Meet J.F.T. Isham, Teacher, Surveyor, Farmer, and Photographer
John Findlay Torrence (Torry) Isham was born November 19, 1865, the youngest son of John George and his second wife, Sarah Cooper Isham. John G. came to Waterville in 1840 as a superintendent on the construction of the canal. The Coopers were early Waterville pioneers. John G. and Sarah built a Greek Revival farm home on River Tract 42 overlooking the river and the canal. This home stands today, opposite the Farnsworth Park shelter house. Torry worked as a boy and young man on his father’s farm and was educated in the local schools. He received a teacher’s certificate in 1885 and taught at the Neowash School on Neowash Road. He also learned surveying, possibly under local surveyor Charles Shoemaker. He worked as a surveyor in several northwestern states for the Great Northern Railroad Line from 1888 to 1891 while courting the love of his life, Emeline (Emma) Knaggs, long distance.
Torry and Emma married in 1892 and settled in on the family farm. Torry worked the farm, did some survey work and also was a bridge inspector. He became interested in home photography around 1900, when he purchased a big wooden box and bellows camera and home developing equipment. He took many photos of local scenes that interested him, many of his own farm and animals. The photos were taken on glass negatives, which were developed and printed in his home darkroom. Some of the iconic Waterville scenes found commonly in the public domain are Torry’s work, especially the photographs of the construction of the Ohio Electric Bridge at Roche de Boeuf.
J.F.T. Isham died in 1933, but his survey equipment is on display at the Sargent House museum. His camera, photography equipment, and some photographic prints, are displayed in the Wakeman Archival Research Center. Many of his glass negatives are held by the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University. A more extensive biography of the Isham family can be found in the W.H.S. publication Waterville, Ohio Memorial Profiles which can be obtained at the Wakeman Archives.