Scope and Content
Restrictions on Use
Restrictions on Access
Asahel Curtis was the most prominent Seattle photographer of the early twentieth century, as well as a noted outdoorsman and regional booster. Born in Minnesota in 1874, he moved to Washington Territory in 1888. Asahel's brother, Edward, supported the family by opening a photography studio in Seattle, and Asahel went to work for him in 1894. In 1897, the brothers agreed that Asahel should go to the Yukon and document the Klondike Gold Rush. Asahel remained there for two years, alternately taking pictures and working a small and largely unproductive claim. The brothers parted ways after a bitter disagreement over the rights to Asahel's Yukon photos, which Edward had published under his own name. Edward later became nationally recognized for his twenty-volume series of photos of Native Americans. Asahel also enjoyed a successful career as a photographer, although he did not receive the acclaim that Edward did. He married Florence Carney in 1902 and opened his own studio in 1911. He was hired by a number of local companies, organizations, and wealthy individuals to take portraits and promotional photos. Asahel became more widely known for his high-quality images of the Washington landscape that were published nationally.
Asahel Curtis had a deep appreciation of Mt. Rainier and for several decades he directed both his appreciation for scenic beauty and efforts at regional boosterism into the development of Mt. Rainier National Park. Curtis was a founding member of the Mountaineers, a mountain-climbing group which also promoted the preservation of wilderness areas. Curtis was active in the affairs of the club for the first several years after its founding in 1906. He led the Mountaineers on climbs of Mt. Rainier and organized a committee within the club on Mt. Rainier National Park. However, his involvement in the Seattle-Tacoma Rainier National Park Committee (later the Rainier National Park Advisory Board) strained his relations with the group. The committee, which Curtis chaired from 1912 to 1936, was formed by community business interests to exploit the park's tourism potential. Curtis, through the committee, sought to promote accessibility to the park and to increase tourism by building roads. His opposition to the expansion of Olympic National Park in the late 1930s led to a further deterioration of relations with the Mountaineers. It also caused a rift between Curtis and his fellow Mt. Rainier boosters and effectively ended his involement in park affairs.
Curtis's advocacy was not limited to the development of Mt. Rainier National Park. While serving as the offical photographer for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, he also chaired its Development Committee and its Highway Committee for many years. His interests reached beyond the Puget Sound region. Curtis owned a small orchard in Ellensburg, and he believed that the landscape of Central Washington could be improved by building irrigation projects to turn the arid region into cropland. The Washington Irrigation Association thus chose Curtis to be its president in the 1920s. He also participated in the affairs of the Washington State Good Roads Association, serving as its president in 1932 and 1933. Asahel Curtis died in 1941.
Scope and Content
The Asahel Curtis Papers are comprised of three accessions. Accession no. 4058-3, a single box that dates from ca. 1909 to 1932, includes speeches, writings, letters, clippings, and a stock certificate. The speeches and writings promote highway building and access to scenic attractions in Washington, especially Mt. Rainier National Park. Many of the writings were published.
The bulk of the Asahel Curtis Papers are in Accession no. 4058-4 covering the years 1898 to 1941. The accession is comprised primarily of Curtis's correspondence from 1908 to 1941. The correspondence documents Curtis's work as a civic leader and businessman. Most letters concern his activities as a regional booster in the various groups in which he served. Many others are simply correspondence with patrons who ordered photos. Curtis almost never discussed his photographic philosophy or techniques in his letters. Many letters regarding the administration of Mt. Rainier National Park were pasted into the seven Mt. Rainier scrapbooks also included in the accession. The inventory of this accession is accompanied by an extensive name index of the individuals and organizations represented in the general correspondence, but the letters in the Mt. Rainier scrapbooks are not indexed. The scrapbook letters, which range from 1911 to 1921, are largely, but not entirely, in chronological order. While the years 1910-1911 and 1913-1920 are sparsely represented in the general correspondence, the years 1913-1915 and 1918-1920 are extensively documented by the scrapbooks. The scrapbooks also contain a few scattered newspaper clippings about the park. Three other scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings but no correspondence. The subject of one is Mt. Rainier (1924), another covers the Olympic Peninsula (1924), and the third scrapbook documents Frederick Cook's expedition to the North Pole (1908-1910). This accession also contains a diary of Curtis's trip to the Yukon in 1898 and financial records from 1932-1940.
Major correspondents of accession 4058-4 include Homer T. Bone, Clarence Cleveland Dill, Lindley Hoag Hadley, Knute Hill, Samuel B. Hill, Wesley Livsey Jones, Clarence Daniel Martin, Edmond Stephen Meany, Lewis Baxter Schwellenbach, Monrad C. Wallgren, Marion Anthony Zioncheck, the Rainier National Park Advisory Board, the Rainier National Park Company, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, the Yakima Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. National Park Service.
Accession 4058-2 is comprised of microfilm copies of the seven volumes of Mt. Rainier scrapbooks in Accession 4058-4.
Restrictions on Use
Asahel Curtis's literary rights were not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.
Photocopies of Curtis's Mt. Rainier scrapbooks, vol. 1-7, in Accession 4058-4 must be made from the microfilm copy in Accession 4058-2.
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open to all users.
The Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma holds a large collection of Curtis's photographs.
The records of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce are housed at the Seattle Public Library.
The records of Mt. Rainier National Park are divided between two locations: the National Archives and Records Administration's Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle) facility and the Mt. Rainier National Park headquarters in Ashford, Washington.
Photographs were transferred to the Asahel Curtis Photo Company Collection, PH Coll 482, in the division.
Curtis's papers and scrapbooks were acquired by the University of Washington Libraries from the Asahel Curtis Studio in 1942.
Accessions. 4058 and 4058-2 were merged in May 1998 to form Accession 4058-4, but the microfilm copy of the Mt. Rainier scrapbooks remains under Accession 4058-2.
Accession 4058-2 was filmed from the originals at the University of Washington Libraries.
BibliographySucher, David (ed.), The Asahel Curtis Sampler: Photographs of Puget Sound Past (Seattle, Puget Sound Access, 1973). Frederick, Richard and Engerman, Jeanne, Asahel Curtis : Photographs of the Great Northwest (Tacoma, Washington State Historical Society, 1983). Satterfield, Archie, Seattle: An Asahel Curtis Portfolio (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1985).
|Last modified: May 27, 2005|