Illingworth Building, 77 Jackson Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota (Razed)
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|Address:||77 Jackson Street|
|Neighborhood/s:||Downtown, Saint Paul, Minnesota|
|Saint Paul, Minnesota|
|Ramsey County, Minnesota|
|Historic Function:||Manufacturing facility|
|Historic Function:||Photographic studio|
William Illingworth senior immigrated from England to Saint Paul in 1852. He purchased this building several years later and spent the rest of his life here. His son William H. Illingworth was one of the early pioneers of photography in Minnesota, and William H. began his career as a photographer in this building.
William H. Illingworth was born 1842 in Leeds England, and he immigrated to the U.S. with his father when just a young boy. William H. worked in his father’s watch repair and clock building workshop, and from this workshop began to practice photography. An 1863 advertisement in a Saint Paul newspaper places Illingworth’s first gallery “on Jackson Street, next the mammoth clock, upstairs.”
Although William H. Illingworth began his career as a photographer in his father’s workshop, the relationship between father and son was not always cordial: Illingworth senior took his son to court for wrongfully profiting from the sale of a number of watches from his father’s workshop. Soon after this law suite was heard, Illingworth junior embarked on one of two expeditions that would be important milestones in his career. In 1866 the Fisk expedition explored the gold fields of Montana. Illingworth accompanied the expedition as a photographer, and, in spite of the technical challenges this expedition presented for the execution of wetplate negatives, Illingworth managed to create about thirty stereoscopic views. In 1874 Illingworth accompanied George Armstrong Custer’s expedition into the Black Hills, and he captured over seventy images. Illingworth was taken to court for embezzling government property when he failed to provide the agreed upon copies of these images. The case was dismissed on a technicality, but Illingworth seemed constantly beset by financial difficulties.
Illingworth was in fact beset by difficulties of every sort. He lost two wives to illness, and a third marriage to Flora Leonard dissolved into an abusive miasma. The failed marriage became a messy and public divorce. There were allegations of emotional and physical abuse on both sides, but Flora Leonard was able to produce witnesses when Illingworth was not. It seems that Illingworth had given himself over to drinking, and this habit gained momentum after his divorce. William Illingworth’s obituary of 1893 describes how the tragic events of his last years concluded.
“The body of W.H. Illingworth, with a bullet in the head, was found lying across a bed at 517 North Street yesterday morning. Illingworth has kept a photograph gallery and watch repairing shop at the place mentioned for some years. He has lived alone for the past two years, his wife, a third one, having obtained a divorce that long ago. The suicide was discovered by August Lindberg, who, with his wife, occupied rooms on the second floor of the building… Nothing had been found to show the deed had been long contemplated. Illingworth was last seen alive on Thursday morning. He visited the meat market of H.M. Wild and requested Mr. Wild to buy him a drink. This was refused, and after purchasing some meat Illingworth went home. He was heard about the rooms shortly after the lamp was lighted Thursday night when Lindberg came home. Just when the deed was committed is not known. Coroner Whitcomb was notified, and, after learning the circumstances, decided an inquest was not necessary. The deceased has resided in St. Paul for thirty years. He came from Red Wing here, and was well known to the older residences of the city. The old clock in the City Hall torn down but a short time ago was built by him. He had been married three times, two of his wives being dead and the third one divorced. He has a son W.J. Illingworth in the employ of Finch, Van Slyke & Co. and another who is a physician at White Bear. It is supposed the deed was committed while in a fit of despondency.”William Illingworth left a legacy of 1,600 glass plate-plate negatives, and many of these images can be viewed on the Minnesota Historical Society’s Photo and Art Database. Illingworth didn’t take as many portraits of important or well-to-do people as some of his more financially secure contemporaries. Many of the portraits by Illingworth in the MNHS Photo and Art Database are of Native American subjects. His legacy of extremely well executed street scenes and gorgeous landscapes make a particularly rich addition to the history of photography.
Memories and stories