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Picturing the past

Historical Society kicks off summer walking tours exploring the history of Lansing photography


Pictured above: The photography studio of Englishman Abraham Cottrell (1825-1901) on East Michigan Avenue. He began as a gunsmith and photographer on Washington Avenue from 1859-61, then served in the Civil War. In 1866 Cottrell went into the photography business with Phillip Englehart, and apparently each opened studios on East Michigan just east of Larch Street. In the late 1870s, he was again in business by himself and back on Washington Avenue. Abraham Cottrell was a pioneer photographer of Lansing. Photo from the "The Making of Modern Michigan," the James P. Edmonds Collection; and the Capital Area District Library.

Film cameras are making a comeback, thanks to the same sort of hipsters who are helping to revive vinyl record and other analog mediums once thought to be heading toward extinction.

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing wants to show what Lansing was like in the days before digital photography. It kicks off its popular summer walking tours series at 7 p.m. today with a tour devoted to the history of photography in Lansing.

The tour takes walkers back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when over a dozen photography studios lined Michigan and Washington avenues to sell tintypes and other images. Different stops on the tour include buildings that still exist, as well as the sites of long-gone photography shops.

“I think people will be surprised by the sheer number of photographers that operated (on Washington Avenue) over the years,” said Jacob McCormick, Historical Society board member and leader of the tour. “Within a year or two of the foundation of the city in the 1840s, we already had a photographer. Moving forward, the number just grew and grew. There were a number of studios that lasted a year or even less than a year.”

McCormick has spent time compiling the history of local photographers, and he encourages participants in the tour to bring old photos of their own.

“Everybody’s gotten their photo taken at some point in their life, and it’s interesting to learn how earlier residents of Lansing had their photos taken, why they would’ve had their photos taken and where,” said McCormick. “I have a vast collection, and that’s how I got started in this. It’s interesting to see, having the physical photo in hand, where that photo was produced and taken at.”

The next walking tour, which meets at 7 p.m. June 22, takes walkers through Lansing’s Westside Neighborhood, which was part of the city’s own-a-home movement in the 1920s and ‘30s. In this tour, the group will see 10 classic Tudor and Arts and Crafts homes that were once owned by Lansing’s leading businessmen and industrialists.

Other summer tours will explore MSU’s W.J. Beal Botanical Gardens and old east campus, as well as the Cherry Hill Neighborhood. The walks cover limited distances, and water is provided.

Photographers of Downtown Lansing Walking Tour

7 p.m. Thursday, June 15


Meets at the corner of Washington Avenue and Shiawassee Street, Lansing

(517) 282-0671, lansinghistory.org


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