Georgia Photographers on Skates!

It seems like a funny thought, doesn’t it? Skating photographers? Well, it seems to have happened. And I don’t think they got them for Christmas, as we did when I was a child!

Skate prototype with wooden wheels, designed by James L. Plimpton about 1860; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Gift of Elizabeth Plimpton

Although ice skates had been around northern Europe for centuries, and the first patent for a rolling “skate” was taken out in France in 1819, it took an American by the name of James Leonard Plimpton to come up with the idea of the “quad” roller skate. It was first patented in 1863, and rapidly improved with the ability to turn left and right added. He came up with his roller skate when he decided the ice skates he had designed should also be used in the summertime. Plimpton was the founder of a roller skating association in New York City (NYRSA), had a skate factory, and built the first New York skating rink. In Newport, Rhode Island he converted a hotel dining room in 1866, and opened the first rink to the public. By 1867, Cincinnati, Ohio had a skating rink, and in 1869, Louisville, Kentucky had one, too.

In Georgia, skating rinks were appearing by the 1870s; according to news accounts by December 1870, Augusta had a Skating Rink on Reynolds St., opposite St. Paul’s Church, by January 1871, Milledgeville had a rink at Newell’s Hall, and one was in Macon by then as well. On January 17, 1871, Macon’s Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Georgia Messenger (pg.5, col.5) reported that the

Popular and fashionable place of amusement was thronged with visitors last night including many of the first and fairest ladies in the city, and during the evening the rink presented a most animated and brilliant scene. The proceeds — from the sale of tickets [go to] the Lee Monument Fund [which] counts for the unusually large attendance though there are daily and nightly large crowds present. The amusements of the Rink are governed by the strictest rules of decorum and propriety, and nothing of a disreputable character would be tolerated there for a moment. Conducted thus, the institution will prove a blessing to the youth of this city.

In the January 31, 1871 (pg.3, col.1) Milledgeville Southern Recorder the editor wrote about W. H. Wendeler and Jordan, managers of a local rink that was “it is destined to become even more popular than velocipede riding, since ladies can, without any immodesty, engage in it.” It seems Mr. Wendeler wanted to sell the right to run the rink to a local person. Here, too, it was stated that “nothing is allowed that is not strictly within the limits of propriety; no intoxicated persons, nor indeed, any spiritous liquids are allowed in the room.” By February 7, 1871, the same newspaper was reporting that Hon. Linton Stephens had “taken a peep” of the Rink, but that managers Wendeler and Jordan would be closing their rink soon if local management could not be found, and Milledgeville “would be deprived of the pleasure of Roller Skating.”

On February 14, 1871, the Recorder (pg.3, col.2) next reported that the county tax collector imposed a tax on the rink of $25 per night since the Rink had been opened, categorizing it as a “show” because an admission fee was charged. Of course, the managers refused to pay, each side got a lawyer, and the case was to be tried at the next term of the Court. Because the managers had to remain in Milledgeville, the Rink would stay open, the news editor writing that “the pleasures of the Rink are to be enjoyed at least two weeks long[er]. Now is the time to learn to skate.” Finally, in June 1871 (June 14, 1871, Milledgeville Federal Union, pg. 3, col. 1), the case was ruled in favor of the Rink owners, and the tax declared illegal.

Although the Georgia Senate passed a tax bill that imposed a specific tax of $50 on skating rinks, as reported in a January 1872 Milledgeville Federal Union (Jan. 24, 1872, pg. 2, col. 4), I am not sure it moved forward and I found no other mention of the tax, and local taxation seems to have taken priority.

Sheet one for patent 4292 of James L. Plimpton for his Improvement in Skates, Reissued March 7, 1871 (first issued 1863, first reissued 1870); via Google Patents

In Columbus, in spring 1871, it was reported a rink 45 by 140 feet was being erected as an extension of the Rankin House (hotel). On May 4, 1871, an advertisement appeared in the Hawkensville Dispatch (pg. 2, col. 5) noting that Meriwether County’s Chalybeate Springs would be ready for guests by the first of June. The spring itself was a popular health resort, and “handsomely lighted with gas.” Among the amusements, in addition to a ladies’ swimming bath, was “a fine SKATING RINK.” By July 1871, another mineral springs resort, the Indian Springs Hotel and Boarding House, in Butts County, also had a skating rink. The Atlanta Fair of 1871, held in October, had a skating rink as one of its attractions.

