Stephen H. Appleton (1854-1909)

The Media Historic Archives Commission maintains a collection of historical material relating to the Borough of Media and neighboring communities. Included in the archives are thousands of photographs, maps, scrapbooks, movies, tape recordings, newspapers, memorabilia, and other artifacts. The Historic Archives Commission also keeps information on important residents that have lived in the Borough. One of these important residents is the collection’s photographer, Stephen H. Appleton. 

Stephen H. Appleton (1854-1909) began taking photographs in Media, Pennsylvania in 1888 and continued his work until the year of his death. Photography was a sideline to his full time profession as an editor with the Delaware County American, a weekly newspaper located at 212 W. State Street. His family figured prominently in his early photographs: wife Debbie, sons Harry and Alfred, and more than 13 years after Harry’s birth, his daughter Sue, born in 1896. He also took pictures of his extended family and made copies of two genealogical charts showing the descendants of the photographer’s grandparents; and those of Deborah Appleton’s parents.

Appleton set up a photography studio in his home at 341 W. State Street and shot hundreds of portraits in this setting. He photographed babies and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, extended families, and even some of their pets. Other family and group portraits were more informal, shot on front porches, in backyards, and during family gatherings. He photographed local baseball, football, and basketball teams, high school graduating classes, veterans’ groups, fraternal organizations, and workers (including bakers,waiters, and even a priest) set against the backdrop of their workplaces. 

As was the custom then, Appleton also took what are called “postmortem photographs” of the deceased  in their coffins, beds, or other settings, often surrounded by floral tributes that must have been a mainstay of the local florist trade. A number of these included children and infants who had passed on.

Appleton also specialized in photographing legal cases, as he noted in an advertisement included in a 1903 booklet commemorating the unveiling of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on the Delaware County Courthouse lawn. Some of these photographs are clearly denoted by the words “case” or “accident” in the title. Other photos potentially related to legal work—such as photos of trolley tracks, rutted roads and gullies, and other odd scenes—have been so noted in the photograph descriptions.

As part of his legal work, and probably also for use in his newspaper, Appleton photographed crime scenes, crime reenactments, and various murderers who were incarcerated at the Delaware County Jail in Media.

If you would like to see all of Stephen H. Appleton’s work, check out the Media Historic Archives website. In addition to the website, a sampling of the collection can be seen in two display cases on the second floor of the Media-Upper Providence Free Library, 1 E. Front St. (at the corner of Jackson St.), in Media.