For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a series of photographs taken during the 1880s by an unknown itinerant photographer, probably employed by the Northern Survey Company. The photographer traveled from town to town taking photographs of people’s houses, usually with the members of the family and their prized possessions arrayed on the front lawn. In addition to husbands, wives, children, servants and other employees, the photographs often include horses, oxen, dogs, cats, carriages, wagons, bicycles, baby carriages, and children’s toys. It’s very rare for one of these photographs to show nothing but the house. This made me wonder about the family who lived in this impressive mansion. Who were they and why are they absent from the picture? The house in the photograph belonged to Edwin Hills of Plainville, Connecticut and was built in 1872, shortly after his marriage to Emma Bullen. The couple had one son, Edwin Hiram Hills, born in 1883, and named for Edwin’s father. The Hills were among Plainville’s most prominent citizens, involved in manufacturing and banking. Mr. Hills also served on the State Legislature. I don’t know why they chose not to their pictures taken along with their mansion, but went against the custom of the time and must have been a deliberate decision. In 1909, Edwin Hills disappeared while on a trip to New York City. His body was subsequently discovered in a room in a hotel where he had registered under an assumed name with an unknown woman. His son, Edwin H. Hills, died in 1927. Emma Hills continued to live in the house on Washington Street with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. The house was torn down in 1952.
To see additional photographs from this series, search Connecticut History Online, a statewide digital library, or eMuseum, the Connecticut Historical Society‘s own online collections catalog.
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