The Photographer’s Family

bHESS Rose
Rosa Hess, about 1866, age 12

I purchased this carte de visite on etsy and as soon as it arrived I was flooded with emotions.  I can’t quite explain the feelings I experienced but they led me to contact the seller and ask if they might have acquired any photos along with this one.  The answer was yes and I bought all five.

Identified as Rose Hess by the handwriting on the reverse, Rosa was the daughter of the photographer, Jonathan Frank Hess.  I was thrilled to find two portraits of Jonathan and two photos I’m fairly confident are Rosa’s siblings among the additional cdvs.

comboHESS Jonathan1
Jonathan Frank Hess, about 1867, age 36

Rosa’s father wasn’t always a photographer.  As a nineteen-year-old young man in North Whitehall, Pennsylvania in 1850 he was working with and living in the home of a buggy and wagon manufacturer, Moses Schneck.  Living close by was Moses’ 16-year-old sister, Sarah.  Jonathan and Sarah soon married and in February 1852 had their first child, a daughter they named Alice.  Rosa was born in 1854 and the couple had at least four more children; Richard, Franklin, Laura (who died young), and Carrie.

By the time Rosa was six years old her father was a master coachmaker and she shared her home with ten of his employees including painters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and coach trimmers.  Although the family retained the services of a 21-year-old live-in servant  I suspect Rosa and her older sister Alice were still kept quite busy helping with household chores.

In December 1864 Rosa’s mother died.  Her youngest sibling, Carrie, was only six-months-old which is why it’s no surprise that her father, 34, quickly married nineteen-year-old Sallie Wagenhorst.

1866 Jul 4 HESS John BOUGHT OUT SAYLORS Reading Times PA
July 4, 1866 ~ Reading Times (PA)

It was also about this time that the family relocated forty miles south to Reading, Pennsylvania where her father opened his photo gallery on the corner of 5th and Penn Streets.

comboHESS Jonathan2

A tragedy was visited upon Rosa’s family once again with her father’s death on November 15, 1869.  Jonathan must have known his fate was grim as he updated his will one month prior.  I suspect that his death may have been the result of injuries he suffered the year before when he was thrown from his horse.

1868 Mar 11 HESS John ACCIDENT Reading Times PA
Mar. 11, 1868 ~ Reading Times (PA)

Among Jonathan’s final wishes were for his executor to continue the photo business with his thirteen-year-old son Richard working in the studio until he was old enough to take ownership. Unfortunately, his hopes for the future did not materialize. The photo studio was sold at auction on March 12, 1870, complete with cameras, pictures, frames, showcases, chemicals, furniture, and a printing press.  It brought $720 (about $20,000 in 2019.)

Compounding Rosa’s and her sibling’s sorrow over the loss of their parents was the fact that they were placed in separate homes.  Their step-mother, Sallie, and their two-year-old half-sister, Lillie, made a new life without them, which sounds callous but I believe was simply a necessity.  Sallie was a very young widow, just twenty-three years old.  How would she have supported the family?  Would she have been able to find a husband willing to accept and raise six step-children?  I think not.

comboHESS son
Presumably Franklin, about 1866 when he was 8 years old

The Orphan’s Court placed Franklin, 11, in the home of an Allentown merchant, John Saurs. Richard and Carrie were sent to the home of Lewis and Matilda Huber in Allentown.  The Hubers adopted five-year-old Carrie while Richard, 13, boarded with them and worked as a clerk in their Notions Shop.

Upon reaching adulthood Richard and Franklin reunited, traveling to Arkansas City, Kansas where the two worked as real estate agents and later in life Frank served as Mayor of the city.  They died within two years of each other, Frank in 1917 and Richard in 1919.

combo HESS dau
Presumably Alice, about 1866, age 14

Alice, 17 when her father died, worked as a dressmaker and boarded in Reading with a middle-aged couple, John and Ellen Moore.  In 1876 she married John Weeks.  The couple had six children of whom two lived to adulthood; Edward and Genevieve.  Sometime in the 1890s, Alice’s family moved from Pennsylvania to Arkansas City, Kansas to be near her brothers.  Her husband died in 1897 and Alice once again supported herself by working as a dressmaker.  Alice died in 1936, aged 84, and is buried in Riverview Cemetery in Arkansas City, Kansas with her brothers.

