William Harrison Bass (1851 – 1936)

William Harrison Bass (1851 – 1936)

William Harrison Bass. Photo credit: Historic Indianapolis website, Bass Photo Company, posted by Joan Hostetler.

Bass, the uncle of architect Herbert L. Bass, was born in Columbus, Indiana (Bartholomew County). William worked for a while as a miller near Edinburgh, where he contracted tuberculosis. After recovering from TB, he attended Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute, graduating in 1875. Bass taught in Indianapolis Schools from 1875 until his retirement in 1899 and is credited with being one of the first “manual training” teachers in Indiana. Manual training taught both wood and metal working with a philosophy of teaching students “the power of doing things.”

The W. H. Bass Building at 308 South New Jersey Street with horse-drawn delivery wagon. Photo credit: Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Collection, negative 30164.

In 1897 or 1898, Bass purchased a local branch of the James Bayne Photography Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, from two photographers, Walter J. Woodworth and James Bayne, and renamed it W.H. Bass Photo Company, incorporating in 1912. Located at 308 South New Jersey Street, the company, now named Bass Photo Company (www.bassphoto.com), remains in business today.

Early on, the company specialized in commercial and industrial photography, and later began photographing furniture, interiors and exteriors of businesses, the automobile industry, creating catalogs, and then added lab services. Not wanting to waste film, Bass told his photographers in 1899 to take photos of street scenes, buildings and city life if any film was left after a commercial job. He is buried in Section 44, Lot 133 (39.8224596, -86.1645625). The grave is unmarked.

In 1986, the Indiana Historical Society purchased over 200,000 of these negatives of many important historical photos of Indianapolis. These are now preserved and cataloged and at least 12,000 are available online, including 79 historic images of Crown Hill Cemetery.