Looking Back – W. H. McGown


William Henry McGown was born in Urbana in 1852 the son of Clarissa Sampson McGown and John B. McGown. John B. McGown was killed in the Civil War in 1862 leaving his widow with 10 children. W. H. McGown married Ella Sampson in 1876. They resided at 200 E. Reynolds St.

W. H. McGown operated a confectionery on S. Main St. He was, however, most well-known as a photographer (photo #1) and as such for many years he photographed the famous personages who came to the community. Whenever an acting troupe came to town McGown met their train at the station. It was stated every showman whoever made Urbana knew McGown. In addition to photographing the actors who performed in the community he obtained their autographs as well as the autographs of other famous people who came to Urbana. McGown’s collection of photographs and autographs numbered in the thousands. He served as local correspondent for various variety/theatrical newspapers. He first became local correspondent for The New York Dramatic Mirror in 1879, serving in that capacity for over 35 years.

Photo #2 shows McGown with his photo collection on the walls of his home at 200 E. Reynolds St. He had various nicknames including ‘Plug’ for the plug hat he wore, ‘The Mirror Man’ for his long affiliation with the theatrical newspaper, and ‘The Autograph Man’. William Henry McGown died in 1920. He was one of Urbana’s most colorful characters.


The Champaign County Historical Museum is a not-for-profit organization that depends upon donations and dues to preserve, protect, archive and display the artifacts that tell the Champaign County story. The free public museum located at 809 E. Lawn Ave., Urbana, is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Info from CCHS

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