Inwood’s First Selfie: The Work of Vermilyea Avenue Photographer William Davis Hassler

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Selfie: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”  -Oxford English Dictionary

William Davis Hassler selfie, 1913. (MCNY)
William Davis Hassler selfie, 1913. (MCNY)

In 2013 the Oxford English Dictionary officially recognized the word “selfie”, but as early as 1913 Inwood photographer William Davis Hassler was perfecting the technique.

William Davis Hassler self portrait ,1917, MCNY.
William Davis Hassler self portrait ,1917, MCNY.

Hassler, a skilled photographer best known for his panoramic views of New York City, lived and worked out of 150 Vermilyea, #44.

Hassler's studio inside 150 Vermilyea Avenue, Apartment #44 in 1915. (MCNY)
Hassler’s studio inside 150 Vermilyea Avenue, Apartment #44 in 1915. (MCNY)

From this small studio, really just a nook carved from his living quarters, the prolific shutterbug prepared for photographic forays around the city with his employer, real estate titan Joseph P. Day.

150 Vermilyea Avenue.  William Davis Hassler lived in apartment #44.
150 Vermilyea Avenue. William Davis Hassler lived in apartment #44.

During a period spanning 1910 through his death in 1921 Hassler captured life across the five boroughs.

High-angle shot of the Manhattan tower of the Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan, and the piers along the East River, August 25, 1914. Shot from the Brooklyn tower of the Manhattan Bridge. (NYHS)
High-angle shot of the Manhattan tower of the Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan, and the piers along the East River, August 25, 1914. Shot from the Brooklyn tower of the Manhattan Bridge. (NYHS)

From the dizzying heights of bridges and skyscrapers, saddled with heavy photographic equipment, the fearless Hassler documented a New York that might have been forgotten, if not for his thousands of surviving slides.

Photographic Review- A Journal Devoted to Photography, Volume 24, Issue 3, 1918.
Photographic Review- A Journal Devoted to Photography, Volume 24, Issue 3, 1918.

Using a Kodak No. 8 Cirkut Outfit camera, Hassler was able to take huge panoramic photographs.  Attached to a swivel, the No. 8 could shoot four-foot long images showing more than 180 degrees.

William Davis Hassler in 1915 photograph. (MCNY)
William Davis Hassler in 1915 photograph. (MCNY)

The New York Historical Society today maintains more than 3,000 of Hassler’s images.

Let’s take a look at some photographs taken in Inwood—the place the Hassler called home.

Hassler’s Apartment: 150 Vermilyea Avenue, #44

Interior view of 150 Vermilyea Avenue, Apartment 44, New York City, undated. Dining table with fishbowl and children's toys on floor.
Interior view of 150 Vermilyea Avenue, Apartment 44, New York City, undated. Dining table with fishbowl and children’s toys on floor. (NYHS)
Emma ironing in the Hassler apartment at 150 Vermilyea Avenue, New York City, July 3, 1913.
Emma ironing in the Hassler apartment at 150 Vermilyea Avenue, New York City, July 3, 1913. (NYHS)

Inwood Hill Park & Isham Park

Larry Casey and John Connolly posed in their winter uniforms in the snow, Isham Park, Inwood, New York City, March 7, 1915. Closeup
Larry Casey and John Connolly posed in their winter uniforms in the snow, Isham Park, Inwood, New York City, March 7, 1915. (NYHS)

Larry Casey and John Connolly posed in their winter uniforms in the snow, Isham Park, Inwood, New York City, March 7, 1915.
Larry Casey and John Connolly posed in their winter uniforms in the snow, Isham Park, Inwood, New York City, March 7, 1915. (NYHS)
Boats at Seeley's Place in Inwood, Reliance Woods, December 27, 1914.
Boats at Seeley’s Place in Inwood, Reliance Woods, December 27, 1914. (NYHS)
Boat in the yard of the Reliance Motor Boat Company, Inwood, ca. 1910.
Boat in the yard of the Reliance Motor Boat Company, Inwood, ca. 1910. (NYHS)
Boats on Spuyten Duyvil Creek, ca. 1910.
Boats on Spuyten Duyvil Creek, ca. 1910. (NYHS)
Fire engines (horse-drawn) on dirt road at night, Inwood Hill, [1914]. Prescott Cottage fire.
Fire engines (horse-drawn) on dirt road at night, Inwood Hill, [1914]. Prescott Cottage fire. (NYHS)
Mission of the Redeemer, Isham Street and Seaman Avenue, New York City, September 5, 1915, NYHS.
Mission of the Redeemer, Isham Street and Seaman Avenue, New York City, September 5, 1915. (NYHS)
Night illuminations in Isham Park, New York City, circa 1916.
Night illuminations in Isham Park, New York City, circa 1916. (NYHS)
High angle shot of children working in the Isham Park school garden, New York City, August 16, 1915. Shot from the roof of the conservatory, NYHS
High angle shot of children working in the Isham Park school garden, New York City, August 16, 1915. Shot from the roof of the conservatory, (NYHS)
William Gray Hassler working in the school garden in Isham Park, New York City, August 5, 1914. NYHS
William Gray Hassler working in the school garden in Isham Park, New York City, August 5, 1914. (NYHS)
William Gray Hassler's school garden, Isham Park, New York City, September 14, 1914, NYHS.
William Gray Hassler’s school garden, Isham Park, New York City, September 14, 1914. (NYHS)

