Positively Beautiful

CDV Skaneateles copy

There is something ethereal about this photograph. I don’t know who the woman is, but I have found the photographer.

Born in Erieville, N.Y. in 1860, Frank Lincoln Harris began his career in Syracuse at the age of 15. He worked for traveling photographers, apprenticed with a photographer in Cazenovia, studied artwork and retouching, then went on the road with his own portable studio, going from hamlet to hamlet, before settling in Dryden in 1884. He came to Skaneateles the next year, establishing a studio upstairs from the store of Herbert A. Livingston in “the Weeks block” (the building on Genesee Street built and owned by Forest Weeks; today’s Loft 42).

Harris Grip's Historical Souvenir of Cortland copy

Harris advertised regularly in the Skaneateles Free Press:

“For artistic work that is as fine as can be obtained in a large city, go to F.L. Harris & Co.’s Photograph Rooms.

“New apparatus, first-class material and a good operator now enables us to compete with any city photographers. Remember that we give perfect satisfaction.”

“The F. Lincoln Harris Studio. Portraits in Photography, and in Crayon, Pastel or Oil. Superior work, reasonable prices. A fine line of views constantly on hand. Studio over Livingston’s store.”

“F. Lincoln Harris, the artist, now absent investigating new methods pertaining to his profession, will be found in his studio on and after February 24th, better prepared than ever to furnish high grade portraits.”

And in an advertisement that brings to mind the photo of the woman above, he wrote, “We have rearranged our light and softened it to such an extent that every one is photographed so as to look positively beautiful.”


While in Skaneateles, he did landscape photography as well, selling pictures of the lake and surrounding countryside at his studio.

Harris Cortland Studio copy

In June of 1895, Harris left the village and moved his studio to Cortland, N.Y. The picture above shows his studio there and gives us an idea of what his Skaneateles studio would have looked like. By 1899, Harris had 15,000 portrait negatives on file, and today, more than 100 years later, his portraits still turn up on eBay.

In Skaneateles, Herbert Livingston joined with H.B. Williams and Charles W. Hunt in the firm of Livingston, Williams & Hunt; they sold “dry goods” from 1899 to 1934. From approximately 1905 to 1915, they published postcards which they had printed in Germany from photos they took and developed in their “Lakeside Studio,” perhaps Harris’ former workplace. Their postcards also turn up on eBay, and are in the collection of the Creamery Museum of the Skaneateles Historical Society.

As for F. Lincoln Harris, his health eventually prompted him to give up photography. After the death of his wife in 1917, he took a job as a coffee roaster for F.H. Cobb & Co., wholesale grocers, in Cortland. He died in 1935.


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