Photographs of the California Missions by William Henry Jackson

Huntington Library. Photo Archives
Huntington Library. Photo Archives
Photograph Collections, 1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
(626) 405-2129

Descriptive Summary

Title: Photographs of the California Missions by William Henry Jackson
Dates: ca.1885-1890
Collection Number: photCL 444
Creator/Collector: Jackson, William Henry, 1843-1942
Extent: 39 albumen photographs 17.8 x 23.5 cm. (7 x 9 ¼ in.), on mounts measuring 20 x 25.5 cm. (8 x 10 in.). See itemized list under “Additional collection guides.”
Repository: Huntington Library. Photo Archives
San Marino, California 91108
Abstract: A collection of albumen photographs of 12 California Missions, taken by nineteenth-century photographer William Henry Jackson sometime between 1885 and 1890. All of the photographs are titled and signed, “W.H.J. & Co.” One or more images of the following missions are included: San Antonio de Padua, San Carlos Borroméo de Carmel, San Diego de Alcalá, San Fernando Rey, San Francisco de Asís, San Gabriel Arcángel, San Juan Bautista, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, San Miguel Arcángel, Santa Barbara and Santa Ines. The photographs primarily show the missions’ front façades or courtyards, both in ruins and with slight repair work.
Language of Material: English


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Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Photographs. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Huntington as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Preferred Citation

Photographs of the California Missions by William Henry Jackson. Huntington Library. Photo Archives

Acquisition Information

Gift of Kenneth Hill in April 2001.

Biography/Administrative History

William Henry Jackson was born April 4, 1843 in Keeseville, New York. While growing up, Jackson taught himself how to paint and draw; at the age of 15, he was first exposed to photography through a job he took at a local photographer’s studio. After serving in the Civil War, he went to Omaha, Nebraska to help run a photography studio with his brothers. In 1869, Jackson was approached by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, the head of the United States Geological Survey of the Territories, who asked Jackson to join his team. Jackson did so, and for the next seven years took photographs of hot springs, geysers, and mineral formations in the territory that is now Yellowstone National Park. After this project, Jackson began to take photographs of landmarks along the Union Pacific Railroad to sell to tourists. At some point between 1885 and 1890, Jackson traveled to California and took photographs of the California missions, which were then in ruins and being viewed in a romantic light as part of California’s mythic past. To cater to tourists, Jackson photographed most, if not all, of the missions and sold them to the steady stream of sightseers. At the age of 81, Jackson swapped photography for painting, focusing on the development of the American West as his subjects. He died on June 30, 1942 in New York City at the age of 99.

Scope and Content of Collection

The California Missions were a favored subject for photographers at the turn of the nineteenth century. William Henry Jackson, like many of his contemporaries, capitalized on the romantic interest in the ruins, and took photographs to sell to tourists. While the photographs are primarily artistic works of the architecture alone, a few photographs have people in them. Of note is (11), taken at San Juan Bautista, where a photographer can be seen on the left with his large-format camera, setting up his own shot.

Indexing Terms

California missions
Mission San Carlos Borromeo (Carmel, Calif.)
Mission San Gabriel Arcangel (San Gabriel, Calif.)
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Miguel Arcangel (San Miguel, Calif.)
San Antonio de Pádua (Mission)
San Diego Mission
San Fernando, Rey de España (Mission : San Fernando, Calif.)
San Francisco de Asís Mission (San Francisco, Calif.)
San Juan Bautista (Mission : San Juan Bautista, Calif.)
San Luis Rey Mission (Calif.)
Santa Barbara Mission
Santa Inés Mission (Solvang, Calif.)
Albumen prints
Architectural photographs

Additional collection guides