In writing about a noted photographer, one should keep the words to a minimum and let the photographs speak for themselves.
Henry Wenzel Jr. was born in Columbus on Jan. 11, 1864. His parents were Henry Sr. and Elizabeth Eichner Wenzel, German immigrants who lived in the area now known as German Village. Henry Sr. was a master cabinetmaker. Young Henry had a sister, Eleanore (1858-1921), who later married Gabriel Blumer, a partner in the Blumer-Sartin Meat Packing Company of Columbus.
In 1887, Henry Jr. married Nellie C. Wilson. Their daughter and only child Florence Elizabeth was born on Jan. 8, 1888.
Henry became a partner with a Mr. Goble in a photography studio on South High Street. After Mr. Goble left, a Mr. Baker took his place. Because rural areas near Columbus lacked a professional photographer, Wenzel and Baker took turns going to London and Plain City two days a week. In 1895, Wenzel decided to open a studio in Plain City, and moved here with his family. His studio was on West Main Street above the Kahler & Justice Clothing Store, now the site of Grub House Pizza.
The family became active in many groups and programs in Plain City. They were members of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Wenzel was a member of the Masons and I.O.O.F. and Mrs. Wenzel belonged to their women’s auxiliaries, the Eastern Star and Rebekahs. Mr. Wenzel played both the violin and the cornet in several local musical groups.
In 1905 the Wenzels built a new home on West Main Street. Daughter Florence was not enthused about the move until she learned that the house would boast electricity, indoor plumbing and central heating.
Henry Wenzel was at work in his studio on Sunday, June 16, 1912, when a “cyclone” blew through downtown. Despite a utility pole crashing through a front window, he was soon at work photographing the damage around town.
In 1917 there was a national coal shortage, and the Wenzels were unable to purchase coal to heat their home. Florence had married Edward Garman Knoske in 1914, and they lived in Springfield. Henry and Nellie moved to Springfield, and eventually sold their Plain City home.
Henry Wenzel died on Dec. 6, 1925, and Nellie followed him on Feb. 20, 1926. They are buried with other members of the Wenzel family in Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus.
At the Historical Society we have learned to identify Wenzel photographs even when they are not labelled as such by the props that recur in them — the wicker chair, the tufted blanket, the “Indian” blanket, the round garden urn, the pedestal, the floral backdrop. Wenzel photographs give us a wonderful look into turn-of-the-century small town America.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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