Header - Huntington Photographers


Click on above images to view exhibit of cabinet cards

GEORGE W. KIRK, the son of William Kirk and Jane Williams, was born on a family farm at Port Despot, Maryland, on September 17, 1848. He grew up on his father’s farm, attending common schools and eventually graduating from West Nottingham Academy. After graduation he traveled west to seek his fortune; upon reaching Pulaski, Iowa, he went into the mercantile business. After four years he was called home to help care for his ailing father.
   After returning home he undertook to study photography with William Chase, a prominent Baltimore photographer. After he learned his trade, he set up a photography studio in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1875. Huntington, where he was was one of the city’s first photographers.
    On February 6, 1876, he married Eliza Jane Pennypacker. They had three children: Thomas L. Kirk, Sherman E Kirk, and a daughter who died in infancy. The 1880 U.S. Census for Cabell County listed him with his wife, who went by Jennie, and who was five years younger, and a three-year-old son, Thomas. For the next thirteen years he was a successful commercial photographer. In 1886 he exhibited at the St. Louis Picture Convention, including “a number of excellent cabinets [i.e., cabinet cards]. These showed fine lighting, good posing and neat finish.” (Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin,, 17 [August 28, 1886 ], 494.) He closed his studio in the 1888, selling it to Samuel V. Matthews, and headed west to take up fruit farming in the state of Washington.
    He first settled at Chehalis and then moved to Puyallup, where he met with great success as a fruit grower. However, he still held a passion for photography and in 1896 he begun to returned to his craft, eventually opening a studio in Everett in 1896, where he bought the studio and negatives of Herman Sieart. He met with great success, taking on a partner, H. B. Hansen, and expanded with studios in Arlington and Snonmish. Apparently portraiture held little fascination for him (he largely left that up to Hansen); he preferred to record the scenic wonders of the Pacific Northwest. One writer observed, “There is no doubt about the seasoned professionalism of the lensman, no mistaking his carefully crafted, almost painterly, vision of the subject. Here was a scenic photographer equal to the potent dynamics of the time and place.” (Dilgard, “George W, Kirk”).
    In 1905 he purchased a homestead farm in Warrington, Washington, because of ill health. Suffering a debilitating stroke in 1906, he retired to his farm where he continued to cultivate fruit trees. He closed all his studios but the one in Everett, which he left in the hands of his son, Thomas. He died at seventy on May 9, 1919.
    Little of his work remains today. Just a few of his Huntington CDVs and cabinet cards have survived. All of his negatives, as well as those of his son, Thomas; his partner, Hanson; and his predecessor, Sieart, were purchased by the Rigby Sisters, who ran a photographic studio until 1915. When they closed their business, all of the negatives were stored. This priceless collection of negatives was later dispersed and is now lost.

Sources: An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties (Interstate Publishing Co., 1906), p. 853; David Gilgard, "George W. Kirk" Everett Public Library (www.epls.org/nw/dig_kirk.asp); 1880 US Federal Census, Cabell County, West Virginia; "St. Louis Picture Convention" Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, 17 (August 28, 1886 ), 494; George D. Wallace, Cabell County Annuals (Richmond, Va.: Garrett, & Massie, 1935), p. 242. Graphics: Portrait of T. L. Kirk, courtesy of Everett Public Library; advertisement from verso of cabinet card,1983.0236.09.057.01b,  Fred C. Lambert Collection, Marshall University.