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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

Developing the Pacific Northwest

The Life and Work of Asahel Curtis

William H. Wilson


Asahel Curtis was a commercial photographer, but his true passions were Mount Rainier, his Yakima Valley farm, Washington’s good roads movement, and the Seattle Mountaineers Club. Developing the Pacific Northwest is the first full-length biography of this premier photographer/booster/mountaineer.

The first full-length biography of Asahel Curtis reveals a commercial photographer whose true passions were Mount Rainier and bringing economic development and tourism to Washington.

“Wilson’s book is well written and broadly conceived…This book is the best kind of regional history”—Pacific Historical Review

“William H. Wilson’s biography of the man is an appropriately romantic book. It is also a fine piece of scholarship and a great read.”—Oregon Historical Quarterly


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Asahel Curtis arrived on the Puget Sound in 1888. The teenager labored on farms and eventually in his older brother Edward’s successful Seattle photography studio. By 1895 his extended family resided together in the city. With their support, Asahel set out for Skagway, Alaska, in September 1897. Armed with a box camera, he captured numerous images of the Klondike gold rush, recording the trail, miners, gold creeks, and Dawson City. But after he returned home in 1899, he found himself at odds with Edward over those very photographs.

The conflict led to a lifelong estrangement. Asahel partnered with William P. Romans to form another studio, and in time opened the Asahel Curtis Photo Co. Although he earned his living as a commercial photographer, his major focus was outside the camera lens.

He married Florence Etta Carney and in 1907 purchased a small, irrigated farm in the Yakima Valley. Curiously, Asahel did not drive. But as a man who acted on his convictions, he became a dedicated member of the good roads movement. He battled issues surrounding highway beautification, crumbling roads caused by a burgeoning trucking industry, an international highway connecting Puget Sound with Alaska, and Yellowstone Trail Association activities. His overarching goal was not personal gain, but economic development and increased tourism for Washington.

Asahel had an enduring passion for Mount Rainier. He climbed its spectacular heights on multiple occasions and was a founder of the Seattle Mountaineers Club. He also chaired the Mount Rainier Advisory Board, fighting long and vigorously for the advancement of Mount Rainier National Park.

Developing the Pacific Northwest is the first full-length biography of the photographer/booster/mountaineer. Along with comparisons to work by his brother and other contemporaries, the author devotes attention to Asahel’s earlier years, his family and business relationships, his involvement with irrigation and cooperative marketing in eastern Washington, and his beliefs about resource development. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive study of this premier Pacific Northwest photographer.

Illustrations / map / notes / bibliography / index / 376 pages (2015)


“Writing in comfortable prose, Wilson has significantly contributed to a number of histories: the region, the development of a modern system of roads, the negotiation for and development of a national park, and broadly how photography contributed to those histories.”—Rachel McLean Sailor, University of Wyoming, Pacific Historical Review

 “This is a work of sound scholarship—seasoned, wise and meticulous. [It] offers our most comprehensive and sensitive understanding of Asahel Curtis, a significant participant in shaping Washington State as we know it today.”—Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, public historian

“Whether you are interested in photography, the history of Washington State, or the development of western national parks, the biography of Mr. Asahel Curtis is an interesting read concerning a man who promoted all three tirelessly in his life’s work.”—Adam Burns,

“Wilson’s treatment of Asahel Curtis’s life is an important contribution to the literature on conservation and development—in the Pacific Northwest or otherwise. Developing the Pacific Northwest represents an achievement in meticulous research and will serve as the definitive statement on Curtis’s life for years to come.” —Taylor E. Rose, Portland State University, Oregon Historical Quarterly


Additional information

Dimensions 9 x 6 in