Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County
Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

1860s Photographers – Part I
By Rox Ann Johnson

Today cameras are everywhere. Even the mobile phones we carry are capable of capturing photographs. However, things were very different in the 1860s when people in Fayette County mostly relied on traveling photographers who were just passing through. As a result, relatively few photographs were taken here, and only a small number of those still exist.
Nonetheless, a few photographers did try to make a permanent home here in the late 1860s. On Nov. 6, 1866, J.J. Wallace purchased an ad in The State Rights Democrat newspaper announcing his new photograph gallery in the second story of P.V. Shaw’s building, opposite the La Grange Hotel. The advertisement stated that he had lately come from Tuskegee, Ala. and had several years of experience as a photographer. Oddly, the advertisement included the following:
“Persons having small pictures of deceased friends can have them accurately copied [and] enlarged to any size desired, either plain or colored.
“Also, persons wishing pictures of corpse or aged friends, either in town or country, he will go at any time to their dwellings and make negatives of the same.”
One year later, J.J. Wallace was himself listed among the dead, a victim of the 1867 yellow fever epidemic in La Grange.
James J. Wallace was born in Tennessee in about 1834 to Jesse and Mahala (Blakely) Wallace. Operating with a partner under the name Wallace & Hooben, he had set up a photography studio in Uniontown, Ala. and later in Tuskegee, but had likely not prospered in either town. A  Nov. 10, 1866 article in The Democrat indicates La Grange might have been a good place to start over. The article read: “Let them Come! During the past week we have received Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee exchanges, each of them noticing in their respective sections ‘streams of movers, bound for Texas.’ God bless the dear people of those impoverished States, let them come along…”
Though he was in La Grange five months earlier advertising as J.J. Wallace, it wasn’t until April 12, 1867 that “Wallace & Sister” was first used in an ad. His partner was Anna A. Hooben, born about 1846 in Tennessee. James Wallace had sisters, but Anna Hooben was not one of them, and the relationship between them is unknown. It may be that Wallace had been in partnership with her father in Alabama, and that it was easier to pass Anna off as his sister than to answer a bunch of questions. At this point, the ads referred to more artistic services, such as painted opalotypes and hand-colored carte de visites. It might be assumed that Anna Hooben had brought these techniques to the business. The duo again operated as Wallace & Hooben. That business is known for a striking photograph of the third Fayette County courthouse that was built by Heinrich Kreische in 1857.
Note: James J. Wallace is just one of over 200 La Grange yellow fever victims who are included in an exhibit at the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives this fall.
(To Be Continued)