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Alvin H. Waite Photographs of Tacoma and Washington State, 1892-1907

Looking north toward south peak of Mount Rainier
Looking toward south peak of Mount Rainier, 1895

Alvin H. Waite was an outdoorsman and traveler, and, along with his friends and associates Albert Barnes and Henry M. Sarvant, became one of Tacoma's most important landscape photographers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During his career he documented in detail street scenes and the waterfront in Tacoma, and scenes during his travels including bicycling trips and hiking adventures in the Cascade Mountains. Some of his most vivid photographs presented here are the monumental scenes captured on Mt. Rainier during his mountaineering expeditions to the park and vicinity.

Alvin H. Waite was born in 1862 in Iowa. His parents were Henry C. and Cornelia Waite. In the 1880 United States census, the family is shown living in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Iowa. Henry's occupation is listed as a dealer in medical merchandise. Alvin was 18 at the time, single, living with his parents, and working as a clerk in a store. His siblings included his brothers, Claire - or Clay -- (b. 1873), Roy (b. 1879), and Ralph (b. 1884), and his sister Mabel (b. 1881). Also living with the family was Eugene Waite (b. 1866) who is listed as having been born in Wisconsin and having a relationship of "other" with the rest of the household.

Alvin H. Waite seated at desk, 1892
Alvin H. Waite seated at desk, 1892

Alvin was married for the first time between 1880 and 1890. Presumably his first wife died, and sometime before 1900, Alvin married Donna S. Gates. Donna was born in Iowa in 1876, daughter of Orpha E. Gates, who was a widow and living in Ellensburg, Kittitas County, Washington, when they were married. The 1900 United States census shows Donna staying at her mother's home with Helen C. Waite, a girl of 10 years who is presumably Alvin's daughter by his first marriage. Helen may have married by 1910, as she is not present in Alvin and Donna's home in the 1910 census.

From his photograph log, we know that Alvin traveled around the states of Iowa and Illinois in 1890 and that in 1892 he began a trip west, traveling through Kansas, Colorado, Utah, California, and Western Washington. In the summer of 1893, Alvin's log records photographs he made at Mount Rainier, possibly some of the first photographs of that region ever made. In September of 1893, he returned to Illinois via a Canadian route, and documented the Chicago Worlds Fair.

Early in 1894, Alvin returned to Washington via Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. He began photographing in earnest at this time, and his log records photographs made from Buckley to Yakima to New Whatcom (which would become Bellingham). In the summers of 1895, 1896, and 1897 he traveled again to Mount Rainier documenting his trip with numerous photographs.

Ninth Street, Tacoma, 1893
Ninth Street, Tacoma, 1893

The Tacoma city directories from 1897/1898, 1899, and 1900 list Alvin as living in Tacoma in rented rooms and working as a piano tuner, apparently self-employed. His photograph log of 1901 records photographs of his new mother-in-law, and in 1902, he noted the first photographs he took of his new wife, Donna, and also of their new home on 13th Avenue in Seattle. Around 1902, Alvin went to work for D.S. Johnston Company, a piano sales and service company, where he continued to work as a piano tuner. He worked for the D.S. Johnston Company (and its successor company Eilers Music House) as a piano tuner and then as a salesman until 1915, when he apparently bought out another piano dealer, A.W. Meyer, and established the Alvin H. Waite Piano Company, selling pianos and player pianos, as well as renting pianos. This business was first located on 3rd Avenue in downtown Seattle but was later moved to 217 Stewart Street.

Alvin's photography log records fewer photographs made after 1902. Presumably he was busy with his new life in Seattle and, after 1915, with his new business. Sometime around 1904, Alvin and Donna bought a home at 518 34th Avenue in Seattle, where they lived until Alvin died in 1929. Donna continued to live there until at least 1939. She died January 2, 1942 in Seattle.

About the Database

The information for the Alvin H. Waite Photograph Collection was researched and prepared by the UW Libraries Special Collections and Cataloging staff in 2003. A selection of 165 images from 362 photographs from the collection were included in this database. The images were scanned from photographic prints in grayscale and color using a Microtek Scanmaker 9600L and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the images was done to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using the Contentdm software suite. The original collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Alvin H. Waite Photograph Collection. PH Coll 291.

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