The photographic legacy of Edward F. Small
By: Jennifer Bean Bower
Is it possible to travel through time? In regard to the past, the answer is yes. Thanks to photography and Edward Featherston Small, a trip to 19th-century Winston-Salem—particularly 1881 and 1882—can be achieved with relative ease.
In the summer of 1881, Edward F. Small rolled his mobile photography studio into the bustling town of Winston. Born in Beaufort County, North Carolina, he was a talented artist and a brilliant salesman. As a photographer, Small did not focus on portraits but instead captured scenes that were best-suited for a frame or stereoscope—a device that allows two photographs to be seen as a singular, three-dimensional image. As a salesman, he peddled those views to the public.
Small had only been in town a short while, when he partnered with photographer M. C. Teague. To promote the partnership, the men presented examples of their work to the Winston Leader and secured the following announcement on July 5:
An opportunity is afforded the citizens of Winston to secure fine views of their residences and business houses by Messrs. Small & Teague. We have seen their work in this line and it is first class.
Sales must have proved profitable, as a few weeks later the photographers advertised a want of “10,000 BABIES” at their newly opened, storefront studio. Although their request was in jest—considering the number was greater than the combined population of Winston and Salem—there is no doubt the advertisement drew attention to their business. Yet, despite having a physical presence in town, Small and Teague did not cease operation of their mobile studio and on Nov. 29, a reminder of that service appeared in the Winston Leader:
If you see a little blue hand cart, with a miniature house thereon…It is Messrs. Small & Teague’s scenery gallery, on wheels…Prepare your premises for they will call round and “take a view.” They are well prepared… and take excellent pictures…”
Small and Teague prospered in 1881 and likely envisioned greater success in the new year. But, on Jan. 8, 1882, their business—and any dreams associated with it—collapsed. Early that morning, a general merchandise store caught fire. Flames raged as one building was consumed after another. In an effort to create a fire block and prevent further destruction, the mayor ordered several structures—including Small and Teague’s studio—to be torn down. Deemed a “Night of Horror” by the Winston Leader, the inferno had reduced an entire city block to a pile of ash and rubble.
As reported in the Jan. 12, 1882, edition of the Union Republican:
[Small and Teague] lost…everything…except their instruments, which were also much damaged…No insurance. Loss about $400. This loss falls particularly heavy on them, as they had established a good business in our city and lost many valuable negatives for which they had orders in hand to supply pictures.
Two weeks later, Small and Teague dissolved their business. Although the fire had destroyed a studio and partnership, it did not put an end to Small’s work. Instead, he salvaged what he could, made repairs and rolled his mobile studio into the neighboring town of Salem.
On Feb. 16, 1882, as reported by the People’s Press, Small was hard at work in Salem and “had taken some splendid views of a number of buildings.” The newspaper also noted that “city view photographing” was his “specialty.” And indeed it was. From January to June 1882, Small carted his camera around Salem where he photographed businesses like the pottery, tannery and tavern. He documented workers, residents, homes, gardens and conveyances. No matter the subject, it was game for Small’s lens.
By the end of June, Small felt his work in Salem was done and he left for Greensboro. The People’s Press reported that he intended to photograph “all the principal towns in the state” and they, along with the Winston Leader, wished him great “success.”
Whether or not Small visited all of the “principal towns” in North Carolina is unknown, but he did travel to Durham and photograph a W. Duke, Sons and Company tobacco factory. The image was printed on the company’s letterhead, Small was hired as a tobacco salesman and his camera was set aside.
Although Small worked in Winston and Salem for a short period of time, his photographs endure. At Old Salem Museums & Gardens a collection of Small’s work has been preserved, cataloged and digitized. His photographs have been utilized in restoration projects, studied by historical researchers and exhibited to the public. Through his lens, a brief moment in Winston-Salem’s past was captured and can be visited again and again.
At Digital Forsyth, which is “the definitive online collection of historical photographs of Forsyth County, N.C.,” photographs by Edward F. Small can be examined any time, day or night. Make the journey to www.digitalforsyth.org/ and enjoy your trip to the past.
Jennifer Bean Bower is an award-winning writer, native Tar Heel and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While working as the associate curator of photographic collections at Old Salem Museums & Gardens, Bower researched local tragedies and composed the book Winston & Salem: Tales of Murder, Mystery and Mayhem.