It is now twelve years since I published my first book, Veneklasen Brick, and I’m excited to still receive questions and comments about the book a few times a year. This week, a man in Michigan contacted me to ask for more information about a house that he has recently purchased. For some reason that I cannot recall, I missed or omitted this house in my survey of Veneklasen brick houses in 2004. When he bought the house, it came with this absolutely wonderful photograph.
This was a common genre of photographs in the 1890s: Basically, take the kids, the whole family, all of the pets, most of the major material possessions and pose in front of the house for a professional photographer. Even families with some money could only afford to do this once in a decade.
If we take a closer look at the photograph we see some interesting features. This boy on a horse is dressed like a sailor, a common style for boys in the 1890s and 1900s. This was the age of America’s great naval growth and escapades. Young boys wanted to be like the Admirals and Commodores who operated the big metal ships. Also, in this cut-out, we can see an American flag. It appears to me, based on the design, that the family is flying a 35-star U.S. flag from 1863-1865. Not until the 48-star flag of 1912 did the stars line up in perfect rows as it appears in the case here. This does not mean of course that the photo was taken in the period 1863-1865, nor after 1912. I would bet that it is a glass plate photograph from the 1880s or 1890s, but the family has an old flag.
In the center of the photograph are two more children, the mother, and perhaps a mother-in-law or sister, who appears to be posing with an image of her late husband (if I were to pose a guess). The image doesn’t look to be a famous politician figure or anything of the patriotic type.
On the right hand corner of the photograph is a second man behind three horses and a plow. If the photograph were taken after say 1900, I would expect this well-to-do family to have a mechanical tractor instead of a team of horses. Who is this man? Is it the brother, the father, the neighbor, the hired hand? A small section of the zig-zag fenceline appears to be caught in the corner of the photograph.
At the top of the house is a small bell, reminiscent of a schoolhouse. Why would this house have a bell? The house was built in the early 1870s, and the growth of some vegetation on the house indicates that it had been standing at least a few years when the photograph was taken.