Prestigious photographer established business and home in Danville

Published 6:43 pm Friday, February 8, 2019

T.B. Simmons began his photography business in October 1914 in the upper floor of the Banzhaf & McDowell building on Main Street in Danville.

Simmons came from Somerset to Danville when he purchased the business from Jack Cassady.

Cassady purchased half interest in the leading studio in Atlanta, Georgia and moved there with his wife, and son, Jack.

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Simmons was said to be a fine photographer and came to Danville highly endorsed, according to an article in The Advocate-Messenger archives.

He continued to maintain his studio in Somerset, and made his residence in Danville. He specialized in all kinds of outdoor photography.

Simmons was a graduate of the Southern School of Photography and had been a photographer for 17 years when he came to Danville.

Editorial praises work

People in many towns the size of Danville were compelled to go to the larger cities in order to secure a high class photographer, according to an editorial in The Advocate in October 1916.

“This is not the case in Danville, fortunately it can be said without the slightest exaggeration that one of the best photographers in the state is located here. T.B. Simmons has his studio on Main Street. The class of pictures which is being turned out daily by this man is the source of a great deal of favorable comments, and it is a credit to the town to be able to boast of a business with this prestige,” the editorial read.

“Simmons has made his photography a life study and his entire time is devoted to the study of better portraits for Danville and Boyle County.

“The high class of work is really a testimonial of the talent which Simmons has for this work,in other words, he endeavors to give to the people only what he considers better than they can secure in any other studio and he is being rewarded by a flattering patronage for the public in general from this and surround territory.

“It is an easy matter to have your photo made at his place, as everything possible is done to assist the patron in getting that particular kind of work that may be desired, and it is a pleasure for Simmons to wait on you and he will at all times serve you in the best possible manner. It is the duty of every citizen to have their portrait made, for the generation to come will look to you to finish them with this little token of esteem and respect.

“If you are contemplating a portrait for yourself, your child, your home, consult Simmons and secure his prices and you will be assured of the best that can be had, no matter where you go nor how much you will be forced to pay.”

Simmons also did Kodak film developing and finishing three times each week and at a most reasonable price.

“There is a great deal of truth in the saying, ‘You can buy anything your friends can give you, but their photograph,” the article read.

Installs new equipment

Simmons, was always up-to-date when it came to equipment and modern methods of photography. He completed the building of an electric skylight in February 1924 in his studio on Main Street. The skylight was a box-shaped affair and contained six 1,000-watt electric lights, making it possible for him to take photographs in the evening or at night. People were invited to stop by and see the lights.

Simmons retires

Simmons retired in September 1949 after 52 years behind the camera and in the darkroom at his studio at 338 ½ West Main. He planned to spend more time hunting and fishing.

He also planned to sell the studio and step into semi-retirement. He continued to do commercial photography.

From 1918 until 1949, he had photographed Danville faces and events from his studio.

His story photographically, goes back to what some of the youngsters in the profession today would probably call the “dark ages” of photography. It was a day of homemade plates when Simmons first started snapping shutters of wet plates.

From films to color photography and coated lenses, from mercury lamps to photofloods, from tricky, often dangerous magnesium flashes to flash bulbs — that was Simmons’ story.

Simons was born in 1896 in Macon County, Tennessee. He studied as a young man at Southern School of Photography in McMinnville, Tennessee. He began his photography business in Lafayette and Hartsville, Tennessee. He and his brother, C.W. Simmons moved to Salina, Tennessee in 1903 where he met W.M. Hull, father of Cordell Hull, former Secretary of State.

Hull, a logger, told Simmons he did not have a house to rent to them, but he would build them one and a studio as soon as the lumber was sawed. Until the building was completed, the Simmons brothers operated in a tent in the courthouse yard in Salina. He stayed there for the next eight years.

Simmons claims he was the first user of “triple coated” plates in 1897.

This process, for films, was introduced by a major photographic supply house, many years later.

He discovered the method by accident when he failed to cover completely a plate he was making when he coated it with collodion. The results he obtained from the accident plate led him to continue the technique in making his own plates. The coating gave him better definition, finer portraits.

During world War II, Simmons went back to using glass plates, supplied by leading photographic manufacturers in the country, because of the film shortage for civilian use.

After partial retirement, Simmons spent more time hunting and fishing. His wife didn’t expect him to be underfoot too much at their W. Walnut St. home.

She had her garden and prize red and white poinsettias to care for while he enjoyed hunting and fishing. He was was one of the earliest regular fishermen on Herrington Lake when it was formed in 1925.

He was also a champion checker-player.

After his wife died, he moved to his old hometown of Monticello where he lived a few years before moving to Airport Road, near Junction City, where he was still active in photography. Simmons died Jan. 26, 1949, at the age of 90 in Danville.

He was survived by a nephew, Dr. John Simmons of Monticello; a brother, Noah D. Simmons of Indianapolis; and two sisters, Geneva Mooningham of Washington, D.C., and Vera M. Willis of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

He was buried in Antioch Cemetery in Pulaski County.