Iowa City’s Photographic James Family.

In other posts, we’ve introduced you to Isaac A. Wetherby – Iowa City’s first photographer – who came here in the 1850’s, and over the next 20+ years, he and his son, Charlie, successfully ran Iowa City’s most prolific photographic studio. And yes, there were other early photographers – men such as J.T. Calkin and others – who set up studios here.

But today, allow me to introduce you to a second generation of Iowa City photographers – The James Family.

So, let’s start with the Iowa City pioneer – John James – who was born in England (b-1831), came to America (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1857, and three years later moved westward to Iowa City (1860). Once here, James – who was married to Catherine Millward (b-1830) – worked as a carpenter, and took up photography on the side.

Above – the 1860 U.S. Census shows John & Catherine James in Johnson County with sons – Thomas – age 7, William – age 2, and daughter Helen – age 5. Below – the 1880 U.S. Census shows John & Catherine still in Iowa City with Elizabeth Helen – age 25, and young son Charles F. – age 12.

John James continued along this line, passing his interest in photography to his two sons – until his death in Des Moines – in 1883.

The 1870 U.S. Census shows John & Catherine James in Johnson County, with son Tom – age 17, Elizabeth – age 15, William – age 12, and little Charles F. – age 2.

John James oldest son – Thomas L. James – was born in England on January 24, 1853, and of course, followed the James family to Iowa City in 1860. The U.S. Census Records of 1880 indicate that Thomas had moved to Des Moines, was living at 413 W. Walnut, and that his profession was photography. Eventually, Tom opened a studio at 413/415 W. Walnut and continued successfully in photography until around 1920, dying at the ripe old age of 93 on Christmas Day, 1946. FYI – Most of the James family – including Tom, his parents, and his wife Fannie G. Berryhill – are buried at Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines.

Below are 1) a photo (left) of Tom from his obituary, 2) a Des Moines-area ad (middle) that mentions both Tom’s Studio and his wife, Fannie G’s, hair shop (middle), and 3) two cabinet cards (right) from Tom James Photography Studio in Des Moines.

Which now brings us to poppa John James’ second son and his wife…

William Henry James was born in Providence, Rhode Island on September 4, 1857, and was only 3 years old when the James family came to Iowa City in 1860. He graduated from the local public schools, and then, according to his biographical information, took up photography in Iowa City – a career he continued here in Johnson County for 35 years.

On October 21, 1878, William married Nancy W. Fairall, daughter of Samuel H. Fairall, former local judge, state senator and representative, and niece of H.S. Fairall – long-time editor of The Iowa City Daily Republican (1881-1894). Apparently, this was a match made in photographic heaven, because records show that Nancy (N.W. James) joined William in the studio immediately, and remained an active partner until their retirement in 1909.

The 1880, 1900, & 1920 U.S. Census Records all show William H. and Nancy W. living in Iowa City, with the 1920 record indicating their address as 527 College Street (see pic below). Sadly, family records show that William & Nancy had only one unnamed son – who died at birth in September 1879.

527 College Street in Iowa City.
These CDV’s were produced by James Photographers in the 1870’s.

When William opened his photography studio in 1874, he picked a prime location – 126 S. Clinton Street – just one block from University Square (see map below) – just eight doors down from the Post Office!

(L-0115) In Our Iowa Heritage collection is a rare cabinet card (below) from the James Studio – made probably during the 1890’s.

The cabinet card replaced the smaller CDV (carte de visite), and was a style of photograph widely used for portraiture between 1870 and the early 1900’s. It consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a card stock typically measuring 4.25″ x 6.5″ and was often used for advertising purposes. Below are three more samples of cabinet cards from the James Studio in Iowa City.

As photography became more available to the general public, Iowa City, like many communities, had its share of competition. Below is a selection of CDV’s from two of those “other” city photographers…

Coover & Co. on Clinton Street (above) and T.W. Townsend on the corner of Clinton & Washington Streets (below).

It’s reported that William & Nancy James retired from their photography business, closing their studio on Clinton Street on May 1, 1909. While remaining in Iowa City for at least another decade, it seems that William devoted his attention to his real estate holdings until Nancy – born in December 1861 – suddenly died on January 2, 1925 at age 63. Soon after, James moved to California – with the hope that the warmer climate might help his deteriorating health.

Read about the third generation photographer – Fred W. Kent – who started taking pictures around Iowa City in 1911.

William Henry James passed away at age 79 on April 11, 1937 in San Diego, California. Burial was held in Oakland Cemetery, where Nancy W. (Fairall) James was buried in 1925. Godspeed, to this second generation of Johnson County photographers – the James Family of Iowa City.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

John James, 1860 U.S. Census,

John James, 1880 U.S. Census,

John James, Find-A-Grave

Thomas James, William H. James, 1870 U.S. Census,

Thomas James Death Certificate – 1946,

Thomas L. James, Find-A-Grave

Wm. H. James, 1880 U.S. Census,

Will H James, 1900 U.S. Census,

William James, 1910 U.S. Census,

William H James, 1920 U.S. Census,

William H James, 1930 U.S. Census,

William Henry James, C.R. Aurner, Leading Events in Johnson County – Vol. 2, 1912, p 528-529

James & Co Ad, Iowa City Daily Republican, January 27, 1879, p 4

Holidays Goods Ad, County Herald, December, 1891, p 1

William Henry James bio, cabinetcardphotographers, April 13, 2019

Cabinet Cards, Wikipedia

W.H. James Dies At 79, Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 1937, p 2

Nancy Workman Fairall James, Find-A-Grave

William Henry James, Find-A-Grave

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