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
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.