Rosa’s youngest sibling who was adopted and raised as Carrie Huber married William Benthall in 1883.  The couple raised three children while living in Baltimore, Maryland.  After her husband’s death in 1919, Carrie moved to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Dwinelle Mccosh, who worked as a titler of silent motion pictures.  While living in California Carrie worked as a clothes designer until she died in 1923 at the age of 59 and was buried beside her husband in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore.

comboHESS Rose

What happened to Rosa?  She was named in her father’s will penned in October 1869 but wasn’t mentioned when a financial guardian was assigned in March 1870 to oversee the children’s share of their father’s estate. This had me worried that Rosa and her father might have suffered the same fate in 1869. However, I found a September 1870 census record for a Rosa Hess, age sixteen, working as a live-in domestic servant for Allentown grocery store owner Charles Gackenbach.  This fell in line with her younger siblings being taken in by Allentown merchants. 

Unfortunately, my relief regarding Rosa’s fate was short-lived.  I wasn’t able to find her on the 1880 census and came across a Find A Grave memorial in an Allentown cemetery for a Rosa Hess born May 13, 1854, and died March 13, 1873.  Her headstone reads “Daughter of John and Sarah Hess.”  Seems pretty cut and dry but I kept searching.  I didn’t want it to be her.  I looked for another John and Sarah Hess with a daughter named Rosa in the Allentown area.  There were none. And Rosa wasn’t mentioned in her siblings’ obituaries.

It was a Find a Grave volunteer that provided the definitive link between the young girl buried in Allentown and “our” Rosa that I could not ignore.  He retrieved the cemetery lot records which show that the owner of Rosa’s plot was John Sauers. Remember, Saurs was Franklin’s guardian.


A final clue is in the headstone itself which is not a style seen in the 1870s when this young girl was buried but is characteristic of an early 1900s monument. This makes sense.  There would have been no family member to purchase a marker for Rosa at the time of her death.  I imagine this was put in place by one or more of her siblings after they reached adulthood.

As strange as it may sound to many of my readers I believe that the emotional reaction I had to this photo was Rosa wanting to keep these photos together.  Even more so I think she wanted me to find her resting place so that in some small way she could be reunited with her family.  I’m glad I listened.

Census records
Kansas state census records
Find A Grave
Pennsylvania wills and probate records
Pennsylvania city directories
California death index
New Hampshire marriage records
Arkansas City Daily Traveler, Arkansas City, Kansas, April 24, 1919 (Richard obituary)

14 thoughts on “The Photographer’s Family

  1. Absolutely amazing and fascinating, though sad and filled with loss and emotional suffering. Your research dedication and ability is commendable!


  2. Congratulations on preserving these photos and reuniting them with the family’s history! The story of the Hess children reminds me of my grandfather’s story. In 1890, when he was eight, his mother died. He and his two younger siblings were sent to an orphanage to live while his father searched for a new wife. Two years later, after he remarried, my great grandfather came back and got the children out of the orphanage. The 19th century, when death took people quickly, was a perilous time to live!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m happy to say that he was a devoted father who visited his children every chance he got. (The orphanage some distance outside the city where he lived.) He brought fireworks for all the kids at the orphanage on the 4th of July. Still, the experience was traumatic for my grandfather, who, at age 8, essentially became the “father” to his younger siblings.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. When I began collecting antique photos I always guessed the sitter’s age and later would discover they were quite a bit older, especially young girls/women. In fact, I still usually underestimate age. ha!

        Liked by 1 person

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