Asahel Curtis Papers, 1895-1972

Overview of the Collection

Curtis, Asahel, 1874-1941
Asahel Curtis Papers
1895-1972 (inclusive)
1895-1941 (bulk)
8.65 cubic ft. (21 boxes)
4 microfilm reels ; 35 mm.
Collection Number
Early 20th-century Seattle photographer and promoter 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: 2065431929
Fax: 2065431931
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. 4058-003, a single box that dates from approximately 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. 4058-004. 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 4058-004 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 4058-002 is comprised of microfilm copies of the seven volumes of Mt. Rainier scrapbooks in Accession 4058-004.

Accession 4058-005 includes manuscripts by Asahel Curtis, records regarding his death, biography, and placement of his works, and ephemera surrounding Mt. Rainier National Park which often features Curtis' photographs. Also includes newspaper and magazine clippings, one portrait of Asahel Curtis, and several pamphlets and map pamphlets.

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


Organized into 4 accessions.

  • Accession No. 4058-002, Asahel Curtis papers, 1911-1921
  • Accession No. 4058-003, Asahel Curtis papers, 1909-1932
  • Accession No. 4058-004, Asahel Curtis papers, 1898, 1908-1941
  • Accession No. 4058-005, Asahel Curtis Papers, 1895-1972

Acquisition Information

Curtis's papers and scrapbooks were acquired by the University of Washington Libraries from the Asahel Curtis Studio in 1942.

Select items are photocopied letters donated by David Shneidman -- photocopies are stamped as such, and interfiled chronologically.

Processing Note

Accessions. 4058 and 4058-2 were merged in May 1998 to form Accession 4058-4, but the microfilm copy of the Mt. Rainier scrapbooks remains under Accession 4058-2.

Accession 4058-2 was filmed from the originals at the University of Washington Libraries.

Separated Materials

Photographs were transferred to the Asahel Curtis Photo Company Collection, PH Coll 482, in the division.


Sucher, David (ed.), The Asahel Curtis Sampler: Photographs of Puget Sound Past (Seattle, Puget Sound Access, 1973).Frederick, Richard and Engerman, Jeanne, Asahel Curtis : Photographs of the Great Northwest (Tacoma, Washington State Historical Society, 1983).Satterfield, Archie, Seattle: An Asahel Curtis Portfolio (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1985).

Related Materials

The Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma holds a large collection of Curtis's photographs.

The records of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce are housed at the Seattle Public Library.

The records of Mt. Rainier National Park are divided between two locations: the National Archives and Records Administration's Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle) facility and the Mt. Rainier National Park headquarters in Ashford, Washington.

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 1908
1/7-14 4058-004 1909
1/15 4058-004 1910
1/16-17 4058-004 1911
1/18-25 4058-004 1912
1/26 4058-004
1/27 4058-004 1914
1/28 4058-004 1915
1/29 4058-004 1916
1/30 4058-004
1/31 4058-004 1918
1/32 4058-004
1/33 4058-004
1/34-39 4058-004 1921
2/1-8 4058-004 1922
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 1935
11/18-27 4058-004 1936
11/28-30 4058-004 1937
11/31-37 4058-004 1938
12/1-5 4058-004 1939
12/6-13 4058-004 1940
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

Accession No. 4058-005: Asahel Curtis Papers, 1895-1972Return to Top

0.19 cubic feet (1 box)

Scope and Content: Includes manuscripts by Asahel Curtis, records regarding his death, biography, and placement of his works, and ephemera surrounding Mt. Rainier National Park which often features Curtis' photographs. Also includes newspaper and magazine clippings, one portrait of Asahel Curtis, and several pamphlets and map pamphlets.

The records were likely collected and donated by Hazel Niendorff (nee Wood), a friend of Clarence Leroy Andrews. She and her husband Fred Niendorff (reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) maintained records surrounding maritime history and Alaskan exploration. Much of the correspondence and inventory records include Hazel's name, as well as handwritten notes regarding the organization of the files included.

Source: Archives West finding aid for the Hazel W. Niendorff Scrapbooks on North Pacific Marine Casualties and Maritime History held by the Museum of History & Industry, Sophie Frye Bass Library

Restrictions on Access: No restrictions on access.

Restrictions on Use: Status of creator's copyrights is unknown; copyright in some items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. Restrictions may exist on copying, quotation, or publication. Users are responsible for researching copyright status before use.

General Notes: Items likely collected by Hazel Niendorff (nee Wood), friend of Asahel Curtis. Separated from accession for Clarence Leroy Andrews. Both sets of documents were likely gathered by Curtis and Andrews' mutual friend Hazel Niendorff (nee Wood). Receipt date unknown.