Church of the Good Shepherd

Winter view of the Paulist Fathers' Church [i.e. new Church of the Good Shepherd], Broadway and 207th Street, March 7, 1915.
Winter view of the Paulist Fathers’ Church [i.e. new Church of the Good Shepherd], Broadway and 207th Street, March 7, 1915. (NYHS)
Good Shepherd, circa 1915.  (MCNY)
Good Shepherd, circa 1915. (MCNY)
Good Shepherd,  circa 1915.  (MCNY)
Good Shepherd, circa 1915. (MCNY)
Good Shepherd,  circa 1915.  (MCNY)
Good Shepherd, circa 1915. (MCNY)
Barge 'Katherine Hammond' at 207th Street on the East River, New York City, August 30, 1914. Photographed for United Electric Light & Power Company.
Barge ‘Katherine Hammond’ at 207th Street on the East River, New York City, August 30, 1914. Photographed for United Electric Light and Power Company. (Fort George Amusement Park in background) (NYHS)
Coca-Cola shack at the corner of Broadway and Riverside Drive, New York City, April 30, 1914.
Coca-Cola shack at the corner of Broadway and Riverside Drive, New York City, April 30, 1914. (NYHS)

High-angle shot of a trolley car making its way down a slight incline, 207th Street, August 20, [1911?].
High-angle shot of a trolley car making its way down a slight incline, 207th Street, August 20, [1911?]. (NYHS)
General Inwood Photos

Thomas Creighton and Mr. Abercrombie of Irvington, seated in a car at Broadway and 207th Street, New York City, July 24, 1914.
Thomas Creighton and Mr. Abercrombie of Irvington, seated in a car at Broadway and 207th Street, New York City, July 24, 1914. (NYHS)
Toddler 'Duffy,' on front stoop of Vermilyea Avenue apartment building, undated. (NYHS)
Toddler ‘Duffy,’ on front stoop of Vermilyea Avenue apartment building, undated. (NYHS)
Unidentified policeman directing traffic at the corner of Broadway and Dyckman Street, New York City, April 30, 1914.
Unidentified policeman directing traffic at the corner of Broadway and Dyckman Street, New York City, April 30, 1914. (NYHS)

Panoramic Inwood

'Dyckman panorama', 1911-1912.
‘Dyckman panorama’, 1911-1912. (NYHS) Click to enlarge
'Dyckman panorama', 1911-1912.
‘Dyckman panorama’, 1911-1912. (NYHS) Click to Enlarge.
William Davis Hassler World War I draft registration card.
William Davis Hassler World War I draft registration card.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Great work putting this together! I grew up here and moved back during my 30s. I no longer live there, but will be taking my kids on some tours of the old neighborhood. I love local history!

  2. Absolutely wonderful pictures of my favorite place on earth. Trying to place things is difficult. Nice to know someone took these amazing pictures from my Vermilyea Ave.

  3. Cole, these are wonderful photos! Thank you! Look at the lower (2nd) panoramic picture. Notice that it is folded on the right side. I’ve seen the right part many times through the years, but here is the whole picture. Wow! I can see the three buildings, 149-159 Vermilyea Ave, where I grew up. They were built in 1912 according to present city records.

  4. Fantastic photos . Enjoyed everyone of them. Amazing what the Inwood area looked like in the early 20th century. As an former Inwood resident you can really appreciate this photographers work.

  5. The photos are great. As an aside, I teach college mathematics and a few years ago, I had a student with the last name of Vermilyea. Since I grew up in Inwood, I mentioned to him that his last name was the name of a street in the neighborhood I grew up in. He told me that he was, in fact, a member of the family that the avenue is named after. Small world!

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