Asahel Curtis Papers, 1898, 1908-1941  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Curtis, Asahel, 1874-1941
Asahel Curtis Papers
1898, 1908-1941 (inclusive)
8.46 cubic ft. (20 boxes)
4 microfilm reels ; 35 mm.
Collection Number
Early 20th-century Seattle photographer and booster of Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and other areas in Washington State.
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

The collection is open to all users.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was partially provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Asahel Curtis was the best-known Seattle photographer in the early twentieth century, as well as a noted outdoorsman and regional booster. Born in Minnesota in 1874, he moved to the Puget Sound area in 1888. Asahel's brother, Edward, supported the family by opening a photo studio in Seattle, and Asahel went to work for him in 1894. In 1897 the brothers agreed that Asahel should go to the Yukon and photograph the gold rush. Asahel stayed there for two years, alternately taking pictures and working a small claim that never produced much gold. When Asahel returned in 1899, he learned that Edward had published several Yukon photos without giving acknowledgment that they had been taken by Asahel. The brothers had a massive fight and rarely spoke to each other for the rest of their lives. Edward later became nationally famous for his twenty-volume series of photos of Native Americans. Asahel never achieved this measure of success, but had a notable career nonetheless. He married Florence Carney in 1902 and opened his own studio in 1911. He was hired by a number of companies, organizations, and wealthy individuals to take portraits and promotional photos. But Asahel was probably better known for his high-quality photos of the Washington landscape published in national magazines.

Asahel Curtis loved Mount Rainier; some people thought that he almost worshipped it. He photographed it thousands of times and climbed it dozens of times. Curtis was a founding member of the Mountaineers, a mountain-climbing group which also promoted the preservation of wilderness areas. Curtis was active in the affairs of the club for the first several years after its founding in 1906, but his activities as chair of the Mount Rainier National Park advisory committee from 1911 to 1936 strained his relations with the group. Curtis sought to promote accessibility to the park and to boost tourism by building roads. He also ran afoul of the Mountaineers when he vigorously opposed the expansion of Olympic National Park in the late 1930s.

Indeed, Curtis was almost as much of a regional booster as he was a photographer. For example, Curtis not only worked as the official photographer of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, he also chaired its Development Committee and its Highway Committee for many years. Curtis did not confine his work as a booster to Seattle. He owned a small orchard near Ellensburg, and always thought that the interesting landscape of Central Washington could be improved by building irrigation projects to turn the semi-desert into cropland. The Washington Irrigation Association thus chose Curtis to be its president in the 1920s. He also participated in the affairs of the Washington State Good Roads Association, serving as its president in 1932 and 1933. Asahel Curtis died in 1941.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Asahel Curtis Papers are comprised of three accessions. Accession no. 4058-3, a single box that dates from ca. 1909 to 1932, includes speeches, writings, letters, clippings, and a stock certificate. The speeches and writings promote highway building and access to scenic attractions in Washington, especially Mt. Rainier National Park. Many of the writings were published.

The bulk of the Asahel Curtis Papers are in Accession no. 4058-4. The accession is comprised primarily of Curtis's correspondence from 1908 to 1941. The correspondence documents Curtis's work as a civic leader and businessman. Most letters concern his activities as a regional booster in the various groups in which he served. Many others are simply correspondence with patrons who ordered photos. Curtis almost never discussed his photographic philosophy or techniques in his letters. Many letters regarding the administration of Mt. Rainier National Park were pasted into the seven Mt. Rainier scrapbooks also included in the accession. The inventory of this accession is accompanied by an extensive name index of the individuals and organizations represented in the general correspondence, but the letters in the Mt. Rainier scrapbooks are not indexed. The scrapbook letters, which range from 1911 to 1921, are largely, but not entirely, in chronological order. While the years 1910-1911 and 1913-1920 are sparsely represented in the general correspondence, the years 1913-1915 and 1918-1920 are extensively documented by the scrapbooks. The scrapbooks also contain a few scattered newspaper clippings about the park. Three other scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings but no correspondence. The subject of one is Mt. Rainier (1924), another covers the Olympic Peninsula (1924), and the third scrapbook documents Frederick Cook's expedition to the North Pole (1908-1910). This accession also contains a diary of Curtis's trip to the Yukon in 1898 and financial records from 1932-1940.

