Mississippi Streets: Holly Springs, 1857

Today’s Mississippi Streets image of downtown Holly Springs in 1854 1857 may contain the oldest photographic image ever on Preservation in Mississippi. It was passed on to me by Chelius Carter, who got permission to send it from the owner Henry Dancy. The image itself is pretty amazing, but found with the image was this wonderful letter from Sam Carey to his parents, explaining the scene and even naming the type of image, a Sphereotype, not the more familiar Daguerreotype.


Holly Springs, March 27/57

Dear Parents,

Annie has written you all the news, so I will just give a description of the Daguerreotype or rather Sphereotype which I send by this mail. In the distance you will perceive the Methodist Church. The first building this side, is the residence of Dr. Dougherty, our physician. In the right hand corner block of buildings, next to the corner is my store, occupied as a confectionary. The building on the left fronting you, is the Union House, where I pasfed (archaic) my first night in Holly Springs.

The enclosure you see is the Court house square, which contains the Court house surrounded by trees. In the foreground, and perspective you see Cotton wagons. At the wagon nearest the fence, you see a man, with his foot on the wheel is Mr. Ross, a Cotton buyer, the other man, by the oxen is Mr. Joe Farrell. You can see by this exactly how the Cotton is put up. These Bales generally hold 500 lbs. You can see a great many little things about the picture that I have not time to specify. I thought (sp.) would be interesting to you. How natural those Oxen look, the first you see turning around, the Mules too, standing half asleep. With much love, I am your affectionate Son.

S. E. Carey

As this was the first time I’ve ever seen the word Sphereotype, I had to look it up. It’s such an arcane and forgotten term, I had to click to the SECOND PAGE OF GOOGLE to find a definition of this word! That’s how hard I work for you, MissPresers!

This is what the AlternativePhotography website has to say about Sphereotype photography:

Sphereotypes is a process patented (US patent #14,696 I believe) by Albert Bisbee in 1856. It was essentially a positive collodion image on glass that was exposed through a spherical mask – hence the name sphereotype – which was the same size as the mount that was to enclose it or case it was to be put into.

Thanks to Henry Dancy and Chelius Carter for sharing this image and its letter.


Categories: Holly Springs


13 replies

  1. 1854 Oh My! You outdid yourself on this one with your research, Mr. E. L. You’re a great tracking hound. I know the photographers who read MissPres will enjoy seeing it. This beautiful letter made me think of all the ado about abolishing cursive handwriting. UNTHINKABLE! The age of the letter and Spencerian writing style make it difficult to read but if Spencerian were taught today, we would breeze right through. Nuff said.

    Hard to imagine the courthouse square in any of our Mississippi towns looking like this but they probably did.


  2. I believe that the date on the letter is “57”, i.e. 1857, rather than 1854 which would date it to a year after the sphereotype was patented in 1856 rather than two years before.


    • Neat image. Here is that same view in 2013.

      We’ve all seen patent pending printed on items, but I agree with you in this instance that the date year numbers on the letter appear to be a ’57 rather than ’54.


      • Yes, 1857 not 1854.

        Notice that four of the six courthouse square buildings in the upper right of the photograph are still extant. Three still have the two window arrangement and one retains its gable roof. The corner building at Market was replaced with a building that just burned in June, “Firefighters battle large fire at Holly Springs restaurant.” The fire does not sound like it spared much.

        “Fire officials said the way these buildings were constructed in the 1800’s is a firefighter’s worst nightmare.

        “‘What we have is a fire that is between the roof line and the ceiling. The ceiling made out of 1 inch or thicker oak wood you can’t get through it,’ said Chief Kenny Holbrook.

        “So to get inside, fire crews had to just let the roof burn.”


        • How terrible. you can see the fire damaged structure in the Aug 2016 street view image. The building looks in pretty solid shape, all things considered.


          • Street View is how I found out about it. I did a search to find out exactly what happened. I wish we had a firefighter who commented on the site to talk about what was described by Holly Springs Fire Chief Kenny Holbrook. I am struck by the statement that to put out the fire, they had to watch it burn more of the building. From a layman, non-firefighter’s perspective, that just does not seem right.


            • I suspect that there might have been a crawl-space beneath the roof that made access to fire difficult what with the roof itself prevent water from coming in from above.


    • Thanks for that correction, Jack, I’ve made the change to 1857 above. I guess if I was better at math, I would have caught that date discrepancy when I copied the quote about Sphereotypes, huh?


  3. Yes, I noticed those dates as well. Really enjoyed the pic and the post.


  4. I thought I knew about glass plate photography but Sphereotype is a new word and research challenge for me.
    Thanks .
    Jim Miller MoHP


  5. where is the lowry house in holly springs What street???/my relatives


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