Arts & Culture

Capturing the moment: William Baylis and his early images of Cedar Rapids

Exhibit on display at Cedar Rapids Public Library through August

Posing on the rocks at “the Palisades” near Mount Vernon in 1909, photographer William Baylis and friends look down on a couple reading a book. To the far right of the picture, Baylis can be seen posing with the group, holding his hat in his left hand. If you look closely, you can see his hat conceals the camera shutter release cable he used to take the photograph. The area where the picture was taken — which would become Palisades-Kepler State Park in 1922 — was a favorite spot for summer outings, with boat rentals, summer cottages and a log cabin restaurant. (Photo by William Baylis/The History Center)
Posing on the rocks at “the Palisades” near Mount Vernon in 1909, photographer William Baylis and friends look down on a couple reading a book. To the far right of the picture, Baylis can be seen posing with the group, holding his hat in his left hand. If you look closely, you can see his hat conceals the camera shutter release cable he used to take the photograph. The area where the picture was taken — which would become Palisades-Kepler State Park in 1922 — was a favorite spot for summer outings, with boat rentals, summer cottages and a log cabin restaurant. (Photo by William Baylis/The History Center)
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William Baylis was a landscape photographer — a bit of a character, you can just tell — who photographed Cedar Rapids and Linn County in the early 1900s.

His black-and-white pictures and colorized postcards show Cedar Rapids street scenes and Eastern Iowa landscapes.

An exhibit of those pictures — some of considerable size — and postcards, “Snap Shots by William Baylis,” is on display on the third floor of the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, through August.

Baylis was born Sept. 12, 1873, in Wheatland, a small city in western Clinton County. When he was 15, his family moved to Cedar Rapids, where he developed an interest in photography, which was by then a technology available to many.

But few went as far afield as Baylis, photographing not just his friends, but landscapes, the river, an ice house, a baseball club, a streetcar barn.

Taking pictures became Baylis’ life’s work, providing him with a successful career that spanned decades.

He never married, had no children, and died May 22, 1957, at the Linn County Home. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in southeast Cedar Rapids.

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Baylis is credited with taking close to 25,000 photographs. Over the years, people have donated close to 1,000 of his images to The History Center, which prompted the display at the library.

 
 
 
 
 

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