Major correspondents of accession 4058-4 include Homer T. Bone, Clarence Cleveland Dill, Lindley Hoag Hadley, Knute Hill, Samuel B. Hill, Wesley Livsey Jones, Clarence Daniel Martin, Edmond Stephen Meany, Lewis Baxter Schwellenbach, Monrad C. Wallgren, Marion Anthony Zioncheck, the Rainier National Park Advisory Board, the Rainier National Park Company, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, the Yakima Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. National Park Service.

Accession 4058-2 is comprised of microfilm copies of the seven volumes of Mt. Rainier scrapbooks in Accession 4058-4.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

The microfilm copy (Accession 4058-2) of the Mt. Rainier scrapbooks, vol. 1-7, may be obtained through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Use

Asahel Curtis's literary rights were not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Photocopies of Curtis's Mt. Rainier scrapbooks, vol. 1-7, in Accession 4058-4 must be made from the microfilm copy in Accession 4058-2.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


Accession No. 4058-002: Asahel Curtis papers, 1911-1921Return to Top

0.36 cu. ft.

Scope and Content: Microfilm of Curtis' Mt. Rainier scrapbooks (7).

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users.

Restrictions on Use: Creator's literary rights not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Container(s) Description Dates
Reel Accession
1 4058-002
Mt. Rainier Scrapbooks, vol. 1-5 , positives
2 4058-002
Mt. Rainier Scrapbooks, vol. 6-7, positives
3 4058-002
Mt. Rainier Scrapbooks, vol. 1-5, positives, set 2
4 4058-002
Mt. Rainier Scrapbooks, vol. 6-7, positives, set 2

Accession No. 4058-003 : Asahel Curtis papers, 1909-1932Return to Top

0.21 cubic ft.

Scope and Content: Speeches, writings, letters, clippings, stock certificate; ca. 1909-1932, undated Many of these short writings promote access to Washington State's scenic attractions. Many were published.

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users.

Restrictions on Use: Creator's literary rights not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder Accession
1/1 4058-003
Outgoing Letters
1/1 4058-003
Speeches And Writings
Box/Folder Accession
1/1 4058-003
Re Mt. Rainier
Box/Folder Accession
1/2 4058-003
Argus [Mt. Rainier National Park]
Nov. 12, 1911
1/2 4058-003
1/2 4058-003
Rainier [for] Washington Motorist
General Notes: 2 copies.
1/2 4058-003
Rainier National Park Development by Asahel Curtis - Chairman - Rainier National Park Advisory Board
1/2 4058-003
Shall the National Park Be Made Accessible?
1/2 4058-003
Rainier Park Lectures Illustrated by 120 Colored Slides by Asahel Curtis
General Notes: 2 copies.
1/2 4058-003
Re The Mountaineers
Box/Folder Accession
1/3 4058-003 Nov. 15, 1909
1/3 4058-003
The Mountaineers in the Olympic Peninsula
1/3 4058-003 undated
Box/Folder Accession
1/4 4058-003
The Proposed Mount Olympus National Park
General Notes: 2 copies.
1/4 4058-003
Through the Olympics by Pack Train
1/4 4058-003
[Untitled for the] Aberdeen World
1/4 4058-003
Re: Washington State Development
Box/Folder Accession
1/5 4058-003
Land Settlement
1/5 4058-003
Untitled [for] Bellingham State Chamber
Feb. 25, 1932
1/5 4058-003
1/5 4058-003
[Radio Address] Minneapolis
Feb. 5, 1925
1/5 4058-003
Address of Asahel Curtis at Grade and Pack Conference Spokane, Washington
General Notes: 6 copies.
March 1927
Re: Washington State Roads and Highways
Box/Folder Accession
1/6 4058-003
1/6 4058-003
Protection of the Highways
Aug. 27, 1918
1/6 4058-003
Roads Journal of Commerce Annual Review
Jan. 1932
1/6 4058-003
Washington's New Cross-State Highwy [for] Christmas, Argus
1/6 4058-003
To the Congress of the United States
1/6 4058-003
Untitled for Christmas, Argus
Speeches and Writings of Others
Box/Folder Accession
1/7 4058-003
Gillie, H. G., Development of Our Natural Resources
Sept. 17, 1934
1/7 4058-003
Gillie, H. G., State Development
June 1, 1934
1/7 4058-003
Milk War File Lent to Smith
Oct. 26, 1929
1/7 4058-003
Seattle Chamber of Commerce
1/7 4058-003
Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Brief of Reclamation Conference Held with Dr. Elwood Mead
July 13, 1928
1/7 4058-003
Webber, Carl E.
1/7 4058-003
Box/Folder Accession
1/8 4058-003
Stock Certificate
1/9 4058-003

