The Eye reports Gilbert Horton's floating photography gallery to be in Snohomish on May 29, 1886.

  • By Warner Blake
  • Posted 11/01/2007
  • Essay 8338

On May 29, 1886, The Eye reports Gilbert Horton's floating photography gallery to be in Snohomish. The Eye, which is Snohomish's second newspaper, lists under its "Eye-Deas" column that "Horton's floating photograph gallery came up from Stanwood this week."  Gilbert D. Horton (1853-1936) along with somebody named Lewis living in Stanwood have operated the floating gallery from the time it was built in 1884. Horton will operate it until 1888.

The Palace Floating Gallery 

“In the spring of 1884 I built a boat at Tacoma which I called the Palace Floating Gallery,” related Horton to the Snohomish County Tribune on November 8, 1928.  “It was sixteen feet wide and sixty feet long and contained a skylight operating room, dark room, two state rooms, kitchen and dining room.”  Horton went on to tell how he sailed to Olympia, then to Blakely and Port Madison.  While crossing Puget Sound, he got caught in a gale that landed him on the beach at Skagit Head.  “High tide took me off the next morning and I crossed the bay to the Snohomish River, sailing up the Snohomish to make pictures.” 

Horton’s portrait business must have been very popular, judging by the number of images that continue to turn up in family albums with the distinctive Palace Floating Gallery logo stamped on the reverse. Looking back, we are even more indebted to him for his exterior shots of the riverside city in its first bloom of wooden wharfs, the early streetscapes of dirt paths and white picket fences, and even of Snohomish’s elite on a picnic outing. Horton was in this business for less than five years, yet his images have already spoken to generations about the origins of this place, and they will inspire countless more viewers for years to come. 

Pioneer Merchant 

Horton’s obituary on the front page of the May 14, 1936, issue of the Snohomish County Tribune, referred to him as “a pioneer merchant,” while the old timers around town called him “Gil.”  He was born on January 6, 1853, in a small town on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan, and began studying the art of photography when only 16 years old, eventually operating a gallery of his own. 

Horton first came west in 1877. After a short stay he returned to Michigan, and then moved to the Pacific Coast with the goal of establishing a floating photo gallery. He married Margaret Huff, a native of Indiana and they had two daughters, Cora and Ella. 

In 1886 the partnership with Lewis dissolved; and the elaborate studio stamp on the reverse of the photographs changed from “Horton & Lewis’ Palace Floating Gallery” to read “Views of Puget Sound/Palace Floating Gallery/G. D. Horton, Artist.”  On September 1, 1888, The Eye reported, “Horton has sold his floating gallery to a Seattle gentleman who will take it to Stanwood next week.” 

Horton sold the gallery in 1888 to open a stationery, art, and wallpaper store on 1st Street with his brother Harvey. (Harvey sold his interest to Gilbert 10 years later in order to join the gold rush to Alaska and Canada's Klondike River). The store remained Horton’s profession for many years “until a fire cleaned me out," he told the Snohomish County Tribune 40 years later. 

Apparently the big fire of 1911 destroyed his inventory although the three-story brick building at 1118 1st Street, the address of his store in the 1905 directory, actually stopped the fire from moving farther west. Horton remained in Snohomish, living on Avenue B until his death after a year of illness.  He was 83 years old.

Sources: “Eye-Deas,” The Eye, Snohomish City, May 29, 1886, p. 1; “Here’s Something for You Duck Hunters To Shoot at -- G. Horton Shot 3,000 of ‘Em in One Winter,” The Snohomish County Tribune, November 8, 1928, p. 1; “G. D. Horton Dies After Long Illness,” Ibid., May 14, 1936, p. 1.

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