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Prew Brothers, Photographers

The Prew (original French spelling was Proulx) family originated in France, and later relocated to North America, first settling in Saint-Ours, Quebec, Canada. Nicholas and Sophia (Goddard/Gaudet) Prew later moved to West Springfield, Massachusetts, where they raised a large family that included sons Joseph (c. 1844-1917), John (1845-c.1916), and George (1855-1930). Three years' after the birth of their youngest son, the Prew clan moved to Holyoke, where in time they were to become among the town's wealthiest and most prominent citizens and property owners. After briefly assisting their father, who was a coal and wood merchant, the sons began charting their own entrepreneurial paths. It was Joseph N. Prew's interest in photography that led to the opening of what later became known as "Prew's Picture Rooms", first at 'Hutchins' Block, on the corner of High and Hampden Streets in 1860 (although some sources state 1861).

For the next 17 years, Prew Bros. (as their name appeared in advertising), specialized in portrait photography and cartes-des-visite. The studio later moved to the section of Holyoke known as Fuller Block. It appears as if John J. and George J. Prew's involvement in the business eventually went little beyond the name as there were many other ventures considerably more lucrative at the time than photography. George J. Prew became a successful local clothing merchant. John J. Prew, though more heavily involved in the photographic operations early on, had once established a photographic partnership in Springfield with Edward Clapp. They specialized in vignettes (portraits that manipulate harsh lighting to soften images) and CDVs. After disbanding Clapp & Prew, with Mr. Clapp continuing as a solo photographer in Springfield, Mr. Prew joined his brother Joseph in Holyoke for a few years. Their sepia prints of local residents offer a unique insight into daily life in nineteenth-century New England. Mr. John Prew later became a highly successful contractor and brick manufacturer, and was also very involved in civic affairs. With outside interests demanding more of his time, Mr. Joseph Prew closed Prew Bros. in 1877, and thereafter concentrated on mortgage brokering, real estate, and owning several winning racehorses. He succumbed in 1917 due to complications related to a home coal gas accident that occurred on November 27, 1916.

There are only a few Prew Bros. CDVs still in existence, and are regarded by photographic historians as prized collectables.






Ref:

1916 Encyclopedia of Massachusetts (Boston: The American Historical Society), pp. 103-104.

1902 "Our County and Its People": A History of Hampden County, Vol. III (Boston, MA: Century Memorial Publishing Company), pp. 113-114, 119-120.

2013 Prew (Proulx) of Holyoke, MA (URL: http://boards.ancestry.com/surnames.prew/27/mb.ashx).

2005 Sketch of Holyoke by George H. Allyn (URL: http://www.zapix.com/holyokemass/transcript/allyn).


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