Accession No. 4058-004: Asahel Curtis papers, 1898, 1908-1941Return to Top

7.89 cubic ft.

Scope and Content: Correspondence, scrapbooks, financial records, 1908-1941, and diary kept at Dawson, Alaska in 1898. Concerns Curtis' activities as a regional booster especially through the Washington State Good Roads Association, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and his interest in Mt Rainier National Park.

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users.

Restrictions on Use: Creator's literary rights not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries. Copying of correspondence should be done from the microfilm.

Container(s) Description Dates
General Correspondence
Box/Folder Accession
1/1-6 4058-004
1/7-14 4058-004
1/15 4058-004
1/16-17 4058-004
1/18-25 4058-004
1/26 4058-004
1/27 4058-004
1/28 4058-004
1/29 4058-004
1/30 4058-004
1/31 4058-004
1/32 4058-004
1/33 4058-004
1/34-39 4058-004
2/1-8 4058-004
2/9-16 4058-004
2/17-29 4058-004
2/30-3/9 4058-004
3/10-40 4058-004
4 4058-004
5/1-31 4058-004
5/32-6/35 4058-004
7/1-8/14 4058-004
8/15-9/10 4058-004
9/11-10/3 4058-004
10/4-21 4058-004
10/22-11/4 4058-004
11/5-17 4058-004
11/18-27 4058-004
11/28-30 4058-004
11/31-37 4058-004
12/1-5 4058-004
12/6-13 4058-004
12/14-15 4058-004
Box/Folder Accession
12/16 4058-004
Diary - Northwest Territory, 1. vol.
12/17 4058-004
Report - Roy Thompson
Scope and Content: "Report on Possible Rainier Park Cross-Mountain Road from Paradise Park to Yakima County Through Rainier Pass; Belt Highway Around Mountain and Carbon River Mountain Road."
Box Accession
13 4058-004
Mt. Rainier, vol. 1 (September 1911-June 1912) and vol. 2 (June 1912-January 1913)
14 4058-004
Mt. Rainier, vol. 3 (January 1913 - April 1913) and vol. 4 (April 1913-October 1913)
15 4058-004
Mt. Rainier, vol. 5 (October 1913-December 1914) and vol. 7 (November 1918-December 1920)
16 4058-004
Mt. Rainier, vol. 6 (January 1915-May 1916)
17 4058-004
Mt. Rainier Clippings
18 4058-004
Olympic Peninsula Clippings
18 4058-004
Frederick A. Cook Expedition to the North Pole
Scope and Content: Photos and clippings pasted into an order log.
Financial Records
Box Accession
19 4058-004
Ledgers, 2 vols.
1932-1935, 1936-1940

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • City promotion--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Land use--Washington (State)--Planning
  • National parks and reserves--Washington (State)
  • Outdoor recreation--Washington (State)
  • Photographers--Washington (State)--Seattle--Archives
  • Place marketing--Washington (State)
  • Regionalism--Northwest, Pacific
  • Roads--Washington (State)--Planning
  • Wilderness areas--Washington (State)--Recreational use
  • Personal Names :
  • Curtis, Asahel, 1874-1941--Archives
  • Corporate Names :
  • Mountaineers (Society)
  • Seattle Chamber of Commerce
  • Geographical Names :
  • Dawson (Yukon)--Description and travel
  • Klondike River Valley (Yukon)--Gold discoveries
  • Mount Rainier National Park (Wash.)
  • Olympic National Park (Wash.)
  • Olympic Peninsula (Wash.)
  • Rainier, Mount (Wash.)
  • Seattle (Wash.)
  • Washington (State)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Diaries
  • Scrapbooks

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Personal Papers/Corporate Records (University of Washington)