When you are writing the history of Atascadero, there is no problem finding excellent photographs from the very beginning in 1913, when what became Atascadero was still a cattle ranch.
The Atascadero Historical Society’s vast photo collection is filled with pictures of workers putting in water mains, grading roads and planting more than 4,000 acres of fruit trees. The society has hundreds of pictures of the construction of The Printery, the grammar school, the Mercantile and the City Administration Building. It is an interesting collection of images from Tent City to the Editors’ Convention to Mrs. Lewis petting a deer or holding a handful of peaches.
Every house that was constructed starting in 1915 through 1924 was featured in the newspaper. Many of those original house photos are now contained in six loose-leaf binders available for public review at the Colony House Museum. Many owners of Colony homes have been able to get pictures of their homes from the museum.
Unfortunately, there are many missing photos, too.
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What we don’t have is any picture of E.G. Lewis. That’s because he was an amateur photographer and took all those pictures himself. With only a couple of exceptions, the only photos of Lewis are “studio” pictures.
So in 1924, when several creditors and a U.S. marshal walked into Lewis’ office in Atascadero and informed him he was no longer in charge, photographs of the colony virtually stopped. The four men who appeared with the marshal were not creditors, just men who, in Lewis’ words were, “intensely hostile to me.” “In fact,” Lewis wrote, “two of the four men being quite deeply indebted to me.”
So we lost our colony photographer.
There is a vast empty hole of photos from the mid-1920s until the 1940s, when Al Decker, a county employee, began taking pictures of local events with his 4-by-5 bulky press camera.
Maybe another reason we don’t have many candid photos of Lewis is that he wasn’t fond of having his picture taken.
When asked by his subscribers to print a photo of himself in “The Lewis Journal,” Atascadero’s founder replied in print, “Native modesty prevents me from doing so, although I will do it in a later issue after I am sure that I have all the subscribers I am going to get.”
Lewis did print two photos of Panamint Pat, a dog he found while touring his newest acquisition, the Panamint Mines, in the summer of 1925. He said he found the dog in the desert, and he and Mrs. Lewis nursed it back to health.
Fortunately, Lewis’ vast collection of photos, thousands of them, are being digitized and placed in the society’s electronic inventory of artifacts.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for more than 45 years. He can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.