WENATCHEE — The work of talented photographers such as Alfred G. Simmer (1876-1958) is often the best documentation of a region’s changing history.
Simmer, a native of Germany, came to Wenatchee in 1921 with his wife and children to set up a commercial photography studio. Along with individual portraits, he took pictures related to the apple industry, downtown businesses, schools, Apple Blossom Festival and other major events, Rocky Reach Dam construction and local landscapes. He also documented many traditional Native American people and their pictographs and petroglyphs.
Simmer’s photographs, almost always labeled at bottom center in his distinctive back-slant handwriting, are a treasure trove of Wenatchee-area history. They show long-gone scenes such as Shacktown flooded by the Columbia River and the opulent interior of Wells & Wade Hardware. Simmer captured group scenes of Boy Scouts, school orchestras and apple-picking crews as well as beautiful images of landmarks like Hidden Lake (near Lake Wenatchee) and Saddle Rock with a foreground of blossoming apple trees.
Unfortunately, the negatives of most of these photographs were destroyed in a fire at his studio in 1939. Simmer had just sold the business to his assistant, E.S. Long, and moved to Olympia to do special photography with the state highway department. He must have been devastated to learn of the loss. But the good news is that hundreds of Simmer’s original photographs have been given to the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center by numerous donors who know the value of preserving these historical treasures.
“Fotos: The Work of Simmer Studios,” an exhibition of period cameras and Simmer photos digitally enlarged for easier viewing, opened at the museum on July 5 in the upstairs Gold Gallery. Continuing in the downstairs Main Gallery through Aug. 3 is “Wenatchee Theater History: Then and Now.” This fun exhibit of photos, playbills and props from dozens of local theater groups includes a “public theater” where kids of all ages can express their inner actors with costumes, props and a large mirror.
The museum appreciates those who, over the decades, have contributed to its large collection of photographs, graphic and fine arts, documents, and artifacts. Without institutions like the Wenatchee Valley Museum to safely store and exhibit these precious mementos, a region is sadly impoverished. Our community is grateful for the museum’s collections as well as its special programs and publications. Membership is inexpensive, yet vital to the museum’s survival. If you haven’t already, considering joining today!
Chris Rader, former KOHO news director and Wenatchee Valley Museum public relations coordinator, is a freelance writer who contracts with the museum for research, writing and editing. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.