Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Increase Lapham On The Case

Milwaukee's pioneer scientist was with famed photographer H.H. Bennett inspecting rock formations in the Dells in 1869.

By - Jun 8th, 2015 05:04 pm
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Increase Lapham studying rock formations in Wisconsin Dells, about 1869. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Increase Lapham studying rock formations in Wisconsin Dells, about 1869. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Henry Hamilton (H.H.) Bennett is perhaps the most famous of Wisconsin 19th century photographers. Not many have been exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

His career began in the mid 1860s in the town of Kilbourn City, now Wisconsin Dells. There was a Milwaukee connection to the town as it was named after Byron Kilbourn who constructed the railroad here. Bennett would become known for his stereoviews of the dells, Devils Lake and rock formations in Adams and Juneau county, where he extensively photographed every nook and cranny. In the late 1870s he would find a new location for photographing stereoviews – Milwaukee. This would be a dramatic shift for Bennett who had an affinity for rock formations.

This photo is one of his earliest published views. Bennett numbered every view and this one is #5  and its approximate date is 1869. It is a view of Taylor’s Glen located in the Dells area. There is a Milwaukee connection in this view. The gentleman to the left, inspecting the rock formations, is none other than Increase Lapham – Wisconsin’s pioneer scientist. This is one of the rare Bennett views to have printed text on the back side. It touts the advantages of the Dells to tourists, investors and the student of geology. As Lapham was clearly in that last category here is that portion if the text:

To the Student of Geology

Here is ample scope for study, thoughts and contemplation. The geological phenomena is curios and instructive. The rocks are primary in their character, unstratified, and of an igneous origin. They are hypozoic and procrystalline, with the green stone variety of granite and with veins of quartz crystal, feldspar and hornblende in great variety. He who with Nature sweet communion would hold, can truly find intellectual enjoyment and profit by delving and geologising in the different minerals here scattered in profusion.

Was this text written by Lapham? Certainly he did a lot of “geologising.” At any rate this is a fine view of this very noteworthy Wisconsinite doing in-the-field research. Lapham is the subject of a recent biography by Martha Bergland and Paul Hayes.

As for H. H. Bennett’s photographs of Milwaukee itself, the next few weeks will offer a wide variety of his exceptional work.

Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.

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