Austin’s Art Shop operated in downtown Brevard for 73 years. William Charles Austin and his wife, Mildred Galbraith Austin, were both New York natives and trained photographers. William was a disabled World War I veteran who taught photography at the Southern School of Photography in McMinnville, Tennessee, before the family moved to Waynesville, where he ran a government-run photography school. Mildred, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was an accountant before getting married and helping run the business when the Austin moved to Brevard and opened a store in 1925. Their children were born in the various places they have. lived: Bill in Oneida, New York, in 1921, Jeannette in McMinnville in 1922, Pat in Brevard in 1927 and Joan in Brevard in 1929. The store, originally called Austin’s Studio, opened upstairs in the Lawrence Building on Jordan Street in 1925 and remained there until 1930 They offered Kodak cameras and equipment, photo processing, personalized framing, and professional photography services. Austin then moved upstairs to 22 Broad St. in the McMinn Building, where he remained until 1939. The last move was to 11 E. Main St., where he remained for the next 59 years. . The 2021 company at the same location is today “The Cherry Tree”. The Wilkins Insurance Agency, which underwent numerous name changes, also operated in the same location. William Austin ran the insurance agency, as confirmed by the 1930 census, which lists his profession as “insurance bureau manager.” Photography was probably more successful, because in the 1940 census his list of professions had changed to “Photographer, employer”. Tragedy struck the Austin family in 1954 when William and Mildred were killed in a car crash after being struck by a drunk driver on their way back from an army meeting in Indiana. Their now adult children came together to run the business in the absence of their parents: Pat was the photographer, Jeannette was the store manager, Joan was the accountant and Bill, along with Joan’s husband Dick Keirstead, was the ‘personalized framer. In addition, they were each very talented artistically and musically and involved in civic organizations in the community. In 1959, the store underwent a major renovation and was renamed “Austin’s Art Shop” to reflect new music-related services and products such as records, instruments, accessories, sheet music and instructional manuals. They closed in 1998 when Jeannette died of tuberculosis, although it was also the start of the digital age of photography and was seen as a good time to bow out. In 2003, the Austin family donated their extensive collection of historical photos to the Transylvanian County Archives (a division of JHPC). When the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room was built as part of the new library building in 2006, the photo collection fell under the direction of the County Library. The Picturing the Past column would not have been possible without this generous donation from the Austin.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Laura Gardner, Local History Librarian. For more information, comments or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or (828) 884-1820.