In 1873 Macon had another rink at Haygood’s forest, and that year a $25 tax was set for anyone running a skating rink in Milledgeville (the same year, Milledgeville’s resident photographers were charged $10 annually, and non- residents $20). In 1876-77, LaGrange had a skating rink, and even the smaller city of Barnesville had a skate rink by April 1876, and in 1877, Augusta placed a $25 annual tax on skating rinks. By 1878 Covington, too, had a skating rink, and a Rink was open in Savannah by fall 1879.

By 1880 our photographers got into the (very popular) act. From March to April 1880, W. Edward “Ed” Platt (1853-1979), an undertaker and entrepreneur with later ties to photography, managed the Augusta Roller Skating Rink. In December 1879, the Augusta Chronicle wrote of this Rink that the Gardner Cornet band “played lively airs from time to time. The floor was constantly filled with graceful skaters —. Outside in the vestibule new beginners tumbled and tried again until they succeeded –The rink has become one of the institutions of the city and is very popular.” In 1884 Platt ran for and was elected as Chief Engineer for the Augusta Fire Department, which he continued for some years. In 1900, he was president of the Augusta Camera Club (see my post on Georgia’s clubs; one of Pratt’s photos appeared in Art & Photography), and from 1904-1910, he ran the Augusta Photo Supply Co., at 466 Eighth street. He was also a furniture maker, a skill learned from his father, and he is buried in Summerville Cemetery.

Photographers Fairfield & Wilson, the partnership of T. [Theophilus] J. [Jerome]Fairfield (1845-1915) and James F [Frank?] Wilson (Fairfield’s brother-in-law; his probable dates are b.1852 or 1853, d. 1899) worked together in Milledgeville from 1881 to 1884. The pair ran a lengthy advertisement for their firm in the Milledgeville Union & Recorder as of March 15, 1881.

This advertisement for Fairfield & Wilson appeared in the Union & Recorder, March through August 1881

On the same page as their advertisement which appeared on April 19, 1881 (pg. 4, col. 1), in the adjacent column, was an account of a “skating tournament” that took place the past Tuesday evening at Mr. Jack’s Skating Rink. The owner, [W.A.] Jack, took first prize as “the most skillful skater.” According to the article, the event was full of Fun, Laughter, and Love, and many young men competed for second and third prizes, with their friends and other spectators on hand.

In the same issue and page, but in column 3, was an advertisement for “Cheap Skating Rink,” which was placed by the agent for W. A. Jack, R. L. Brake, who was temporarily running the Rink, then located in Robert’s and Brake’s Building. He was running a sale on the rental of adult skates for 15 cents, and 10 cents for children’s skates. The Rink would reopen as soon as a new ceiling was installed.

Perhaps because Mr. Jack (who had other skate rinks) had to leave the city for awhile and his Rink had not yet reopened, Fairfield and Wilson decided that they would “open a Skating Rink in their Photographic Art Gallery.” The short piece on this decision appeared in the very same issue and page as the above, but in column 2. The pair were “expecting their skates every day.” These same photographers had tried their hand at another business, and in March 1881, they were “running a hack from the City [Milledgeville] to the Asylum.” The “Asylum”  referred to had opened on the outskirts of Milledgeville in 1842, as the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. It was known eventually as the Central State Hospital. I do not think they ran their hack for that long.

On June 30, 1883, under “Council Proceedings” in the Milledgeville Union & Recorder (pg. 4, col. 2), the proceedings of the city council included that “The petition of J. F. Wilson asking council to grant him monthly license on skating rink, was read and not granted.” Because he was still a partner to Fairfield, it would seem this was the Rink the two had opened (or tried to open) in 1881.

I discussed T. J. Fairfield as an Atlanta hotel proprietor in a previous post , so I did not mention his skating rink. He worked in Milledgeville from about 1873 into 1898, before leaving for Atlanta. He died in Atlanta, but is interred in Milledgeville’s Memory Hill cemetery.

