Columbia Poultry Farm Photo Album

In 2009, The Barbara Levine Collection of early vernacular photograph albums was acquired by the International Center of Photography. One of the albums was recently featured in Fans In A Flashbulb, the ICP's collection blog. 

Frank H. Hodges’s Columbia Poultry Farm, Red Bank, New Jersey by Erin Barnett

 Frank H. Hodges (1869–after 1916) raised award-winning birds at his Columbia Poultry Farm in Red Bank, New Jersey. Hodges was born in New York and spent his early working years selling butter, eggs, and poultry wholesale. He moved to Red Bank in 1898 and had owned the farm for about six years when this album was made; there are newspaper clippings of prizes won at 1903 and 1904 poultry fairs pasted into the album. In addition to documenting the house and the farm buildings, the photographs depict each breed of pigeon, chicken, and duck raised in the farm. These amazing portraits of prize-winning birds are artfully arranged on the page and adorned with the sitters’ feathers.

According to the 1905/1906 issue of American Poultry Advocate, “The Columbia Poultry Farm is one of the finest equipped plants and one of the most practical in the United States. Mr. Hodges founded it and he has been one of the most successful breeders of prizing-winning birds of any one breed in this country. His record for blue ribbons has yet to be duplicated.”

 Probably assembled by the woman accompanying Hodges in the photographs, the album celebrates the orderliness, modernity, and success of the farm. Hodges’ personal life was quite different. His first wife, Mabel Robson Dewees died in a wagon crash in May 1900. Shortly after her death, Hodges sent his three stepsons Frank, William, and Gilbert to an orphanage in New York. He then married the twenty-six-year-old Mattie E. Williams on August 22, 1900; she is probably the woman pictured in the album. In 1905, the Hodges divorced after numerous court battles; Mattie accused her in-laws of poisoning her lavender oil with carbolic acid and her husband of cutting her clothing. Hodges alleged that his wife threatened to kill his mother and burn down the family home after tearing down the wallpaper. Shortly after the divorce, Hodges married Emma Reeves Hagerman on September 28, 1905. Both Hodges were involved in the Monmouth Poultry club; Emma won prizes for her silver seabright bantams. Hodges eventually abandoned the farm and worked at Casualty Company of America as an insurance adjuster in New York. According to the New York Times, Emma, who owned all of the couple’s property, threatened to leave Hodges and refused to deed back the property. In June 1916, Hodges entered their house and shot Emma in the head in front of their nine-year-old daughter Dorothy. Emma died several weeks later and Hodges pleaded insanity.

Note: The Columbia Poultry Farm photograph album is also featured in Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing The American Photo Album by Barbara Levine and Stephanie Snyder