Family Stories · Henry's 1873 Diary

Henry A. Brown – Photographer

As I’ve been working on transcribing the letters and diaries from the 1870’s, I keep running across different entries where I realize I have a picture (or pictures) of what my ancestors were writing about. So this blog post is about my great-grandfather, Henry (or Hank) Ambrose Brown, who was a photographer. Here’s a picture of him at age 21, just a couple of years younger than he was in 1873 when he kept the only diary we still have.

Brown, Henry A - 21 Years Old

According to his 1873 diary, on June 21st he went down to Muir, Michigan, and on the 23rd he made arrangements to rent a building from Jay Olmstead for his photography business. On July 16th he started setting up the shop and on the 28th, he went over to Lyons, Michigan, “and painted three places on the fence (Photos at Muir).”

On August 6th he sent a letter to his wife, Nancy, with a picture of the Gallery. Perhaps this was the one he sent her. The large building on the right is the Olmstead House (hotel).

Brown, Henry - Muir Gallery

Brown Gallery Description

This is Hank’s description of the Gallery:

There is a back door and 3 windows in store we have rented – had to pay 1000 for the month as he would not give me rent free and had another man who wanted to put in restaurant so we took it. It is a dandy location and elegant light no obstructions whatever.




And another view of the Gallery.

Brown, Henry - Gallery in Muir

While the first picture of the front view looks nice, I get a kick out of this picture as it sure doesn’t look “dandy” to me with the dirt road and all the peeling paper on the fence. The roof doesn’t look that great either. And notice the Bowling Alley next door? Looks like there might have been room for two alleys. I would love to see what the inside looked like!

H A Brown Gallery - back side



On the back of this last picture, Hank drew a diagram of the Gallery:

A – Dark Room
B – Reception Room
C – Toilet               “
D – Printing          “
E – Printing Dark “
F – Operating        “
G – desk
H – Chimney with shelves
underneath it



I am especially intrigued by C – Toilet Room. I know Hank’s father-in-law, Luke Keith, sometimes made mention in his diaries about moving the privy or digging a new hole for the privy, so I was surprised to see mention of a toilet. I did a little sleuthing and found that by the 1870s indoor toilets were growing in popularity.

The Gallery in Muir didn’t last long. Nancy arrived on August 25th, and they set up housekeeping, but by September 8th Henry had made up his mind to quit the business there in Muir by October 1st. For a while Hank worked for the Chicago City Railway but photography was his love and over the years he had several different galleries in different cities in Michigan and later in Chicago – the topic for a future blog post!


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