The Leavenworth County Historical Society at the Carroll Mansion Museum has announced the launch of a $1 million capital campaign to acquire the remainder of the Everhard Glass Plate Negative Collection and to maintain and expand facilities at the museum, in order to promote the major role Leavenworth has played in early Kansas history.
The Everhard Collection
Nearly 50 years ago four tons of glass plate negatives, made in the first century of Leavenworth’s history by four local pioneer photographers, were loaded into a U-Haul truck and transported out of town. The negatives had been in the possession of Miss Mary Everhard, who had operated her own photography studio here since 1922, having purchased it from Harrison Putney. Putney had been in business with his predecessor and step-father, E. E. Henry and their glass negatives had been accumulating since Henry’s arrival in Leavenworth in 1867. Over the years, Miss Everhard also acquired glass plates from H.S. Stevenson, who, together with his father, Richard Stevenson, operated a studio in Leavenworth from 1858 to 1940. Miss Everhard was clearly aware of the historic value of the negatives as the “whole panorama of western immigration” had passed before the cameras of these pioneer photographers. The images taken by E.E. Henry were considered the finest examples of an early western town. The resultant move out of Leavenworth of nearly a century of local and early Kansas history, left a void for researchers, genealogists, and citizens, of primary source historical material.
A Friendship develops
During Miss Everhard’s career, her studio and glass negative collection were moved twice and survived a fire, two Kansas tornadoes, and a small flood. She had spent many hours archiving the massive collection and interviewing local residents who were the children of Leavenworth’s early pioneers. When her retirement drew near, a buyer for the collection was not to be found until David Phillips of neighboring Missouri came to town seeking photographs of his own ancestors who had come to the first city of Kansas to make a living. His great-grandfather, William Phillips operated a livery stable and his grandfather, Douglas Phillips was a bookkeeper for Stutsman & Keene, merchant tailors on Delaware street in 1860s Leavenworth. Phillips was directed to the Everhard Studio, then in its final location, at 521 N. 5th Street, which had previously been an old bakery, and there a friendship began between two photographers with a passion for Leavenworth history.
Back in Chicago, shortly after the Memorial Day purchase of the collection and departure from Leavenworth in 1968, Phillips began his journey through a century of glass negatives. He separated the very best negatives from the collection for inclusion in exhibits in Chicago and Washington, DC. The first exhibit, “Fragments from the Past”, featured forty enlarged prints depicting Leavenworth’s street scenes, commercial shots and rural views as well as studio portraits taken between 1867 and 1900.
In the June 1970 issue of American Heritage, an article featured a stereopticon view of Leavenworth in 1867, of the railroad station near the Missouri River. The exact size (under 4” x 4”) was shown along with an enlargement of a small section of the original image. The resultant photograph brought to life the detail previously “hidden” in the original. For anyone viewing this remarkable comparison for the first time, it will always be remembered as the defining moment in realizing the true significance of this extraordinary photographic collection and the enhancement photography accomplished by Phillips.
Two coffee table sized books by Phillips followed, “The West: An American Experience”, published in 1973, and “The Taming of the West”, in 1974 which represented the visual heritage of the United States between 1859 and 1900. The books were intended “to perpetuate the work of unknown great photographers of the past now serving as a historical document of the life of their day.” Both books featured photographs of Leavenworth, a town Phillips described as being “built on the floor of the Kansas prairie,” that would become the launch pad of the wild west.
A debt of gratitude is owed to not only Miss Everhard, for collecting and archiving this early history of the First City of Kansas, but to Mr. Phillips as well, who has saved and cared for the collection for the past 50 years and who promoted the unique place that Leavenworth holds in the early history of the west.
Over the years, parts of the original collection were sold to museums and private individuals. The Gene Autry Museum of Western History in California purchased about 25,000 negatives and the Amon Carter Museum in Texas, nearly 6,000 plates in 1989. When the mission of the Autry Museum changed in the 1990s, the Leavenworth County Historical Society was contacted to arrange a purchase. In March of 1998, then Carroll Mansion Museum director, Robert Holt and two board members flew from Kansas City to Los Angeles and returned this portion of the original collection to Leavenworth. Also in 1998, another 3600 negatives were acquired from Mr. Phillips. Since that time the process of cleaning, cataloging, storing, and scanning of these negatives has been the focus of a long line of volunteers at the museum.
The current collection of glass negatives, held by the Historical Society, in itself, represents a fascinating cross-section of Leavenworth county residents, from the wealthy businessmen and society wives, to coal miners, soldiers, & store clerks, to children and babies to individual houses, storefronts, government buildings, St. Mary College, and the Old Soldier’s Home. Since most of the photographers etched the name of the subject and year the photo was taken on each plate, the collection is a veritable treasure trove for the historian or genealogist. Images are unique and one-of-a-kind, in that they are not likely to be found anywhere else unless a print survives in a family album. The current collection spans the years from the late 1800s through the 1950s.
Acquisition Committee Formed
The Society is now seeking to acquire the rest of the original Leavenworth collection, consisting of the very best glass plate images from the early years of Leavenworth that have remained with David Phillips in Chicago and bring them back home to Leavenworth, the First City of Kansas.
Museum volunteers have formed an acquisition committee to reclaim this history by launching a $1million capital campaign to acquire this rare collection and to maintain and expand current facilities at the Carroll Mansion Museum. Such an expanded facility would accommodate the equipment necessary to provide quality photo prints of these vintage images, allow ample space for the study, promotion, and proper storage of this and other collections of the museum, and offer suitable meeting room and handicap accessible facilities for the general public, while maintaining current museum facilities. It would also enhance and supplement tours of the Victorian house museum which has been open to the public for the past 50 years. The Kansas community as a whole would benefit by the incorporation of images and historical findings in school curricula, exhibits, and area promotions by showcasing Leavenworth as a significant landmark, in Kansas, of the beginning of westward expansion.
No better example of a picture being worth a thousand words is more evident than in such a collection of thousands of negatives. The value of just one photograph can be realized by simply suggesting a long-sought after clue to a piece of history previously unknown or forgotten. Rediscovering and bringing to light this history would offer a better understanding of how past events have shaped the First City of Kansas. If we do not save this for future generations, it will be lost.
The LCHS has consulted with the National Archives, Smithsonian, Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Humanities Council about the importance of such a photographic collection, which by spanning nearly a century of life in a community, makes it among the rarest in the nation.
Public Support Needed
The Historical Society, who has served Leavenworth for over 60 years, is reaching out to the community to help it educate and inspire generations to come with the acquisition of this photographic treasure, not only for Leavenworth but also the state of Kansas, and the significant role it played in our nation’s history. This million dollar capital campaign is the largest financial endeavor ever put into action by the LCHS.
The Society extends a welcome invitation to all to become a part of our history by supporting this endeavor. Any donation to its 501(c)3, tax deductible organization for this campaign will be appreciated: personal check, credit card, a pledge payable over a period of time, or the assignment of an IRA or stocks. For more information, visit the website (www.leavenworthhistory.org) and click on the “Reclaiming History Capital Campaign” tab to view video links and donate to the fund. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or drop by the museum to view examples of glass negatives and prints made from the images. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:30am to 4:30pm. If you are passionate about Leavenworth history and its preservation in our community, the Leavenworth County Historical Society at the Carroll Mansion urges you to join in supporting its efforts by becoming a member, a volunteer, or by donating generously to this capital campaign fund.
It has long been the mission of the Leavenworth County Historical Society to preserve our past in memory of our early residents and their pioneering spirit. Please support and join the campaign to reclaim Leavenworth history!