Tuesday, August 1, 2017 – 7:00 to 8:00pm
Join history buff Rick Morgan on Tuesday, August 1, 7pm to 8pm for an insightful lecture and slide show highlighting the career of Abingdon’s most famous photographer, George Wertz. From 1872 until 1924, Wertz took thousands of photographs of Abingdon’s citizens and those from the surrounding communities. When biplanes came to Abingdon, in 1915, he even recorded Abingdon from the air.
Admission is free.
Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Auditorium.
George N. Wertz
History Matters! The residents of a community should know their history and heritage. George Wertz is a part of the history of Abingdon, Virginia. Wertz came to Abingdon as a young 23 year old photographer in 1875 and left a unique photographic record of the history of the area
George Wertz was born in 1852 in Roanoke, VA and became fascinated with photography at an early age. As a teen ager, he was probably influenced by the pictures of the civil war by photographers like Mathew Brady. Determined to acquire the ability to take pictures, he left home in 1870 to attend classes at a photographic studio in Salem, VA. He quickly leaned his the trade and became a traveling photographer with the studio providing equipment and space rented in railroad boxcars known as Skylight Cars. The railroad would put the boxcar on a siding in local towns and people went to the traveling studio for the novelty of having a picture of their own image. By 1872 Wertz had reached Abingdon in Southwest Virginia and decided it was a town that could provide him an adequate income with his own studio. Thus Wertz started a career that would last more than 50 years.
Soon after arriving in Abingdon Wertz married Lillie Burch in 1879, the daughter of the manager of the hotel where he lived. They had a daughter, Kate May Wertz in 1880. Unfortunately Lillie died in 1882 and was buried in a family plot in Sinking Spring Cemetery.
The residents of Abingdon and surrounding communities in Washington County soon discovered the quality his photographic work and families desired their family portraits in the homes. Images of adults were popular but Wertz’ business rapidly expanded when he started taking pictures of children. By 1900 images by Wertz were in demand by local residents. Wertz also took pictures of businesses, churches, and the community. When biplanes came to town after the war, Wertz took the opportunity to take his camera to the sky and record views of Abingdon from the air. This was another popular product and pioneering innovation for this area of Virginia.
Wertz also took a series of pictures of Abingdon from a high hill and assembled them as a panorama of the town in 1915. Today the original photograph known as “ Birds Eye View of Abingdon Virginia” and is housed in the Library of Congress.
George Wertz married again in 1887 to Garnett Fuller of Abingdon. They had a daughter, Georgia G Wertz born in 1889 and the family lived on Valley Street.
Georges two daughters were his favorite subjects as the girls frequently visited him at his studio on Main Street located in a building next to the Episcopal Church. Following the death of young Georgia at age 19 from complications from childbirth in 1910, her daughter, Christy Wertz, soon became the featured subject of Wertz photography.
Several questions arise when we examine the 50 years of Wertz photography. First, with thousands of photographs- Where are all the photographs taken by George Wertz from 1872 to 1924? Have these popular and now famous photographs simply disappeared from history? The Historical Society has saved a few images over the past ten years but more deserve to be preserved in a permanent collection. Wertz photographs are easy to identify as he stamped each picture with his logo- G.N.Wertz Photographic Studio Abingdon
At the height of his career in June 1924 he suffered a massive stroke and never took another picture. Six months later his studio on Main Street was destroyed by fire and all his photographic plates and negatives were lost. The fire two days after Christmas 1924 also spread to the adjoining building and burned St Thomas Episcopal Church to the ground. Thus all the early records of the church attended by the Wertz family were also lost.
Over time old pictures are gradually discarded, are ruined, or stored in boxes for the next generation to throw away. The first step in this project is to appeal to the community to find Wertz photographs. The Historical Society is asking people to search for old pictures. The usual response is-“ I know we have some Wertz photos in a box somewhere, but not sure where the box is located”. Since
the original negatives were lost in the fire only copies would have survived .
Another nagging question in the Wertz history is –Where is George? His first wife, Lillie Burch, is buried in a large family plot in Sinking Spring Cemetery with an elaborate head stone. George died in 1926 and his wife, Garnett, died in 1929. Their obituaries and death certificates state they are buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery, yet no memorial has been found. In addition, there is no evidence where their daughter Georgia who died in 1910 is buried. The mystery continues..