Frank H. Nowell Montana mining photographs, circa 1894-1928  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Nowell, Frank H., 1864-1950
Frank H. Nowell Montana mining photographs
circa 1894-1928 (inclusive)
32 photographs (2 boxes) ; various sizes; mainly 11 x 14 in.
Collection Number
Photographs of a Montana mine showing related structures and buildings, as well as four men, including Nowell, working on the rocks
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Access Restrictions

Entire collection can be viewed on the Libraries’ Digital Collections website. Permission of Visual Materials Curator required to view originals. Contact Special Collections for more information.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Frank Hamilton Nowell was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on February 19, 1864. He was from a prominent New England family whose ancestor, Peter Nowell, had come to American in the 1600s from the Isle of Jersey. Frank's great grandfather served in the Revolutionary War and his grandfather lived in the Longfellow House in Cambridge for many years. His father, Thomas Shepard Nowell, was the first child christened in the Thomas Shepard Congregational Church (after which he was named) and was held by Oliver Wendell Holmes as he was christened. In 1885, Thomas Nowell went out to Juneau, Alaska to join two of his brothers who were already out there. Thomas started a mining business and his son, Frank Nowell joined him there in 1886. Frank brought six cows and a bull and ran a dairy farm for a year. Eventually he started working for his father. Frank took up photography as a hobby some time before 1894. (One man remembered being photographed by Frank when he first arrived in Alaska and walked off the steamboat at Juneau.) Frank and his wife, Elizabeth Helen Davis, were married in 1894 in Helena, Montana at her brother's home and Frank made photographs while in Montana. They moved to San Francisco where their daughter Dorothy was born and Frank traveled between California and Juneau in his work as a purchasing agent for his father's mining company.

In 1900 there was a large stampede of gold seekers to Nome, Alaska. Because it was located on the Bering Sea and only open to travel part of the year, supplies were hard to get and expensive so the Ames Mercantile Company decided to open a branch of their store in Nome. Nowell went to Nome in about July 1900 to run the Ames Mercantile store then later that year moved to the new town of Teller, Alaska to open a new store for the company. When his wife and daughter joined him in Teller, they brought the camera that he had left behind. By 1902, he began taking photographs of the Eskimos and reindeer herds at Cape Prince of Wales along with scenes in the Teller and Nome area. His Eskimo photographs became very popular and were eventually used in books and magazines about Alaska. In late 1903 or in 1904, he decided to leave the Mercantile business and become a full-time photographer. He built a tiny studio building in Nome, between the Golden Gate Hotel and the Post Office buildings

At the same time he was opening his photography studio in Nome, he also moved his wife and daughter to Seattle to live. He spent about nine years going back and forth between Nome and Seattle running his photography business. In Seattle, he was a member of the Alaska Club which was a group formed to support Alaskan commercial interests in the city. It was probably through his connections with the Alaska Club and with the Arctic Brotherhood that he was chosen as the official photographer for the AYPE. J.E. Chilberg, a member of the Alaska Club (and the president of the Miners and Merchants Bank in Nome), was elected the president of the AYPE. Nowell had photographed Chilberg's bank and Nome so Chilberg would likely have been acquainted with him from Nome and from the Alaska Club. Nowell's Alaska photographs were also featured in a large beautiful book Artwork of Seattle and Alaska, published in 1907 which may have impressed the AYPE officials.

Nowell photographed the opening day ceremonies and other pre-exposition activities such as the visiting delegations selecting the sites for their buildings, and the construction work. While the fair was open, he photographed the buildings, events, people, and activities on the grounds. His photographs were used in newspapers and magazines for pre-fair publicity and sold as souvenirs, made into postcards, used in guidebooks, etc. during the fair. He also sold copies of his Eskimo and Alaska photographs at the fair and won several awards for his work. In 1908, he took an extended trip through the Yukon and Alaska both photographing and collecting photographs from other photographers for the AYPE.

Shortly before the fair, he opened a photography studio in Seattle and he ran both the Nome and Seattle studios until about 1912 when he closed the Nome studio. During 1911 and 1912 he partnered with Orville Rognon (who had worked for Webster and Stevens for several years and then photographed for Nowell during the AYPE). In later years, the producers of the 1925 Charlie Chaplin movie, The Gold Rush, came to Nowell for photographs of cabins and snowdrifts to help them build authentic sets for the film. He retired from his studio in the late 1940s and died on October 19, 1950.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Photographs of mining buildings and other structures, probably at or near the Jay Gould mine, about 30 miles northwest of Helena, Montana. Includes photographs of men working on the rocks and one photograph of four men, one identified as Nowell and one as W.S. Davis, who was Nowell's brother-in-law. Two photographs are marked as Nowell's, the rest are presumed to be by Nowell as well.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

View the digital version of the collection

Restrictions on Use

Restrictions may exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries for details.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


MiningReturn to Top

The photographs might possibly be in the area of the Jay Gould Mine in Montana. The town of Gould (which was near Wilborn) was named for the Jay Gould Mine.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder item
1/1 1 circa 1894
1/1 2 circa 1894
1/1 3 circa 1894
1/1 4a circa 1894
1/1 4b
Frank H. Nowell, W.S. Davis, Mr. Bush and another man with digging tools at entrance to mine
: Cyanotype
Stamped on verso "Compliments of Frank Hamilton Nowell., Amateur Photographer, Gould, - Montana"
circa 1894
1/1 5
 Three men and two women near the entrance of a house
: Cyanotype
Stamped on verso: "Compliments of Frank Hamilton Nowell"
circa 1894
1/1 6 circa 1894
1/2 7-10 circa 1894
1/3 11-14 circa 1894
1/4 15-17 circa 1894
2/1 18-24
 Various exterior views of a wooden stamp mill under construction
The stamp mill at the Jay Gould mine burned down in August of 1898; this structure may have been its replacement.
circa 1894
2/2 25-29 circa 1894
2/3 30 circa 1894

Painting by Robert Swain GiffordReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder item
2/4 31
 Photograph of a painting of two men panning for gold
The painting is signed by the artist "R. Swain." Robert Swain Gifford (1840-1905) was well-known while alive and his works, consisting primarily of etchings and paintings, are in collections of major museums across the United States, including the Smithsonian.
circa 1894

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Gold Miners--Montana--Photographs
  • Gold mines and mining--Montana--Photographs
  • Miners--Montana--Photographs
  • Mines and mineral resources--Montana--Photographs
  • Personal Names :
  • Nowell, Frank H., 1864-1950--Photographs
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Cyanotypes
  • Photographic prints

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)