Can Wisconsin Dells’ fame be traced back 150 years to a single person? The answer to that tourism genealogy question is a resounding “yes,” and the person is Henry Hamilton Bennett. His exquisite images of the Wisconsin River with its towering sandstone cliffs and mystical caverns, raftsmen risking life and limb to ferry timber, the Ho-Chunk nation and their life along the dells of the river, and even his own family members standing in as models proved fascinating photojournalism.
Bennett was an early marketing pioneer as well, arranging for his photos to be displayed in train stations between Wisconsin Dells and Chicago. Visitors began arriving to experience the natural beauty of the Dells and naturally needed places to stay, places to eat and boat guides to take them on tours of the river. Thus, the tourism industry here was born. In nearly every Bennett bio you’ll see the phrase, “the man who made Wisconsin Dells famous.”
Bennett, and later his family, ran the historic photography studio in downtown Dells for 135 years before donating the studio and the extensive photographic collection to the Wisconsin Historical Society. It is the oldest continually operating photography studio in the United States.
The sesquicentennial is being marked with a season-long anniversary gallery exhibit, “150 Years of Dells and Studio History.” Don’t miss the all-new 3-D stereo viewer station in the studio – it’s the best way to see the river as it was in Bennett’s day. On August 22, the Crystal Grand Music Theatre will be the site of “Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial Reawakened,” a program of Native American song, dance and historic Bennett photos produced by Friends of H.H. Bennett Studio and Little Eagle Arts Foundation.