1905 Albert Kern
Early Photographs of Champion Hill

By Rebecca B. Drake


Albert Kern in his Dayton office

Photograph courtesy of Dayton History Archives Center


Albert Kern was born in Germantown, Ohio, in 1848 and was a lifelong resident of Montgomery County. He moved to Dayton, Ohio, in the early 1870s where he became a successful lawyer. From 1890 to 1922, he was an enthusiastic photographer in the Dayton area. At one time, Kern served as vice-president of the Dayton Camera Club. He was very interested in the American Civil War and made numerous trips to the major battlefields - documenting them with his camera. In May 1905 he traveled to Vicksburg for the dedication of the Ohio monuments in the Vicksburg National Military Park. During this time, he took the opportunity to join an excursion group who visited the Champion Hill Battlefield. Kern not only photographed major battlefields of the Civil War but also the lesser known battlefields where Ohio regiments from Montgomery County once fought. Other battlefields captured through the eye of Kern's camera include Stone Mountain and Murfreesboro (Tennessee) and New Hope Church and Resaca (Georgia).

Kernís collection of 15,000 glass plate negatives is housed in the archives of the Montgomery County Historical Society of Dayton, Ohio. A recent indexing has brought to light and made available his extensive collection of battlefield photographs.

To see more of Kernís photography visit http://daytonhistory.org/glance_camera.htm.

Road to Raymond

Photograph courtesy of Jeff Giambrone


Three major roads are associated with the Battle of Champion Hill: the Old Jackson Road (bottom road) which ran near the railroad track; the middle road (now known as the Billy Fields Road) and the upper road, known as the Edwards-Raymond Road. The above photograph, based on the writing as seen on the upper edge, was a portion of the battlefield taken along a stretch of the Raymond-Edwards road. Notice the telephone poles to the right. Kern was meticulous when it came to collecting and storing his negatives. He handmade the envelopes in which he stored his negatives - then on the outside of each envelop, he wrote an identification of the image inside. The identification included the location and subject, date, and often pertinent information as to the nature of the photograph.

Champion Hill Baptist Church Built in 1897

Photograph courtesy of Jeff Giambrone

One of the highlights of visiting the Champion Hill battlefield is to see the Champion Hill Baptist Church (now a new brick one) which stands on the grounds where Sid and Matilda Championís first house was burned during the war. Prior to the burning, the house was used as a Union hospital.

Kernís photograph of the church was taken in 1905 - eight years after the wood-framed church was built. Sid J. Champion (fifth generation) recalls that his great-great grandmother, Matilda Champion, told the black community, many being former slaves, that they could use this particular portion of her property to hold worship services for as long as they wished. Champion Hill Baptist Church has now stood on this site for 103 years.

Noticeable in the foreground of Kern's photograph is the Old Jackson road which ran beside the Champion house. The road, as well as much of the Champion Hill battlefield, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The organization of Champion Hill Baptist Church is said to have begun with its first worship service in an abandoned voting booth called "Center Beat" which pre-dated the Civil War. "Center Beat" was located about Ĺ mile southwest of the present location which would have put the old voting booth on or near the middle road. Champion Hill Baptist dates its official beginning from the completion of the first church building in 1897, the same year that yellow fever was raging in the Edwards-Bolton area. The church was described as being a one-story frame building. Inside the church was a simple sanctuary with a pulpit and choir stand. The structure sat on a two-acre tract of the Civil War battlefield owned by the Champion family. The property now belongs to Champion Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

Most likely, in 1905, when Kern visited the Champion Hill battlefield, he had the opportunity of meeting Matilda Champion. At that time, Matilda, age 78, still delighted in meeting all battlefield tourists. Matilda passed away in December of 1907 at the age of 80 and is buried in the family cemetery nearby.

Today, Champion Hill Missionary Baptist church is still active and growing. In 2007, the Champion Heritage Foundation erected a historic marker on the grounds of the church to note the history of the Champion family and their involvement in the war.

 Photograph copyrighted by Jeff Giambrone



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