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William E. Culver photographic collection

Call Number: RH PH 75


William E. Culver was an amateur photographer who settled in Topeka, Kansas, where he opened a hardware store, Culver and Bailey, in 1886. This collection contains photographic prints, glass lantern slides, glass plate negatives, flexible negatives, photography paper, correspondence, architectural drawings, maps, and other materials related to Culver's personal and professional interests.


  • Creation: 1867-1963, bulk 1892-1919


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

History of the W. E. Culver (1853-1919) family

William E. Culver was born in 1853 in Coldwater, Michigan. His father, Captain George Culver, was originally from upstate New York.

By 1883 W. E. Culver had acquired an interest in photography and moved to Topeka, Kansas. In 1886 he opened a hardware store at 828 Kansas Avenue. At some later point Major M. Bailey, related to Culver by marriage to his sister Louise, joined Culver as a partner in the store, and in 1896 the store moved to 829 Kansas Avenue, where it remained until closing in 1924.

On September 3, 1890, Culver married Elizabeth (Lizzie) A. Sanford in Arcadia, Wayne County, New York. She had been born in New York in 1865. After their marriage the couple moved to a house at 1213 Western Avenue in Topeka, and there the couple raised three children: Louise, Elizabeth, and Wellington ("Duke").

One of Culver's favorite photographic subjects was his family, especially his three children. Louise was born approximately in 1892. She and her daughter died in 1941. Louise graduated from Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas in 1915. She taught French for a year in Twin Falls, Idaho before marrying L. Raymond Wolfe in 1917.

Louise's sister, Elizabeth Culver, was born in 1895. She graduated from Washburn College and then received a master's degree from the University of Kansas, working as an English teacher at Topeka High School and at Washburn University in Topeka. She remained in the Culvers' home at 1213 Western Avenue in Topeka, Kansas with her brother, Wellington, until her death in 1972.

The youngest Culver, Wellington, was born in 1898 and died in 1974. After the death of his father, Wellington took over the family's hardware business for a few years. Wellington served both in World War I and World War II. Neither of the two youngest siblings married.

William E. Culver died April 10, 1919, and his wife Lizzie died in 1945.

[Information taken from the collection, accession file, and from]


14.5 Linear Feet (29 document cases + 4 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This collection contains thousands of images photographed by William E. Culver of Topeka, Kansas during the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century. His three children and their friends playing were some of his favorite subjects. He also focused on family portraits, portraits of relatives and friends, his and other homes and farms near Topeka, landscapes, and Topeka events.

Some of the Topeka events Culver captured included the devastation of the 1903 flood and some of the displaced citizens temporarily housed in tents, the Floral Parade in 1903, and some of the Arapaho and other Native American people present for the Topeka Fall Festival in 1897. He also captured buildings and scenes in Chicago, Illinois, scenic views in Colorado, and houses and farms of relatives in New York.

The photographic collection contains glass plate negatives, glass lantern slides, flexible negatives, and photographic prints. In addition, photographic papers, supplies, and instructional booklets used by Culver are included.

Personal correspondence and business papers concerning Culver’s hardware store, Culver and Bailey, in Topeka are also included in the collection, as well as architectural drawings and blueprints, maps, newspapers, travel diaries, catalogs, and booklets.

Physical Location

RH PH 75

Physical Location

RH MS 452

Physical Location

RH MS R219

Physical Location

RH PH 75(f)

Custodial History

In 1974, upon the death of Wellington "Duke" Culver, the youngest and last surviving child of William and Elizabeth Culver, his estate was willed to Washburn University. His elder sister Elizabeth's estate also went to Washburn. Their childhood home at 1213 Western Avenue was sold to Dennis Eskie, and the thousands of glass plate negatives and prints found in the home were later given as a gift from Washburn University to the University of Kansas.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Washburn University, 1986. Addition, Sarah Lennon, 2017.

Processing Information

Some of the terms and language used within the collection are representative of when the images/text were created and has been replicated in this finding aid only when using original titles provided by the creator. All efforts have been made to replace offensive terms when revising the finding aid in 2021.

Guide to the William E. Culver Collection
William E. Culver photographic collection
Finding aid prepared by ny, 2007; revised by cl, 2010. Finding aid encoded by ny, 2007. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2018; lmw, 2021, cd and mwh, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
William E. Culver papers, Kansas Collection, RH PH 75, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States