Will the Real Photographer Fowler Please Fly Up?

Every so often I am researching a Georgia photographer by one name but find another person, and then I realize that there are several others by that surname in my database, so which one is the one I just discovered? I’ve written before about the Adams “family” of photographers, and now I will tell you about the “Fowler” family. There are six different photographers with that surname in my database, thus far, and I’m sure there will be others to turn up.

No song comes to mind connected to the Fowler family of photographers, as it does with the Adams family, but the name does have a meaning to me —- birds! According to a search of the web, that is a basic meaning of the name. It has its origins in the English or Scottish name derived from the Old English fugelere, an occupational name for a bird-catcher or hunter of wild birds. Old English fugel or fugol means “bird” and has evolved into the modern word fowl (Wikipedia). There are several coats of arms associated with this name, but my favorite is one that features an owl.

There are a few Fowler photographers I know almost nothing about. Those two are J. C. Fowler, who worked in Athens in 1912 (there is a John Clifford Fowler buried in Athens, who could be he), and Wilson L. Fowler (born ca. 1847, Alabama). Wilson Fowler is on the 1870 Federal census living in Macon with two other photographers, Fernand Robinson (about whom I know much more), and John R. Begley, or Bagley — photographer Henry T. Heath and famiy lived right next door. 

One photographer named Fowler I have, thus far, documented as working in nine different towns and cities is M. (Milton) D. Fowler (1861-1917). He is most associated with the city of LaGrange, where he moved in about 1898, and he first advertised that he was opening a photo studio there in January 1899 (LaGrange Reporter, Jan. 20, 1899, pg. 3 col.2). His LaGrange studio, called either Fowler’s Studio, or Fowler’s Gallery, remained open until his death on July 28, 1917.

It appears that he was in LaGrange as early as 1893, while working as an itinerant photographer throughout the area. That same year he also worked in the towns of Lone Oak and Hogansville, in nearby Meriwether and Troup counties, and in 1895, he also worked in the city of Forsyth, in Monroe County.

After he was a resident photographer in LaGrange, M.D. Fowler also did some work in the two Meriwether County towns of Woodbury and Luthersville, in 1900 and 1903, and was in the Coweta County town of Senoia in 1904, where he had worked before in about 1895. He lived in Meriwether County as a child, and his parents made their next home in nearby Coweta County. Prior to his arrival in LaGrange, he was a photographer in 1895-1897, not only in the town of Senoia, but also in the Coweta County city of Newnan. Fowler spent about nine months working as a photographer there, from December 1896, through August 1897, but he stayed in Newnan at least though the end of the year.

Advertisement for Fowler & Owens [Owen] in the Ellijay Courier May 3, 1878

Although M. D. Fowler is most associated with the towns and cities of west Georgia, in 1892, he paid the photographer’s tax in Chatooga County, in northwest Georgia, possibly working in Summerville. His father had grown up in Cherokee County, also in northwest Georgia, and he named his son after one of his brothers, M. D.’s Uncle Martin. This connection to northwest Georgia may explain why I find the partnership of Fowler & Owens advertisting in Ellijay in 1878 (Ellijay Courier, May 3, 1878, pg3 col.7), and the partnership of Fowler & Jarvis, in a photo tent in Ellijay suffering a robbery in July that same year (Cartersville Express, July 4, 1878, pg4 col.2). Fowler and Owens intended to travel to the court days in towns all over north Georgia, but apparently did not. I assume this partner named Fowler is M.D., although he was quite a young man in 1878. Both Luther B. Owen (no S; born about 1853) and J. W. (John Whitaker) Jarvis (1858-1906) were jeweler-photographers who continued in business in Georgia with partners, or for themselves.