Skating Rink poem from the Washington Capitol, reprinted in the Milledgeville Union and Recorder, March 18, 1879 pg.1 col. 3

In April 1885, photographer L [Levi.]J [Jordan / Jourdan] Hurd (1833-1909) became a manager, along with a man named Johnson (possibly a brother-in-law), of the Globe Skating Rink which opened in Cole’s Hall in Newnan (a Globe Rink had opened in Atlanta by February 1885). A man from Michigan named “Professor” Bradt “had charge of the floor and attractions” (Newnan Herald, Tuesday, April 21, 1885, pg. 3, col. 5). The article says “the opening [the previous Wednesday] was a grand success and the patronage has been large every night since.”

Noted in the same issue of the Herald, in column 4, on the Saturday after the Rink opened, Bradt gave an exhibition of “fancy and burlesque skating,” as well as an exhibition of ventriloquism. Like many photographers, this man was multi-talented! Also mentioned in this issue, in column 3, was that Kitty Mack’s “combination of fancy skaters” would give a performance at the Rink the next Wednesday. They were to perform “The Dude, the Dudine, Beginners, and Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa.”

L. J. Hurd, photographer, was an interesting man. He was born in Canada where his Massachusetts family had moved, but when he was about three, the Hurd family returned to Massachusetts. For some reason not yet known, he was in Georgia by about 1860, and in April 1861, he married a Georgian, Harriet Letitia Johnson. He joined the Confederate Army in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 7, 1861, and served with the 6th Alabama Infantry. He was wounded at Chancellorsville in early May 1863, and sent to a hospital in Riichmond, Virginia. Returning to duty, he was captured Gettysburg in early July 1863, and sent to a prison at Fort Delaware (as was T. J. Fairfield). He was discharged when he signed an Oath to the United States on September 28, 1863, swearing to remain out of the “south” (Fairfield remained a prisoner until 1865). In 1864, Levi J. Hurd paid a $10 photographer’s license tax in the state of New York (U.S., IRS Tax Assessment Lists, New York district 15 annual lists) and I assume he returned to the south as soon as the war ended.

I cannot determine when he returned to Georgia, but by 1870 he was working in Newnan as a photographer. He was an itinerant in the area by the late 1870s, and at least visited Whitesburg in July 1878 (Carroll County Times, July 19, 1878 pg. 3, col. 3). His brothers, one younger and one older, were also photographers, though never in the South, and he likely learned the art of photography from his older brother.

In about 1880, it appears he closed his photography business and began advertising that we could do all types of masonary. He was managing the Globe rink in April 1885, and was doing that at least until September that year. That December, Levi J. Hurd’s wife died just before Christmas, and he moved to Atlanta to live with his son’s family, where a daughter and another son also lived. He died there in 1909, but is buried in Newnan’s Oak Grove cemetery.

Henry Pointer, photographer (British, 1822 – 1889), Rinking at Brighton, British, about 1865, Hand-colored albumen silver print, number 84.XC.873.5913; J. Paul Getty Museum. 

I hope you found this brief history of skating rinks in Georgia interesting and fun. You can read more about the “History Behind the Roller Skating Trend” on the site for JStor Daily, and in a book I’ve used and recommend is James Turner and Michael Zaidman’s The History of Roller Skating (National Museum of Roller Skating, 1997). A happy new year to all my readers, though somewhat belatedly. I hope to be posting more often in 2022, so stay tuned. Meanwhile skate off to do some hunting and gathering and skate home to put that research to good use!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including her photographs, 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,

3 comments

  1. FRANCES robb · · Reply

    Lee my comments pale beside your encyclopedic info, an early map of bham shows the ruins of a skating rink near A.C. Oxford’s studio, a victim I think of an eARLY FIRE PERhaps 1872.. IF YOU want the exact into I can send it. Just providing a little context. A great supergreat article. Thanks FRANCES

  2. Thanks Francis, I did read about rinks in AL and in FL and SC but needed to concentrate on GA — a few of those “fancy skaters” also entertained at those rinks outside GA. I wish we had photos of the rinks. There are photos of rinks in other states I thought about using, but did not…..

  3. Katrina Berube · · Reply

    Such an interesting, happy and thorough distraction from the grim realities we are all slogging through now. Thank you for another wonderful deep dive!

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