Related Material: Hazel W. Niendorff Scrapbooks on North Pacific Marine Casualties and Maritime History

Container(s) Description Dates
Series 1: Manuscripts by Asahel Curtis
Box/Folder Accession
1/1 4058-005
"Puget Sound, the Playground of the Northwest" by Asahel Curtis from Pacific Monthly
April 1908
1/2 4058-005
"Illustrated Lecture on Rainier National Park, Washington by Asahel Curtis, Seattle" - Two Copies
approximately 1920
1/3 4058-005
"Rainier National Park" dictated by Asahel Curtis
May 1922
1/4 4058-005
Speech Excerpts from Asahel Curtis and J.L McPherson on topics including Mt. Rainier and Alaskan Glaciers
Series 2: Records regarding Asahel Curtis death, biography, and placement of works
Box/Folder Accession
1/5 4058-005
Correspondence between Hazel Niendorff and Mrs. Asahel Curtis regarding death of Asahel Curtis
March 1941
1/6 4058-005
Asahel Curtis biographical sketches and obituaries
1941-approximately 1972
1/7 4058-005
Hazel Niendorff correspondence with Archie Satterfield, biographer of Asahel Curtis at The Seattle Times
October 1969, May 1970
1/8 4058-005
Newspaper clippings of articles by Archie Satterfield, including biographical article of Asahel Curtis
February 1972
1/9 4058-005
Portrait of Asahel Curtis (photographer, Seattle, WA), "His favorite portrait" used in 1972 Archie Satterfield biographical article
Scope and Content: A caption on a copy of this photograph included in the 1972 Archie Satterfield biographical article that provides additional context: "Curtis was about 50 years of age when this formal portrait was made. It was his favorite portrait."
approximately 1925
1/10 4058-005
Asahel Curtis, Jr. obituary
Scope and Content: Newspaper clipping
May 1983
1/11 4058-005
Correspondence and newspaper clipping regarding placement of Asahel Curtis works and restrictions on use
September 1938, April to June 1942
1/12 4058-005
Asahel Curtis photo inventory, "The Argus"
December 1919
1/13 4058-005
List of photography descriptions in "Mountaineers - Olympic Peninsula"
1/14 4058-005
Comparison with Curtis account of Politofsky in Wrangell Narrows
1/15 4058-005
List of references in Seattle City Directory to Asahel Curtis, E.S. Curtis, Curtis & Romans, and Romans Photographic Co.
Series 3: Ephemera regarding Rainier National Park and Asahel Curtis
Box/Folder Accession
1/16 4058-005
Copy of article regarding opening of the Wonderland Trail at Rainier National Park - Publicity Bureau, Chamber of Commerce
1/17 4058-005
Magazine Clipping from '"The Argus": "Rainier National Park", and newspaper clipping, "Land Rich in Legend for Today"
1/18 4058-005
Magazine Clipping from "The Argus": "High Shots in Washington" featuring photograph by Asahel Curtis, and newspaper clipping, "Great Glacier is Monument to Seattle [unknown]"
December 1920, July 1925
1/19 4058-005
Newspaper clipping "Mount Rainier, Our Greatest Snow Peak" featuring photograph by Asahel Curtis, and "Rainier, Home of Glaciers and Garden of Wild Flowers" by Asahel Curtis
May 1926
1/20 4058-005
Newspaper clipping "Carbon Glacier is Opened", "Board will Urge $5,000,0000 Fund for Rainier Roads" and "Reindeer and Dog Sleds will be Winter Features of Rainier"
1/21 4058-005
Newspaper Clipping "Geographic Names are Given Honors for Two Seattle Men" and untitled article by David Whitcomb, President of the Rainier Park Company
1/22 4058-005
Newspaper clipping "New Rainier Park Wonderland is Open to Motorists" featuring photograph by Asahel Curtis
approximately June 1924
1/23 4058-005
Newspaper clipping "New park on Mt. Rainier" and "Movement is Launched to Perpetuate Fast Friend of the Northwest", including photograph by Asahel Curtis
approximately 1920
1/24 4058-005
Records of Development of Rainier National Park
1/25 4058-005
Souvenir Booklet on Mt. Rainier by E.S. Ingraham, Seattle - copy transcribed early 1920s
June 1895
1/26 4058-005
"Rainier National Park" pamphlet by Asahel Curtis
Scope and Content: Bound pamphlet
1/27 4058-005
"the National Parks - Our Scenic Wonderlands" pamphlet by Stephen T. Mather
approximately 1920
1/28 4058-005
"Rainier National Forest, Washington" Map Pamphlet, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
1/29 4058-005
Mt. Rainier Park Development Plan and Annotated Map Pamphlet, U.S. Geological Survey
1/30 4058-005
Mt. Rainier National Park Map Pamphlet, U.S. Geological Survey and attached National Park Service pamphlet and map in which Asahel Curtis is credited

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)
  • Personal Papers/Corporate Records (University of Washington)
  • 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)