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A New Resource in the Research Library

Blog post by Rod Spaw


“The Champions”, c. 1906. Photo by Spratt-Nicely photography studio. 1986.087.0035

Memories fade, but photographs remember.  That makes visual images important resources for exploring the past. Photos can raise questions, provide clarity or suggest additional avenues for discovery.

New to the Monroe History Center’s collection of research tools is an index of photo studios that operated in Bloomington between 1892 and 1990. Listed in an Excel spreadsheet by studio name, address and years at each address, the index offers a glimpse of local photographic services across time.

The information was transferred from a handwritten timeline of photo studios discovered among the history center’s collection of materials. It was found inside a folder labeled “keep this,” but when it was compiled or by who are not known. Notations indicate the information was taken was taken from plat maps, city directories and telephone books.


Photo of Mary Waldron taken by Charles Gilbert Shaw. 1411.004.0002

Here are some tidbits gleaned from the entries:

  • An 1892 plat map indicates photographers were located at 100 1/2 W. 6th St. above “Furne Groc” and upstairs from a harness merchant and a grocery store at the northwest corner of 6th and College. The “1/2” in an address signifies a second-floor location. Residents seeking photography services often had to look up to find such establishments, especially at the turn of the 20th According to the timeline data, there were no ground-floor photo studios in Bloomington between 1886 and 1924. All were second-floor operations located in commercial buildings around the courthouse square or within a block of the square.
  • Photography in Bloomington was a fluid enterprise. There are 139 addresses listed in the index for photo studios or photographic services, but only 94 separate operators are identified. Studios changed hands or moved regularly, with a succession of businesses often occupying the same address.
  • The space at 100 ½ W. Sixth Street – Samira restaurant is located now at 100 W. Sixth St. – operated as a photo studio continuously between 1894 and 1930 under eight different business names and/or operators.  O. Nicely, Robert Spratt and Charles Gilbert Shaw were among those proprietors. The listing for Wilhite & Nicely in 1894 became W.O. Nicely in 1898, then Robert A. Spratt in 1901, Spratt & Nicely in 1907 before appearing again as Robert Spratt alone in 1909. Another repeating address was 121 ½ N. College Ave. (Smokeworks restaurant now is at 121 N. College), which was a home to four photo studios between 1904 and 1931.
  • Charles Gilbert Shaw had one of the longest runs of Bloomington’s early studio proprietors — 39 years at four different address. Two other Shaws, L.E. and Daniel, relationship unknown, also operated or were partners in Bloomington photo studios between 1895 and 1925.
  • Other longtime photo proprietors listed in the index include Norbert Peace (38 years), Lanis L. Hazel (33 years), Charles Starks (32 years) and Robert M. Talbot Jr. (31 years).

If interested in seeing the photo studio index please contact the Research Library.