ca. 1884-ca. 1958
Guide to the Photograph Collection
This collection contains photographs taken and collected by the Atkins family of Boston and Belmont, Mass., sugar merchants engaged in trade with Cuba, 1845-1950. The bulk of the photos are of various cities and seaports in Cuba, as well as of Soledad, the estate where the family's sugar business, E. Atkins & Co., was located. There are also a number of images of the Harvard Botanical Garden and the Harvard Botanical Laboratory, both of which were located on the grounds of Soledad, and portraits and snapshots of various Atkins and Weeks family members in Cuba.
Edwin F. Atkins (EFA) was born in 1850 to sugar plantation owner Elisha Atkins (1813-1888) and his wife Mary E. Freeman Atkins (1819-1897). The Atkins' sugar business was centered in Cuba, and in January 1866 at the age of 16, EFA first accompanied his father on a trip to Havana and Cienfuegos, Cuba. Two years later, EFA began working with his father's company, and in 1874 he became a partner in E. Atkins & Co. Over the years, EFA was also involved in other business interests, including the Bay State Sugar Refinery, of which he was president from 1876 to 1888; Union Pacific Railroad, of which he was a director from 1888 to 1895; Aetna Mills and the Boston Wharf Co., for both of which he served as president until 1915; American Sugar Refining Co., of which he was chairman of the board until 1916; and Westinghouse Electric, of which he was a director and president (1915).
E. Atkins & Co.'s most frequent business correspondents in Cienfuegos were the Torriente Brothers. After the Ten Years' War in Cuba (1868-1878), Torriente Bros. had many sugar estates indebted to them, and the firm in turn was indebted to E. Atkins & Co. Torriente Bros. foreclosed on several estates, including the Soledad plantation in Cienfuegos owned by the Sarria family. After a series of negotiations, the Soledad estate was turned over to E. Atkins & Co. in 1883. EFA convinced his father to allow him to take on the Soledad estate and its sugar-manufacturing business. Although E. Atkins & Co., a sugar-trading company, did not seek to manufacture sugar, it entered this area of the business as an attempt to recover loaned funds. By 1887, Soledad was producing four thousand tons of sugar annually and was the primary focus of EFA's business. Although E. Atkins & Co. owned Soledad, the estate was EFA's personal interest, and he oversaw its operation throughout his life.
In 1892, Henry O. Havemeyer of the American Sugar Refining Co. and his cousin Charles Senff included EFA in a new sugar company, the Trinidad Sugar Co. in Trinidad, Cuba. EFA served as its president and through E. Atkins & Co. managed its affairs in Cuba. Trinidad was a private enterprise between Havemeyer, Senff, and EFA until 1912 when E. Atkins & Co. took full ownership of the estate.
Edwin F. Atkins married Katharine Wrisley (1860-1953) in 1882. They resided in Belmont, Mass. and had three children: Robert Wrisley (1889-1948), Edwin Farnsworth (1892-1923), and Helen (1894-1991). In 1910, Robert W. Atkins (RWA) joined E. Atkins & Co. Five years later he founded the Punta Alegre Sugar Co., with EFA as its president. Punta Alegre came to own many mills in Cuba. Together with E. Atkins & Co., the Atkinses came to operate many of the top sugar producing mills in Cuba. They controlled the Baguanos, Tacajó, Presidente, San Germán, and Ermita mills in Oriente province; Caracas, Trinidad, and San Agustín mills in Santa Clara province, and Baraguá, Florida, and Punta Alegre mills in Camagüey province.
RWA had other interests, including Belmont Associates and School Street Associates, both real estate firms; Merchant's National Bank of Boston; and Aetna Mills. His brother Edwin F. Atkins, Jr. was briefly involved with E. Atkins & Co. before a plane crash off of Key West, Fla. in 1923 that took his life and those of his two sons.
In 1921, Frank C. Lowry and Eugene V. Thayer joined E. Atkins & Co. as junior officers. Upon EFA's death in 1926, Lowry and Thayer took over the firm and operated it under the name Lowry & Co.
Helen Atkins Claflin married William Henry Claflin, Jr. They had four children: Katharine Wrisley (later Weeks); Helen (later Spring); William Henry, 3rd; and Anne (later Allen).
The Atkins family photographs contain 419 loose photographs and 1 negative in 2 regular boxes. All of the photographs were taken in Cuba, between 1884 and 1958; the bulk of the images date from 1908-1958. Many of the photos are undated.
The images include views of Cuban towns such as Havana, Cienfuegos, Caracas, Pasa Caballo, and Trinidad; views of the grounds, gardens, railroad, school, and sugar mill at Soledad, the estate where E. Atkins & Co. was located; and images of laborers, staff, and Atkins family members working at the sugar plantation at Soledad. Additionally, there are many photographs of the Harvard Botanical Garden, founded in 1901 and transferred to Harvard University in 1919, and the Harvard Botanical Laboratory, founded in 1924; both of these were operated and located on the grounds of Soledad. There are also a number of images of ships at sail around various places in Cuba.
Atkins family members represented in the photographs include Edwin F. Atkins, Katharine W. Atkins, Helen Atkins Claflin, and various members of the Weeks family (the family of Helen Atkins Claflin's daughter Katharine Wrisley Atkins Weeks). There are also a number of photos of Dr. Thomas Barbour, director of the Harvard Botanical Garden at Soledad.
Photographers include Jose Alvarez (Cienfuegos, Cuba), David Fairchild, and Llewelyn Williams. Most of the photographers in this collection are unidentified; identified photographs include a caption on the verso of the photograph in an unidentified hand.
This collection is arranged into two parts: People (arranged alphabetically by subject); and Places.
This collection was removed from the Atkins family papers, a gift to the Massachusetts Historical Society from Helen Atkins Claflin in 1977.
Detailed Description of the Collection
Inscribed: "A Doña Catalina con el major afecto y gratitud de Haydie Ramirez Central Soledad Marzo 1/47."
Inscribed: "A nuestra querida Doña Catalina Vda. de Atkins, respetuosamente de E. Agriel y señora.
Inscribed: "Mrs y Mr W. Claflin. Afectuosamente Lela y Pepe 4/22/45."
Inscribed: "Dr. Barbour and W. May sitting under the [ ] Palm -- (Raven[ ])."
Atkins family photographs, Photo. Coll. 37, Massachusetts Historical Society Photo Archives.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.