Written by Ed Huddleston in 1957 on the 75th Anniversary of Dury's
It's a long hop, from painting a lovely miniature of Queen Therese of Bavaria around 1847, to selling the first Kodak in Nashville (down on Union Street, around 1895).
That's just part of the dramatic story of the Dury family of Nashville, founders of the George C. Dury Company, a distinguished Nashville firm of photographic supplies and specialties, 420 Union Street, now celebrating its 75th anniversary.
For 45 years they've been at the same location on Union, now often called the "Wall Street of the South" - yet within two blocks of the site of the little upstairs room at 204 Union where George C. Dury founded the company in 1882.
That was a third of a century after his father, a blond, gray-blue eyed portrait painter to the Court of Bavaria, had packed his miniature of Queen Therese and headed for America, in the springtime of 1849.
Three months later, in Nashville, Cholera would be raging. Our most distinguished citizen, former president James K. Polk, would be among the victims. And years later George Dury who had painted Queen Therese's miniature, would paint the portrait of the president's widow, Mrs. Polk, which would hang in the White House. He would do portraits of Robert E. Lee, Abraham, Lincoln, Senator Felix Grundy, and form many old-line Nashville families - portraits still treasured today.
But why did he leave Bavaria, and his position of such privilege and prestige?
Roll back the years. Look down upon a street in storied old Munich - 108 years ago, when political freedom and democracy was echoing from the New World.
Look upon a little clique of students from the University of Munich. They are talking in low, excited voices. Trouble is afoot. They held a celebration in February, on George Washington's birthday. They'd quoted from his Farewell Address, and from Jefferson, Franklin - and the Bavarian Government could not overlook such a thing.
As they talked, a young medical student hurried past them. Perhaps his face was a trifle pale. He was one of their leaders, Augustin Gattinger. They greeted him with admiration, but all looked shaken. Poor Augustin!
He was hurrying on, preoccupied. He was turning in a prosperous house, the house of the court artist. He was hammering franitically on the door.
It was also the home of Josphine Dury, the artist's sister. She was Augustin's sweetheart - but did she love him enough? Enough to share his fate?
Augustin was to be exiled. He must leave Bavaria forever. He had seven days in which to chose the country which he would go. And would Josephine go with him?
The door came open, Josephine heard, and wept. But she answered, "Yes".
Her artist brother, would he protest? Would he scold and rant?
No. That night George Dury hastily took his finest canvases from their frames. (They would be mounted one day, at 707 Woodland Street in Nashville).
For George Dury too was highly capable of independent thought. He was a lover as well affianced to lovely, brown-eyed Catherine Sheafer, 19. Would she also share what was ahead?
Catherine's answer was the same as Josephine's. They would leave together, the four of them. They would go to America, the land of the men they had quoted.
Carl G. Dury, now president of Dury's as it is popularly known, treasures the diary in which his grandmother wrote:
"Today, Monday, the 25th of March, 1849, I said good-bye to beautiful, friendly St. Martin - the place of my birth and childhood, to my beloved, dear good parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, good-bye maybe forever, because my good George has chosen for me a new home on another continent".
Dawn was creeping over Munich on April 15 when the two couples departed.
Nine days later, as sea breezes blew over Le Havre, France, Catherine wrote in her diary, "This day, the most important in my life, is our wedding day." Both couples were married there, at the America Consulate.
They sailed on the three-masted "Bavaria", April 29. On May26, Catherine wrote: "Land! Land! Is the cry of every mouth...Oh, what an indescribable feeling. Tears of joy ran out of almost everybody's eyes...New York! What a grand sight! This sea of buildings, these ships, this bustle, these magnificent mansiions along the entire coast!...'Let us make our tabernacle here.' this prayer sprang out of my heart."
By train, coach and steamboat they reached the Swiss and German colony of Wartburg, Morgan County, East Tennessee, in the same year. (Copper had been discovered at Ducktown that year. Dr. Gattinger eventually became physician at the Ducktown mines, a distinguished botanist, Civil War surgeon and finally State Librarian.)
George Dury's art of portraiture called for an older culture. He needed a place of accumulated fortunes, where prosperous sitters might be waiting.