By 1905, M.D. Fowler was still making portraits in LaGrange, but he also developed and printed Kodak films and plates for the amateur photographer, sold frames and mouldings, and made photographs for the local newspaper. In October 1912, he bought the gallery of long-time LaGrange photographer Julius Lindsay [J. L.] Schaub, who died at the end of 1911 (LaGrange Reporter, Oct. 11, 1912, pg.1 col.3). Martha Schaub, a daughter, ran her father’s studio until she sold it to Fowler. M. D. Fowler’s associate, Snelson Davis, ran the original Fowler Gallery after the move to the Schaub location. Fowler also began selling books and school suppies, and the advertising for his studio took a philosphical turn. One ad began with “To Cultivate a Pleasant Disposition, See Yourself as Others See You,” and another with “Tomorrow You Will Not Look as You Do Today — Some day you will want to remember your appearance when you were younger.”

LaGrange Police Department, photograph by M. D. Fowler, as reproduced in the LaGange Reporter, Jan. 13, 1913, pg.1

By 1913 Fowler and Snelson had worked out an agreement of each working in one of the two Fowler Galleries. At first Snelson worked alone, but in 1914, he and Fowler formed an official partnership as Davis & Fowler Studio, at the 13 Church Street location. They advertised before the holidays, starting in October, posing a question “Have You Twelve Friends? Each one of them would like your photo for Christmas.” Fowler was near retirement and in advertisements of later 1914, their studio was noted as “Fowler’s Studio, Snelson Davis, Manager and Operator.” M. D. Fowler passed away a few years later, but Davis continued as a prominent LaGrange photographer until shortly before his death in 1958.

Other significant photographers in Georgia named Fowler are the brothers O. V. (Omar Verain; 1879-1927) and S. L. ([Chapman] Sylvester Lucas; 1880-1919) Fowler. Although born in Maryland and Indiana, they too, are most associated with west Georgia cities and towns, primarily Newnan and Carrollton. Both men had worked with photographers in Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama. Sylvester was in Birmingham, in 1904 – 1907, first with B. G. Covell, and then with J. F. Creel, and in 1910, he was back in Birmingham at the J. F. Knox Studio. In 1908 and 1909, Sylvester worked in Reed’s Studio in Mobile as a photographer, where his brother O. V. also worked, as a printer in 1909, and as an operator in 1910.

Prior to that, according to the federal census records, in 1900, S. L. Fowler was a young, newly-wed photographer in Mayfield, Kentucky, living with his wife’s family, and I assume his brother O. V. was also a photographer in Mayfield. They were sons of a preacher, and the Fowler family had been in Kentucky since at least 1880. After working in Alabama, S. L. was in Newnan, Georgia by 1911, working as a photographer. By January 26, 1912, his brother O. V. Fowler moved from Birmingham to work with him in that Newnan studio (Newnan Herald & Advertiser, pg. 9, col. 4). By June, they were advertising the work of the studio using another Fowler coat of arms, possibly of their own design, with “The Shield of Quality” written just under the eagle. In the same month, June 1912, the two men and their wives traveled to Atlanta to attend the Southern Photographers’ Convention.

Advertisement for the S. L. Fowler Studio, Sept. 27, 1912 pg. 9, Newnan Herald & Advertiser

In July 1912, O.D. Fowler was working with the Carrollton photographer J. G. (Jame Gartell) Buyers (1875-1869). Buyers, originally from nearby Whitesburg, had worked in Carollton off and on since late 1907.

S. L. Fowler apparently owned a studio in Carrollton and had allowed Buyers to work in it once a week as of February 1912. It seems Buyers purchased the studio, because by the time O. V. Fowler came to work there, it was called Buyers’ Studio, and soon after, Buyers Photograph Company. An April 1918 advertisement of Buyers’ claimed he was the “oldest established studio in western Georgia.”

By September 1912, O. V. Fowler and his wife had moved to Carrollton, and in that month the two went to Atlanta to study the “new style in photography.” By mid-September, they were remodeling “Jackson’s old stand” with “the latest cameras for high-class photo work and camera for exterior work –. ” The new studio was called The Fowlers. It is clear that his wife, Mary Virginia, was working in the studio with him. In early October they advertsied their new studio, and stated they were no longer connected wtih the Buyers Studio (Carroll Free Press, Oct. 3 and 10, 1912).

