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SCU Digital Collections

About this collection

The Turrill-Miller Photograph Collection consists of over 300 photographs documenting the historic buildings and campus life of Santa Clara College (now known as Santa Clara University), from 1905-1920.

The images were taken by professional photographer Charles Beebe Turrill. Sometime around 1900 (the exact date is uncertain), Turrill partnered with Charles O. Miller to create the firm of Turrill &Miller Photographers. Based in San Francisco, the firm specialized in historical and industrial photography in the Bay Area. Turrill took a special interest in Santa Clara College and over a fifteen-year period, photographed buildings, landscapes, activities and events on campus. He also took numerous class pictures and portraits of Jesuit faculty, student societies, and athletic teams.


Brother Perry in the garden


The online collection also includes photos of student rooms in O'Connor, the school Dedication Celebration of 1912, and local landmarks like the Adobe Wall and Fr. Ricard's Observatory.

room 24

The Turrill-Miller Photograph Collection provides us with a panoramic view of Santa Clara College - along with the individuals who lived, worked and studied there - in the early twentieth century.

"I am interested in your Santa Clara school life. I have spent much time restoring the archives there.The Fathers' residence was burned some three years ago and the restoration of the photos of classes that were saved from the fire was placed in my hands. I saved all but half a dozen."

sophomore letters 1913

- Charles B. Turrill letter
to J. Perkins Tracy, April 8, 1914



Top left - Brother Perry in the Garden
Middle right - O'Connor room 24
Bottom center - Sophomore letters, 1913

All photos by Charles B. Turrill



Charles Beebe Turrill (1854-1927)

Turrill-portrait-smallCharles Beebe Turrill was born on March 26, 1854, in Folsom, California, and died in San Francisco, on May 11, 1927. He practiced as an amateur photographer for twenty years before establishing the professional firm of Turrill & Miller Photographers circa 1900. The firm's studio would eventually be located in Turrill's home, at 57 Sanchez Street in San Francisco. 

Turrill was a man of many interests. In addition to his work as a commercial photographer, he was also an historian, collector, author and illustrator. In all of these pursuits, California was his greatest passion.

Turrill's first (and only) book, California Notes, was published in 1876, when he was only seventeen. Later, his photographs were featured in several books on California history, such as Gold and Sunshine, Reminiscences of Early California (1922). Throughout his life, he authored numerous articles for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Monitor, and many other magazines and newspapers.

Turrill was also an active member of over twenty local societies and associations, including the Society of Philatelic Americans, the Pacific Coast Numismatic Association, and The Society of California Pioneers. He held many important civic posts, such as California Commissioner at the New Orleans Exposition (1884-1886), Secretary of the California State Viticultural Commission (1889), and historian of Lincoln Grammar School in San Francisco.

Next to his achievements as a photographer, Turrill was probably best known in his day as a collector. Over a lifetime, he amassed an enormous personal library consisting of thousands of books and ephemeral items, all relating to California history. The collection famously filled all three floors of 57 Sanchez Street. In an article published in The San Francisco Call and Post (September 17, 1921), Elford Eddy describes the experience of visiting Turrill:

Hobbyhorse-smallInstead of walking into a photograph gallery, you find yourself in an old-fashioned San Francisco house, jammed, crammed, bulging and running over with relics and books and specimens, antiques, works of art and sundry - fourteen rooms filled to overflowing with amazing stuff.

After his death, Turrill's library was acquired by The Society of California Pioneers, where it resides today.

Turrill lived during the "golden age" of California photography (1860-1890), when Carleton E.Watkins, Eadward Muybridge and George Fiske were making names for themselves in the San Francisco area. He befriended Carleton Watkins in his later years, promoted his work, and wrote the first biography of Watkins for News Notes of California Libraries in January, 1918.

Although Turrill worked mainly as a commercial photographer, his contribution is nevertheless a significant one - particularly for Santa Clara. Turrill thought deeply about purpose and technique in photography, and wrote an article on "Historical Photography" for the 1914 issue of Camera Craft. He believed that photography played a key role in the creation of the historical record, and saw himself as part of this tradition.

The images in the Turrill-Miller Photograph Collection achieve this goal. They offer us a window on Santa Clara College in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In doing so, they reveal Turrill's unique artistry: a talent for composition and perspective, and portraits that are characterized by authenticity and humanity.

Charles O. Miller (1876-?)

There is not much known about Charles O. Miller, who partnered with Charles Beebe Turrill to create Turrill & Miller Photographers at the turn of the century. We know that Miller was born in February 1876, and sources indicate that he was a bachelor and lived with Turrill between 1910 and 1920. There is no listing for him in the 1930 U.S. Census.

Top left - "I am fighting to preserve the history of California - for the accuracy of historical records." - Charles B. Turrill
(Source: San Francisco Call and Post, September 17, 1921. Turrill Biographical File. The Society of California Pioneers.)
Bottom right - "California is my hobby. All my other hobbies . . . dovetail and fit into that. The lesser hobbies lead into the great hobby." - Charles B. Turrill, 1921
(Source: San Francisco Call and Post, September 17, 1921. Turrill Biographical File. The Society of California Pioneers.)


Page updated December 21, 2012

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