Henry Lee Bell Photograph Collection

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In the University of West Florida Archives, there’s a wonderful collection of more than 20,000 photographs of everyday Pensacolians between 1911 and 1949.

Henry Lee Bell opened photography studio in 1911 in Pensacola Florida. Used to be partnered with George Turton. Was Turton & Bell around 1900 to about 1911, when they separated into their own businesses. Bell’s studio operated until around 1949. Both considered excellent photographers, ability to capture the real person on film.

And, surprise, I found these photographs:

Francis C. Wilson Jr. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

Francis C. Wilson Jr. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

May McKinnon Wilson. Source: Bell Photograph Collection, University of West Florida Archives

Two separate poses of Emmett’s older brother, Frank Jr., and one of his wife, May McKinnon Wilson, of Pensacola. There’s a strong resemblance between Frank Jr. and Emmett, if you compare their photos.

I have a few photographs of Emmett’s father, as well as Emmett’s twin brother Julian in his later years. There’s strong resemblance among the Wilson menfolk, and so we get a hint of what Emmett might have looked like as an older man.

So, in five years of compiling research and artifacts to tell Emmett’s story, the only family member I don’t have a photograph of is Emmett’s older brother Percy Brockenbrough Wilson. Percy was a physician who lived in Sneads, Jackson County, Florida. I have reached out to a few of Percy’s descendants, but unfortunately, they do not have any photographs of him. Perhaps one may turn up as the search (and the writing) continues!

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Emmett, Texter

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Did you know that Emmett got his professional start texting (of sorts) for a living?

True. And if you think about it, telegraph operators were early ‘texters.’ (Here’s a great history of telegraphing — see the first half of the article for details about the importance of the telegraph in our society.

Emmett Wilson’s first “official” job was as a general, all-around assistant at the Chipley, Florida Pensacola & Atlantic train depot, sometime around 1894. Working for the railroad was not just a family tradition among the Wilson men; it was today’s equivalent of a kid interested in space working for NASA.

And Emmett was a kid, starting out at the bottom of the railroad depot job hierarchy, at about the same age as his older brothers Frank Jr. and Meade. Working for the railroad was important; and, if Emmett was willing, he’d rise up the ranks to a professional position, as did Frank Jr. and Meade, who were now conductors. (Emmett once told a reporter that he once dreamed about working for the railroad so that he could run along the tops of the cars while they were in motion, en route to faraway, more interesting places than Chipley. Early on, Emmett probably saw working for the railroad as a means to an end.)

Emmett was more than willing. He was super ambitious from the get-go — his eye was on the telegrapher’s job — a coveted and critical communication position that served not only the messaging for the community, but the telegrapher often conveyed critical transportation data up and down the rails.

After a year or two proving himself capable around the depot, Emmett eventually became expert with Morse code, and was tapped to train as a telegrapher, and by age 17, was managing small depots along the P&A line.

Emmett was 17 when he was dispatched to run small-town train stations on his own, which included the telegraph. Source: The Chipley Banner, December 2, 1899, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s full-time career with the railroad was over within a year, as he would enroll at West Florida Seminary in 1900, to pursue a college degree. He’d fill in at both the Chipley and Marianna train depots now and again, when home from WFS on vacations or weekend visits to supplement his school funds.