Fred Gildersleeve and An Amazing Journey

Format Gallery

by Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

and John Wilson

Fred Gildersleeve, sister-Jessie Ellen Gildersleeve, mother-Sarah Pew Gildersleeve

The man who would become Waco’s most famous photographer, Fred A. Gildersleeve, was born near Boulder, Colorado, on June 30, 1880, to Captain Allen Jesse and Sarah Ellen Pew Gildersleeve. His father, Allen Jesse Gildersleeve was a Civil War veteran having served as a Union Army Captain in the Missouri Cavalry, 14, Regiment, Company D, and died in 1881 at the age of 46. After the father’s death the family moved to Kirksville, Missouri, near the mother’s family. There, young Fred attended the Model School (part of the Normal School) graduating at the age of 16. His photography career began at the age of eighteen when he was given a Kodak box camera by his mother. He photographed students at the school and sold them for twenty-five cents each. In 1903, Gildersleeve graduated from the Illinois College of Photography in Effingham, Illinois, and soon after, his career as a professional photographer began.

In 1905 Fred Gildersleeve came from Texarkana, Arkansas, to Waco to work in the photography business having had a brief photography career in that city. His sister, Jessie Ellen, arrived in Waco around the same time to work as a doctor of Osteopathy. Their mother, Sarah Gildersleeve later joined them and lived with her daughter. Fred married Florence Jennette Boyd on December 24, 1908, in Texarkana, Arkansas, who then joined him in Waco. They had no children.

Fred Gildersleeve became a pioneer in the field of industrial photography in Texas. Examples include his commercial photography from the air in the mid 1910s. He photographed oil fields in Mexia and took the first aerial photos known to exist of Baylor University. His ability to use magnesium powder to create “flashlight” to illuminate night-time photographs broke national records. His 1911 photo of Waco’s Prosperity Banquet set a record for being the largest flash photo ever at that time. The event seated 1200 people and ran the length of two city blocks. His skills at photo enlargement also set records. In 1913, he enlarged a panoramic photograph of Waco’s Texas Cotton Palace to 120 inches wide becoming the largest photo print made up to that time. He had a representative from Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, bring him the photo paper to do so. He also photographed the construction of the Amicable Life Insurance Company Building “Alico” in Waco. The structure, being 22 stories tall, held the title of being the tallest building in the Southwestern United States upon construction in 1911.Continue Reading

A Day in the (Texas Collection) Life: Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

Telephone switchboard operator, c. 1905
Geoff selected a few of his favorite photos for this post. In this image from the recently acquired E.C. Blomeyer Photographic Collection, we get a beautifully detailed view into the telephone switchboard operator’s world, circa 1905.

Meet Geoff Hunt, originally from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, and Audio and Visual Curator, in our latest staff post giving you a peek into the day-to-day work of The Texas Collection:

The Texas Collection has an estimated 1.4 million photo prints, negatives, slides, and digital image files. Additionally, we have thousands of moving image items, and the collection holds an equal number of sound recordings including interviews, music, and many other memorable events. My job as Audio and Visual Curator is to manage all of these materials.

Currently the photograph collection keeps my extremely helpful student photo assistants and me the busiest. Photographs are our most requested materials—lots of people need images, whether they’re looking for photos to use in publications, to supplement their research, or to decorate an office. My undergraduate student workers assist me in scanning, filing, and pulling photographs for projects and researchers. Our main goal is to serve the university and the general public with their needs.

Fred Gildersleeve-Welcome to Waco
This image of Waco was taken by Fred Gildersleeve, circa 1910. On the far left side is Austin Avenue. Click on the image to see a “Welcome to Waco” banner–it almost looks like it was painted on the street!

How do we make such a large amount of images available for use? As with most libraries and archival facilities, you’ll get the most of your experience by visiting us in person. However, we are always working to make more photographs, as well as other materials, available online. The Texas Collection has thousands of photographs made accessible through Baylor’s Digital Collections site, which can be found in Texas Collection-Photos.  Our Flickr page is another way for people to enjoy a small sampling of our large photographic collection.  

Among our visual holdings, The Texas Collection is home to the archives of noted Central Texas photographers Fred Gildersleeve, Fred Marlar, and Jimmie Willis. However, these photographic materials, mostly dating from the early 1900s-1950s, primarily consist of negatives. The first priority in working with items such as these is preserving the original negatives and printed photographs as best as possible. We spend much time doing so by replacing old acidic sleeves and folders with ones that are acid-free and by using protective sleeves (Mylar) for the photo prints.  

Baylor's University's First Computer, Hankamer School of Business, Casey Computer Lab, IBM 1620, September 13, 1967
This IBM 1620 Data Processing System came to Baylor in 1962 and was the university’s first computer. Photos like this one document changing technology and milestones and offer unique insight into our past.

Some of the negatives are made of glass but most are cellulose; these can range in size from 16 millimeters to 8 x 10 inches. Glass is fragile, and cellulose deteriorates with age and climate. By reproducing these negatives and printed photos with specialized photo scanners, a digital “preservation file” and user access copy can be created. We do still keep the original negative and/or photo print—that’s the master copy!—but by digitizing items, we can allow access to the photo without endangering the original. People of today and future generations will be able to see this history of Baylor, Waco, various Texas cities, and many other locations for years to come. [Check out our Preservation Week video if you’re interested in learning how you can scan your own negatives.]

Scanning this variety of media and preserving the originals are what I spend the majority of my time doing. It is a very large collection to work with but I enjoy learning and finding something new and interesting everyday in our holdings. My position at The Texas Collection as Audio and Visual Curator is challenging but I sincerely find it to be “a labor of love.”  

The Texas Collection turns 90 this year! But even though we’ve been at Baylor for so long, we realize people aren’t quite sure what goes on in a special collections library and archives. So over the course of 2013, we are featuring staff posts about our work at The Texas Collection. See other posts in the series here. (Read more about one student assistant’s work with the photography collection in our March post.)

Research Ready: February 2013

Paul Quinn College art class, circa 1916
Paul Quinn College art class, circa 1916. This photo taken by Waco photographer Fred Gildersleeve documents a historically black college formerly housed in Waco. The school was coed, but this class appears to be all men.

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for February:

  • [Waco] Evangelia Settlement Records, 1912-1975: Evangelia Settlement was the first day care program for underprivileged children in Waco. The organization’s records consist of correspondence, legal, financial, and literary manuscripts generated by the  settlement or written about the settlement, along with scrapbooks that contain newspaper clippings and photographs.
  • Gildersleeve-Du Congé Collection, 1910-1918: Former Waco Mayor, Roger Conger, received the extensive collection of Waco photographer Fred A. Gildersleeve
    some time after his death. The subject matter of the photo negatives contained in this collection were either requested by Oscar DuCongé, Waco’s first African-American mayor, or selected by Conger to present as a gift.
  • Francis Gevrier Guittard papers, 1811-1960: This collection contains the personal papers of Dr. Francis Gevrier Guittard, a prominent history professor who served Baylor University for much of the early twentieth century.
Francis Guittard's diploma documenting his PhD from Stanford University, 1931
Francis Guittard’s passion for history and teaching was evidenced by his personal, lifelong devotion to learning. On April 3, 1931, at the age of 64, Guittard received this Ph.D. diploma from Leland Stanford Junior University. His dissertation, also found here at The Texas Collection, examined Theodore Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation.