March 5, 2011

Picture History

Western Sierra County was sparsely populated, permanent settlements non-existent prior to 1877. With the discovery of precious metals at present-day Hillsboro, prospectors streamed to the area. Tents transformed to adobe abodes, and then frame and brick. 

The communities of Hillsboro, Kingston, and Lake Valley own a distinction. Almost from their start, professional and hobby photographers were on hand documenting on glass-plate negatives the people that made their living in these mining towns.

In an obscure 1973 publication, Photographers of the New Mexico Territory, the former curator of photography at the Museum of  New Mexico, Richard Rudisill, painstaking documented who took photos in the Territory from 1854 to 1912, when and where. It's a wonderful resource.

Photographers Addis and Allison passed through the area and snapped a few images, one of which is at the Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

J.C. Burge was a prodigious professional photographer. He set up shop in Kingston and took a great many images of people in his studio.  He also carried his camera outside the studio. His Kingston and Hillsboro street scenes have shown up in magazine articles and various archives. Burge documented the U.S. Cavalry and Infantry at Camp Hillsboro/Camp Boyd in 1885-86 during the Ulzana and Geronimo campaigns.

The Panic of 1893 sent silver prices south and that sent Kingston residents packing. The economic depression that lasted about five years caused the essential abandonment of Kingston, and Burge divested his business to a Hillsboro newcomer, George Tambling Miller of Minnesota. Miller built a home next to the Union Church in Hillsboro from gold slag blocks, and from the wood of the former Burge studio in Kingston, so says an 1894 contract archived at the Geronimo Springs Museum. Miller instructs a carpenter in writing to use Burge's wood.

Arguably, some of the most beautiful and well composed images of western Sierra County were taken by the German immigrant, Henry Schmidt. He lived and worked from a time in Lake Valley before settling in Chloride. He documented a vibrant Lake Valley that is today a bare husk of what was.

Were it not for these five men, there would be a huge vacancy of what we know about the area around Hillsboro.  Were in not for Rudisill, there would be a large void in the literature. --Craig Springer