Edgar Decker spent his entire photographic career in Cleveland, Ohio – and that career spanned nearly fifty years. One of the most interesting thing I found out about him actually pre-dated that career though. In the 1850 census, I found him living in Kingston, Ulster county, New York. The several short biographical sketches for him just mentioned he came from New York state, where he worked for a while a store clerk, and later had his own store. The interesting part come when we find who he worked as a clerk for — George North.
Cleveland historians will recognize North as the surname of two well-known Cleveland artists, William Case North and Walter Crane North, who were also connected with Kingston, New York. William was primarily a photographer, and the uncle of Walter, who was known primarily for his paintings, but also worked in photography for a while. I did some digging, and found that the George North with whom Edgar Decker was living in 1850 was in fact a brother of William, and another uncle for Walter. That 1850 census has Walter C North living with his parents, Mosier and Lucy North (other sources show Zachariah Mosier North). William North and his wife Anna are listed there too, living in a hotel run by Jane Decker, wife the Justice of the Peace, Daniel L. Decker. Edgar Decker’s parents and siblings are also listed, Davis S and Hannah Decker.
The biographies for William North say he moved to Cleveland in 1850 — if so it must have been very late in the year, since his listing in the 1850 census in Kingston NY was enumerated October 21st of that year. Walter North is supposed to have come with him to Cleveland, and his 1850 census record was enumerated November 26th.
Edgar Decker came to Cleveland in 1856 or 1857 according to those biographies — but since he married Ohio native Julia J. English on February 2nd, 1857 I suspect he must have moved there in 1856. It seems unlikely he would be marrying within a month of his arrival! Now Edgar Decker and Walter Crane North were only a couple years apart in age, and since Edgar had been working for Walter’s uncle, it seems very likely they were friends, or at the very least acquaintances. The William North biography mentions that his nephew Walter bought out his photographic studio in 1856, though he sold it back two or three years later. It seems highly probable then, that Edgar Decker worked with Walter Crane in that studio around 1856, and probably learned the photographic business there.
After William North bought back his photography business, we find Edgar Decker working for him, first as a clerk in his other (Coal and Lamp Oil) business, then operating his photographic studio. Soon afterward, Decker goes on to another studio, along with several other apparently independent operators, and styles himself photographer ‘agent’.
One biography of Decker states: “From 1883 to 1888 Decker was joined by Charles E Wilber, a talented crayon artist and retoucher…” In fact, Wilber worked for Decker from at least 1867, possibly even as early as 1865. It was not until 1883 that his name was added to the business, and that change coincided with their move to new quarters on Euclid avenue. Wilber probably contributed to the cost of equipping the new studio, and/or paid some of the rent, to warrant having his name added to the business. Another talented artist, George M Edmondson joined them in 1888, and Wilber moved to Wichita, Kansas soon after.
Most biographies seem to suggest that Decker’s career ended soon after 1900 when George Edmondson took over the business. Edmondson did take over the Euclid Avenue studio about 1901, but Decker opened another studio on Hough Avenue. And in 1904, Decker is listed as Vice-President of the B. A. Brigden Company at the Arcade. Burt A Brigden had worked for Decker for several years before opening his own studio in 1894. Edgar Decker died in 1905.