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Claude C. Matlack Biography

Matlack

Claude C. Matlack

Claude Carson Matlack (1878-1944) was born in Louisville, Kentucky on October 30, 1878. His father, William Henry Matlack, a master craftsman and leader in the plumbing industry, was also from Louisville. The year before Claude was born, William bought the plumbing firm where he had apprenticed. Over the next forty years, he expanded the company into manufacturing and selling fixtures, including an adjustable gas burner he invented. He also helped establish local and national associations of Master Plumbers. He sold the company in 1921 and worked on water supply and safety issues for the city of Louisville until his death in 1926.

Claude's mother, Minnie Freeman Matlack, was born in Oldham County, Kentucky. She attended private schools near her home, received university instruction from her father, Dr. Dennis L. Freeman, and briefly studied art in Paris. In the late 1800's, Minnie drew plans for almost 200 residences and supervised some home construction. In 1913 she patented a life-buoy. Both she and her husband were very active in civic affairs and the Baptist Church, serving on numerous boards and committees.

Photography was apparently an interest Claude shared with his mother who was listed as official photographer for a large group touring Egypt, Palestine and Europe in 1896. The oldest of three boys, Claude attended public schools and graduated from DuPont Manual Training School. He went on to study engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Pictures of the Purdue campus are among the earliest photographs in this collection.

Claude began working for his father's firm, W. H. Matlack Company, as a fixture designer around the start of the twentieth century. According to city directories, he was promoted to manager in 1903. That same year, while traveling to Pineville, Kentucky on a business trip, he happened to meet Dr. J. B. Marvin of Louisville on a train. Dr. Marvin, a major benefactor and trustee of Oneida Baptist Institute, invited the twenty-four year old amateur photographer to accompany him as he visited the school in Oneida. Claude accepted the invitation, changed his itinerary so he could stay in Oneida for a week, and returned many times in the years that followed. In fact, he spent most of his summer vacations working at the institute and photographing the people in Clay County. Matlack's last known visit to Oneida was recorded in the school paper in the summer of 1916.

Professionally during this period, Claude specialized in designing and manufacturing both gas and electric light fixtures while working for the family business. Between 1912 and 1916 Louisville city directories list both Claude C. Matlack Lighting Fixtures, first at 311 W. Main and later at 417-419 S. Fourth Street, and the William H. Matlack Company. Photographs of several light fixtures and the Claude C. Matlack company showroom and workroom are part of this collection.

Claude married Clara Goode from Lexington, Kentucky before moving to south Florida in late 1915 or early 1916. He was initially employed as an electrical engineer in Florida, laying out water and electrical plants for Pan American hangars at Dinner Key and working on hospital construction in Key West during World War I. He still pursued photography as a hobby, however, and in 1918 he opened a professional photography studio in Miami. He abandoned engineering soon after that and, according to The Miami Herald, went on to become "probably...the best known photographer" in Miami.

With a business card that said "maker" of motion pictures and commercial photographs, Matlack captured all aspects of life in the early twentieth century in Miami and southern Florida. He covered residential development, commercial construction, recreation, farming, Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, the Everglades, the Overseas Highway, aviation, entertainment, fishing, storms, the Bahamas, and many other topics. In the 1930's he compiled "A Pictorial History of the Development of Miami Beach" which was exhibited in Miami Beach Library and Art Center. Over 7,000 of his Florida area photographs are archived at HistoryMiami Archives & Research Center (formerly the Historical Museum of Southern Florida Research Center) in Miami.

Claude's marriage to Clara Goode was dissolved in the early 1920's. He married Margaret E. LeMonde from Charlotte, North Carolina on September 3, 1924. They had one son, William Claude, in May 1927 and then divorced in 1937. Margaret and William Claude moved to Louisville after the divorce, but Claude remained in Florida. He developed heart problems a few years later and was in the process of retiring and moving his collections to a small studio with living quarters when he died on January 11, 1944.

While most of the photographs in this collection are associated with Matlack's trips to Clay County, there are over 150 pictures of family, friends and Louisville area locations which appear to have been taken between 1900 and 1916. Among the friends' photographs are snapshots of Alice Hegan Rice, author of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. Another series includes scenes from the Rocky Mountains, perhaps taken by Claude while traveling to visit his brother Leonard who was married in Yellowstone Park in 1908 and was later stationed with the U. S. Army on the Mexican border.

One added note of interest is that Claude C. Matlack was a tenth generation descendant of Timothy Matlack, a clerk of the Continental Congress who is believed to be the engrosser of the original Declaration of Independence housed at the National Archives in Washington DC and the first person to read the document aloud to the public in 1776.

References

"An Inventory of the Claude C. Matlack Photographs." HistoryMiami. Miami, Florida. http://historymiamiarchives.org/guides/?p=collections/controlcard&id=6. Accessed April 10, 2012.

Barnard, Ruth. "Miamian's Ancestor Wrote Declaration." The Miami Herald, August, 1927.

History of Kentucky, the Blue Grass State, Volume III. Chicago, Ill.: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1928, pp. 862-866.

The Oneida Mountaineer, Oneida, Kentucky, May 15, 1916.

The Oneida Mountaineer, Oneida, Kentucky, July 15, 1916.

Owen, W. T. Who's Who in Louisville: Biographical Sketches of Louisville Men and Women of Achievement. Louisville, Ky.: The Standard Printing Co., 1926. p. 112.

Reno, Doris. "Historic Photographs Shown at Miami Beach." The Miami Herald, Date unavailable.

Thomas, Samuel W. Dawn Comes to the Mountains. Louisville, Ky.: George Rogers Clark Press, 1981.

Thomas, Samuel W. "The Oneida Albums: Photography, Oral Tradition, and the Appalachian Experience." The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 80, no. 4 (Autumn, 1982): 432-443.

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