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)