He was contracted in late 1912, by another photographer, C. F. McDannel (ca. 1867 – 1916), to make a panorama of the city of Carrollton. McDannell worked in eleven Georgia locations I know of, but not in Carrollton.

Panoramic photograph of Carrollton, Ga. taken by O. V. Fowler for C. F. McDannel, copyright claimant, filed December 5, 1912; gelatin silver print, Panoramic photographs, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,
https://www.loc.gov/item/2007662059/

In April 1914, O. V. Fowler took charge of an Atlanta studio, but was to spend part of his time in Carrollton. The next month he announced he gave up Atlanta, and would be working full-time in Carrollton (Carroll Free Press, April 16, 1914 pg.1 and May 21, 1914, pg. 1). In June 1914, he attended the meeting of the 34th annual convention of the PAA (Photographers’ Association of America) held that year in Atlanta, and he won “distinguished recognition” for his work, which he displayed in his studio. In 1914 he was also making postcards of the area.

A “Notice to Public” appeared in the Carroll Free Press on July 23, 1914 (pg. 5, col. 2), signed by Mrs. M. L. Jackson:

I have all the negatives of photographs taken by J. M. Jackson while in business here, as far back as 1903. Anyone desiring pictures from any of these negatives can get them within the next six week, otherwise they will be destroyed. These negatives are stored at The Fowlers’ studio.

James M. Jackson (ca. 1862 – 1933) worked in Carrollton from 1891 to 1903, and had been in Newnan and area working with his brothers, John S. and Sylvester F., prior to that time (John’s son, Ossie, later made photographs in Carrolton). When the Fowlers took over his Carrollton location, it was Jackson’s wife Mary Lee Lloyd Jackson who was selling his negatives stored at the Fowlers studio. I believe those negatives dated to, not from 1903.

O.V. Fowler became one of directors of the Carrollton Chatauqua Association in 1914, and in August 1914, he was made the manager and booking agent of the City Auditorium for the new season (Carroll Free Press, August 6, 1914 p1c2). O. V. did some work in Bremen, Georgia sometime in 1915, but he had contracts in both Athens and Dahlonega, Georgia, to take photographers of the college students in those cities. In the month of February, from 1915 to 1917, that is where he could be found.

S. L. Fowler continued his Newnan studio, and in spring 1915, he opened a “branch studio” in Senoia, in the McKnight building (Newnan Herald, May 7, 1915, pg.7 col. 4, quoting the Senoia Enterprise-Gazette). His photo credits began to appear in the Newnan newspaper by 1917.

In early 1919, he placed a Notice that “due to ill health,” his studio would be open only the first and third weeks of each month, but that his brother, “connected with a leading Birmingham studio,” would be in charge. Sylvester had been ill since his wife’s death in May 1917. His daughter took him out to California, reportedly “for his health,” but he wanted to come home to Newnan, and he died on the trip, near Meridian, Mississippi in March 1919 (Newnan-Herald, March 21, 1919).

By summer 1917, O. V. Fowler had left Carrollton to go back to Birmingham to work with J. F. Knox, and by February 1918 he and his wife were with the Birmingham View Co. (Carroll Free Press, Feb. 7, 1918, pg. 7). In spring 1918, they were in Meridian, Mississippi, perhaps for the View Co. They came back to Newnan that fall, and they took over the S. L. Fowler studio after brother Sylvester’s death. They remained in Newnan through 1920, but by January 1921, photographer Will F. Nelson (1872-1946), of Atlanta, who had worked briefly at the Fowler Studio in 1920, was the sole resident photographer “at Fowler’s old stand” in the Atkinson Building.

O. V. Fowler and his wife Mary’s next move was to North Carolina, and before 1924, he was managing the Quarles & Rich studio in Greensboro. Fowler passed away in North Carolina on March 28, 1927, and his wife Mary Virginia Fowler died only a few years later, in 1931. Both are buried in North Carolina.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know all these Fowlers – they are too many birds to juggle in the air at once! Let me hear from you if you need additional sources or biographical information on any of these Fowlers, or if you have additional information on the two Fowlers I know very little about.

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, without written permission from this blog’s author, is prohibited. With permission, excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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