20th Century Virtual Plymouth
Charles Draper Collection
The Charles Draper Collection is composed of more than 500 photographs, postcards, negatives, and glass plate negatives. Most of the glass plate negatives were donated to the museum in 2004 by the grandson of Draper, but the Museum has been actively collecting other images taken by this photographer for many years. Please journey through the Draper photograph collection and get a glimpse of what life was like for one family during the late 19th and early part of the 20th century. The images are both bitter and sweet. Our story begins in 1865.
C.G., as his friends called him, was born Charles Gregory Draper on May 19, 1865, to Joel and Martha Ann (Goodell) Draper of South Lyon , Michigan. Charles attended a watchmaker's school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in 1891 he opened his first watch/jewelry/optical business in South Lyon. Two years later he moved to Plymouth with his good friend Charles Fisher. Draper initially rented a window space in the old R. G. Hall dry goods store, located across from the Conner Building. While in transit moving his supplies from the South Lyon store to this new location in Plymouth, the entire block of stores on Main Street burned down.
So Draper decided to move to the general store at the corner of Main and Sutton Streets (renamed Penniman Avenue in 1912), and rented the space in the front window for watch and clock repair. He later occupied two other sites on Penniman Avenue prior to moving to the address of 288-290 Main Street. At this location he sold a variety of wares in addition to jewelry, glasses, and watches, including china, silver plates, enamelware, purses, albums, celluloid goods, Dresden Tea Sets, cameras, musical instruments, medallions, mirrors, and sewing machine supplies. He stayed in business for 47 years, from 1893 until 1941, and played an integral part in the history of Plymouth.
Draper held one of the first licenses of Optometry in Michigan. He served his community as the village's Doctor of Optometry, and in 1904 served the important role as Watch Inspector for the Pere Marquette Railroad. He was responsible for keeping all railroad clocks and watches synchronized.
In 1898, a home was built for Charles and his mother. In September 1901, Martha died and on January 1, 1902, he married a Plymouth dressmaker, Satie A. H. Merrell. She was born to Horace R. Merrell and Heneretta Lewis on September 25, 1878, in New Boston, Michigan. The couple had two children, Merrell born on May 14, 1906, and Winifred Martha, born on September 17, 1908. There are birthday parties, maple syrup gatherings, games, parades, and cozy family portraits among the memories of what life was like for the children growing up during the early part of the 20th century. Winifred remembered exercising horses after school at the stables that were once located in the back of the old Penniman -Allen Theatre.
The Drapers were well received within the community; Satie was known for her charming personality and hospitality. She enjoyed a good laugh and had many gatherings at her home located at 1046 Church Street. Celebrations, family reunions, dinners, and picnics at parks are just some of the themes you will see within the "People" photo archive.
Draper was a man of many talents. As an amateur photographer, he was like the first news reporter in his community. He recorded Plymouth's advent of technology. The transformation of wooden storefronts into brick, the installation of the Interuban train, the beginning of telephone stations, the Daisy Manufacturing Company, the paving of Main Street, and the first cars to rumble down Penniman Avenue are just a few of the images you'll find in this collection. Within the "Transportation," "Buildings," Businesses," and "Street" archives are accounts of some of the very first moments, some horrific, that Draper captured here in Plymouth. For example, the aftermath of the Main Street business block fire of 1893, the Pere-Marquette train wreck of 1907, and the Plymouth High School fire of 1916.
Draper also enjoyed collecting and repairing grandfather clocks, was skillful in making cabinetry, and wrote poetry. His skill and pride in his workmanship was known in the Plymouth community. A man of many talents, he took time out of his busy schedule to include library days each Tuesday at his store, record tender moments in his children's lives, entertain guests in his home, and compile a collection of poetry for his wife. Draper was charitable giving donations to the San Francisco Relief Aid to help victims of the 1906 earthquake, as well as making donations to support local causes.
Merrell and Winifred both graduated from Plymouth High School--Merrell in 1924 and Winifred in 1927. Merrell married Margaret Stevens and served as a commander in the Navy as a dentist during WWII. He also taught at a Dentist School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. When Winifred was 25 years old, she married Elmore Carney. He practiced Optometry on Penniman Avenue and later on Main Street in Plymouth. Both her son and grandson would later become optometrists as well.
After many years in business, Charles Draper suffered a stroke and died on January 26, 1941, shortly after his 39th wedding anniversary. He is buried in the South Lyon Cemetery. His beloved wife Satie died on her daughter's birthday, September 17, 1965, and is buried next to her husband. Merrell died in June 1979 and is buried next to his parents. Winifred Carney, the last surviving child of Charles and Satie, died peacefully on May 1, 2008, just four months before her 100th birthday.
Within this unique photographic collection, Charles Draper managed not only to record his family's life but also to chronologically record the development of technology that changed the village of Plymouth into a city from the 1890s to the 1930s. Enjoy your journey!