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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Pleas the Photographer

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Charles Earl Pleas’ advertisement in the June 23, 1904 issue of The Chipley Banner.

Charles E. Pleas was a Quaker and a professional photographer who relocated to Chipley in the 1890s. He was of several professional photographers who opened studios in Chipley in the early 1900s.

Pleas was born in Indiana in 1867, the son of Elwood and Sarah Griffin Pleas. Elwood was a lumber dealer, according to the 1880 U.S. Census. An interesting biography of the Pleas family is found here.

Charles Pleas married Lillie Conley in Richmond, Indiana on March 18, 1891; according to the marriage license, he was living in Clinton, Arkansas at the time. The Pleases moved to Washington County shortly therafter.

Pleas maintained a professional photography business up until around 1920, when he switched to farming full time. You see, Pleas’ big claim to fame was introducing kudzu to Washington County. He developed his interest in horticulture studies into a full-time kudzu farming.

Although the invasive plant was introduced to the United States during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, it wasn’t yet well known in the Southeast. But in 1905, Pleas, who had an extensive side interest in horticulture, thought the dense, fast-growing and inexpensive fine would provide an excellent solution to local soil erosion problems, especially since kudzu was drought-resistant. Pleas recommended it to other local farmers and landowners, since it also proved to be an inexpensive forage product for livestock. (An interesting story about kudzu, Charles Pleas, and the invasiveness of the plant can be found here).

Horticulturists report that kudzu can grow up to a foot a day. Image source: HGTV.com

Little did Pleas realize that kudzu farming would prove to be a prolific and fast-growing business, becoming the focus for the remainder of his career.

Charles remained in farming until his death in 1955.

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Some of the photographs and negatives belonging to Charles Earl Pleas are located at the University of West Florida Archives. Some of the images that have been scanned in can be found at this link.

Man and woman in black, photographed by Charles E. Pleas during the 1890s. I wish there were more information available on the subjects in this photo! Source: University of West Florida Archives