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The Traveling Photo Studio


A traveling photo studio managed by a famous photographer might seem like an innovative idea even in contemporary times. Just imagine its attraction in 1886 Dakota Territory.

Frontier photographer F. Jay Haynes created such an enterprise to chronicle the life and times of prairie pioneers. After a trip to La Moure, he headed to his next town, which happened to be located near the James River. On this date in 1886 his Haynes palace studio car was parked in Jamestown for a six day stay. The car was a former Pullman coach and the location was a Northern Pacific Railroad sidetrack.

Hayne’s arrival had been preceded throughout Jamestown by posters (or bills as they were called) announcing that the Haynes Palace studio car would be in town May 15 to May 20 “offering residents of this city an opportunity of securing strictly first-class photography.” The bill’s promising copy ended with a flourish by promising “A visit to this car will pay you.”

People in the region had heard of Haynes. The official photographer for the Northern Pacific had made an admired name for himself. In fact, his photographic abilities had helped him earn the respectful title of “Professor Haynes,” a title bestowed upon him for his achieved artistry, not for any earned degree.

Photography at the time was still unique, new, expensive and complicated. The professor’s traveling business was a brilliant combination of studio, office and gallery. The light in the side windows highlighted the hundreds of framed works of photographic art that extended from floor to vaulted ceiling. Mirrors strategically placed helped reflect the carpeted parlor. The beautifully paneled wood interior was decorated with frills and ornamentation worthy of abundant praise. Colorful rugs led its users through decorated rooms that were eye catching and awe inspiring.

Billed as “the only studio car in the world” Haynes sought to create an irresistible invitation to the curious. An editor from the Fargo newspaper wrote: the palace car is glittering. No gilt-encircled, gold emblazoned circus car can compare with this paragon of brilliant beauty, this novelty of modern art.”

Hayne’s remodeled Pullman had caught the fancy of photographers across the nation. Scientific American printed the description of the interior, and the Photographic Times chronicled it as well.

His travels created a route from the Red River valley out to the Cascade Mountains capturing pictures of expansive vistas, pioneer families, burgeoning frontier businesses and railroad activity. But on this date in 1886, he was in Jamestown capturing families and individuals with the magic of his camera.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark

Sources: Tilden, Freeman Alfred Knopf, 1964, Following the Frontier with F. Jay Haynes Pioneer Photographer of the Old West