So, by June 5, 1850, George and Catherine were in Nashville, according to Catherine's diary - 10 months before the first train was to pull out of Nashville and run 10 miles to Antioch.
On the day of the diary entry she was recording the birth of their first child, Augusta (who would become Mrs. J. H. Brengelman, on December 5, 1872).
Legendarily, Augusta was born on Cedar Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, where the artist installed the first large studio window in Nashville. Another child, Henry, was born at Cave Spring, East Tennessee, 1853, and George Carl, their third child, January 10, 1859 in a newer home in prosperous "Edgefield" (now in East Nashville).
Here in this more spacious home, Catherine, age 30, and her husband of 42, has space to display their treasures from the Old World. She had 16 trunks of feather beds, huge pillows, and fine hand-loomed linens.
Upon the walls went her husband's art treasures, including a portrait he'd painted of famed Lola Montez, the controversial Irish adventuress, whose allure for a Bavarian king had helped dethrone Queen Therese's husband.
Up too went Dury's encaustic painting (done in the ancient Greek manner, of was mixed with pigments), called "Italian Girl at Prayer".
(This picture would be on dislpay in Nashville years afterwards, at a time when the celebrated Italian tenor Caruso was here. Caruso stood before it an, hat in hand, burst into a tribute song.)
George and Catherine's son, George Carl Dury, future founder of Dury's, was one of the early students at Montgomery Bell Academy. His brother Henry, an inventor, meanwhile was setting up a small rubber stamp business - while in far-away Rochester, New York another youth, George Eastman, was experimenting with amateur photography.
Their acitvities were to blend, in mutual interest. This would be shortly after 1882, when the present 75-year old Dury's began to offer rubber stamps to Nashville. This new company would quickly add photographic supplies to its line.
This was in the day of dry plates. Eastman had begun to manufacture them on a small scale in 1880. Originally, cameras had to be loaded and unloaded in a darkroom. Dury's had one. (Earlier the entire camera had to be sent to Rochester for loading/unloading).
The artist was now 65 and still painting, in an upstairs studio at 137 1/2 Union Street. His quiet and efficient son George was 23. They lived at 707 Woodland Street and Catherine, gracious and poised in her middle age, was noted for her Christmas cookies. her husband long ago had acquired a national reputation as an artist.
When the company drew its first breath at 204 Union as a formally organized business, the area was a bustling retail district. B. H. Stief Jewelry Company was among its older neighbors on the street, and Julia Doak had just become state supertindent of education - the first woman in America to hold such a post.
Nashville was living with pretty much of a flair just then. The Louisiana State Lottery was boldly advertising 100,000 tickets at $5 each, with a top prize of $75,000. Liquor distilleries were thriving. Harness makers and matrimonial agencies were among the leading advertisers.
For $3,500 you could buy an eight-room brick house on highly respectable Fatherland Street. Eight hundred dollars would get you "22 acres, two and a half miles from Vanderbilt". And $1.50 would buy "a coil spring corset" for the lady watching her figure, as ladies especially did when having their pictures made.
And my! How photography was thriving? "You Take the Picture and We'll Do the Rest", Eastman was advertising. Cameras were now being made which could be held in your hand. No longer did it require a tripod and a man behind it with a little black cloth - nor did it require a metal brace to hold the subject's head still!
Dury's from its very early days was wide awake, dependable supply house to profesional photographers. Something of vast significance had happened.
Eastman's roll film camera, first announced in 1891, was introduced in 1895. His earliest records have been lost, but it appears almost certain Dury's became one of Eastman's first eight authorized dealers.
George C. Dury, founder of Dury's sold the first "Kodak" in Nashville. the magnitude of the "Kodak's " success is suggested by the fact that Eastman eventually would give millions to various philanthropies. Young and old were making pictures.
Nashville had taken the Dury's to its heart. But the Bavarian Court Painter did not live to see the full flowering of the photographic marvel. he died on December 2, 1894, at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Brengelman, 711 Russell Street. he had lived to see his son's company flourish. He had lived to see his grandchildren taking root in the new world. One of these was just three years old - Carl George Dury, who would become president of Dury's at age 32 upon the death of his father, George C. Dury, in 1924. (The order of their given names was transposed, with succeeding generations in accordance with German custom).
