The Austin Family outside their shop at the East
Main Street location, mid-1940s. From left to right: Mildred, Bill Jr., Joan,
William, Jeannette, and Pat.
Austin’s Art Shop operated in downtown Brevard for 73 years.
William Charles Austin and wife Mildred Galbraith Austin were both natives of
New York and trained photographers. William was a disabled veteran of World War
I who taught photography at the Southern School of Photography in McMinnville,
TN before the family moved to Waynesville, where he headed a government
operated school of photography. Mildred, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was
a bookkeeper before being married and helping to run the business when the
Austins moved to Brevard and opened a shop in 1925.
Their children were born in the various locations where they
lived: Bill in Oneida, NY in 1921, Jeannette in McMinnville, TN in 1922, Pat in
Brevard, NC in 1927, and Joan in Brevard, NC in 1929. The shop, originally called
Austin’s Studio, first opened in the upstairs of the Lawrence Building on
Jordan Street in 1925 and remained there until 1930. They offered Kodak cameras
and equipment, photo processing, custom framing, and professional photography
Next, Austin’s moved upstairs to 22 Broad Street in the
McMinn building, where it remained until 1939. The final move was to 11 East
Main Street, where it stayed for the next 59 years. The 2021 business in the
same location is “The Cherry Tree” today. The Wilkins Insurance Agency (which
has undergone numerous name changes), was also operating out of the same
location. William Austin managed the insurance agency, as confirmed by the 1930
Census which lists his occupation as “Insurance Office Manager.” Photography presumably
became more successful, because by the 1940 Census, his occupation listing had
changed to “Photographer, Employer.”
Tragedy struck the Austin family in 1954 when both William
and Mildred were killed in an automobile accident after being hit by drunk
driver on the way back from an Army reunion in Indiana. Their now-adult
children came together to run the business in their parents’ absence: Pat was
the photographer, Jeannette was the store manager, Joan was the bookkeeper, and
Bill, along with Joan’s husband Dick Keirstead, was the custom picture framer. In
addition, they were each very artistically and musically talented and involved
in civic organizations in the community.
In 1959, Austin’s gave the store a major remodel and
rebranded to the name “Austin’s Art Shop” to reflect new services and
merchandise related to music such as records, instruments, accessories, sheet
music, and instructional books. They
closed their doors in 1998 when Jeannette died of tuberculosis, though it was
also the beginning of the digital age of photography and was seen as the right
time to bow out.
In 2003, the Austin family donated their extensive historic
photo collection to the Transylvania County Archives (a division of the 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 stewardship of the county
library. The Picturing the Past column would not be possible without this
generous donation from the Austins.
Photographs and information for this column are
provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library.
This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Gardner. For more
information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.