DAVID LINCOLN BRUCE: Photographer, 1865-1947

by Buffy Calvert

May 10th – Mid-June, The Andes Society for History and Culture will present a show of historic photographs by David Bruce. Here is a brief biography of the artist, an Andes’ native and chronicler of town life in the late 1800’s into the next century:

David Lincoln Bruce was born in Andes, New York, on March 16, 1865, only weeks before the close of the Civil War and the death of the Great Emancipator for whom his parents named him. His father, Reverend James Bruce, was pastor of the Presbyterian Church and the boy grew up in the manse on Delaware Avenue (where I live now), with four brothers and two sisters.

In August 1887, when David was 22 years old, his father sent away to Scofield Manufacturing Co. for an “Acme Camera 34 no. 3, an Ex Impod # 5, a Wale lens, 2 dozen Keystim plates and 1 dozen Holders”, paying $93 from his $600 yearly salary to set Dave up in photography. He prepared him a dark room at home and created a lantern for it. When the equipment arrived, “express to Arkville”, father and son climbed the hill behind the manse to take their first photo: a view of Andes Village. The next day they joined a large crowd to go by wagon out to Perch Lake for a “Pic-nic.” Dave took six negatives of pic-nicking groups.

James immediately sent for more plates as well as a developing and printing outfit. Word must have spread, because that fall, Dave took pictures of family groups, homes, stores and Dowie’s Mill. The next spring, he tried natural shots of his brother Jim and sister Hattie digging worms, more views of the village, More’s Falls, and farm family groups posed in their dooryards. He traveled to Arena, Union Grove, Cabin Hill and Delhi on photo excursions, interspersed with days of developing, printing and toning pictures and orders for ever more plates, card stock, etc.

He tried “transparentypes” which failed and gave him blisters. In January 1889, he began to take “Bromide” pictures and made enlargements. He recorded the 25th Anniversary of his father’s pastorate in Andes by capturing the crowd of 250 guests who dined at the manse, jammed into the front and side yards and festooned on the porch roof.

In the next few years, David Bruce recorded weddings, social events, workers, including all the servants on the Gerry Estate (smiling!), and scenes in the village that caught his artist’s eye.

On October 1, 1891, he proudly paid six months’ rent in advance; took possession of a shop on Main Street; and opened a gallery. He chose as his first subjects: his mother, Mary Linn Bruce, and his eldest sister, Ella.

To his shock and surprise, a rival Andes photographer, Charles Carman, walked in two weeks later to see the place and promptly sued him. On October 30, with Mr. Shaw, Esq. as his lawyer, Dave settled the suit before Justice Hull in Margaretville for $25. Dave Bruce continued to photograph his community, in and out of the gallery, in formal and informal moments.

On May 1, 1895, sixty well wishers gathered to celebrate his marriage to Flora L. Hawver, who for a number of years operated a millinery shop next to Dave’s gallery. The couple had three daughters: Elizabeth, Helen, and Marjorie.

David Bruce was appointed Andes Postmaster in 1897 and continued to hold the position through three Republican administrations but had to relinquish the post to a Democrat in 1913 when Wilson became President. In succeeding years he worked at the First National Bank of Andes.

A handsome man, lean and elegant all his long life, Dave played tennis on the (usually victorious) Andes team and fished the Tremperskill and nearby lakes. A marvelous after-dinner raconteur, his stories were so funny and so expertly delivered that my cousins and I, grandchildren of his brother Matthew Linn, never tired of hearing them.

The Great-Uncle Dave I knew all my childhood was a charming man, the darling of his daughters, popular with his friends in the village. But I had no idea that he was an artist of this caliber and had left a precious legacy of photographs behind. I am thrilled that Alan Galowitz and the Society for History and Culture have rescued, framed and are presenting this collection. It is our heritage and that of future generations.

Main sources: The journals of James Bruce, 1862-1903, transcribed by Charlotte Stuart Bergstrom; James K. Andrews ~

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