"I learned more by his example than by what he said", Carl G. Dury said of his father, for whom he delivered rubber stamps as a boy, in the days when there were "a few automobiles" beginning to show up on Russell Street.
Carl Dury remembers carefully changing the plates in the old darkroom, for customers who still used an old type of camera. He recalls the beautifully colored eagles and other designs on the ends of whiskey and flour barrels, for which teh firm provided the stencils.
"Such stencils were an important part of the business then", Durys said. "Few could do such work. The third generation of the family who made them is still working with us", producing other specialties - but not stencils for Whisky barrels! Seals were another product.
Around the turn of the century the firm outgrew 204 Union. It expanded around the corner in an L-shape, through 3030 of old Market Street.
The firm moved to 306 Union in 1904. There on July 1, George Dury proudly posed for a picture in his new establishment, nine employees and his 13 year old son Carl were about him. Things were picking up.
In addition to its photographic supplies, stamps, stencils and seals, by 1905 Dury's had many other things to offer. Always a believer in advertising, the firm had a full-page advertisement in the city directory that year.
Too, the company had just obtained the services of O. M. Royster of Raleigh, NC, proficient to every phase of photography. Under his guidance the photofinishing department grew. Dury's began to revceive film from all over the United States and abroad. The founder was 46. His company was 23 years old.
Seven years later, in 1912, the company moved to its present location at 420 Union Street following the trend of retail business. The years were rolling on, into the roaring 1920's and Carl G. Dury was the manager of the thriving firm when death came to its founder in April 1924.
Since then he has headed the firm, directing the extensive remodeling which transformed the building and store in 1926 - in a strategic location between the financial district and the main shopping area.
All wasn't easy. A storm was near. After the stock market crashed in 1929 and set off the Great Depression, hard times were ahead for Tennessee and the nation.
Dury's meanwhile had set up a second store in Knoxville. Its deposits were in the first Knoxville bank that failed. Down the drain went the Dury assets there, which the Nashville store replenished. The second bank failed also. Again, the Nashville mother-store reached out in rescue. It sent funds again.
The third bank collapsed. That was when Dury's closed its Knoxville store. "All we had in the 1930's was our reputation", Carl Dury said with a philosophical smile. "But with the help of good friends, we weathered the storm".
It weathered another type of high wind in terms of vital business ethics, during World War II. Government quotas then limited much of Dury's merchandise. The store ws under-staffed. A nation was groaning with production effort, struggling for victory.
Carl Dury, weary from overwork, then began to receive tempting under-the-table offers from Eastern firms to sell them his wares, at twice the market price.
But not in vain had the Dury's left Bavaria, in the quest of an ideal. Dury's answer to the offers was a flat "No". His merchandise went to his customers at regular price.
Nashville had not been unmindful of such integrity. After the depression, and after the tumult of war, Dury's was one of the first firms to lease space for a branch store in the new $2,500,000 Green Hills Shopping Center on Hillsboro Road. More than 10,000 well wishers signed Dury's register in the first week of business. Its manager is Willam C. Knittel, who advanced from salesman at the main store.
About the same time, a separate manufacturing division was set up by Dury's at 112 Sixth Avenue South.
James E. Dury, son of the president, directs its three shops, which include the making of picture frames. Another son, George C. Dury, is Vice-President and General Manager.
Dury's now employs 55 persons. Photographic supplies and services continue to be its proud main line. In addition, there is an art department, stocking a complete line of arts and crafts suppies; a frame department, specializing in fine prints and frames made to order, as well as ready made frame; a gift department with greeting cards, stationary and party goods; a complete line of fountain pens, and a rubber stamp and marking devices department with a united line of office supplies.
John A. Freund heads the stockhouse division, serving photographers in Tennessee, Southern Kentucky, Northern Alabama, and Mississippi. F. Clark Sawdey directs the graphic arts division. Ira Looney manages the photographic department.
There is far more drama and romance in the story of Dury's now celebrating its diamond jubilee. There is, too, as always, integrity and artistry - sprung from the heart and blood of an artist.
For over it still lingers the idealism which caused a man of Bavaria, long ago, to take down his canvases, and head for a new land.