help.

This information is from Walton Van Loan’s Guide to Catskills, 1885: “C. O. Bickelmann Souvenir bazaar (formerly at the Laurel House), now at Tannersville, where will be found a good amount of turned and wood ornaments fashioned from trees grown on the mountains. In connection therewith will be found a first-class photo-art gallery, special attention paid to Fine Group Pictures, as well as ice cream, confectionary and refreshments.”

The following information is from an interview held by Alf Evers with Mrs. Emma Bickelmann (in 1958) and given to the Vedder Library in 1981:

“Mrs. Emma Bickelmann, daughter-in-law of Conrad and wife of Herman Bickelmann, who succeeded his father in the photographic work, still “summers” in Tannersville, and is a gold mine of historical recollections. Mrs. Bickelmann donated photographs of the Bickelmann Studio, aerial views, photographs from wet plates, and a wide selection of early tintypes of summer borders. The view of the observation tower at High Peak shows not only the large Bickelmann camera but also the donkey used to transport the supplies. She recalls how the family operated a traveling photography studio with horse and wagon and calling at likely places of business at the various hotel and boarding houses.”

The remainder of the information that was found on Hunter’s local photographers will be in next week’s paper. The Bickelmann’s, the Rusk’s and Mr. Wyer would find today’s photography amusing. I, and maybe most, just keep deleting the image until I get to the photo I think makes me look good! It might take awhile. People in 1890 did not have that luxury. Thank you to these photographers for saving our history, and the images from so long ago.

Until next week, take care, be thankful and be kind. You never know how your act of kindness may change someone’s life. Thanks Chris.

Reach Dede Terns-Thorpe at deternsthorpe@gmail.com.