New phase of reconstruction underway at Gray's Photo Studio in St. John

Fran Brownell
St. John News

A new phase of restoration work is underway at St. John’s Gray Photo Studio at 116 North Main, partially funded by a $1,000 grant from Golden Belt Community Foundation in Great Bend.

Devon Wilson, currently serving as a volunteer at Gray Photo Studio in St. John, is all smiles as he displays the $1,000.00 grant check from Golden Belt Community Foundation in Great Bend for updates to the structure. Pictured with Wilson in front of the historic structure are Gray Photo Studio Board President Carol Long, center, and Stafford County Economic Development Director Carolyn Dunn. Wilson is volunteering at Gray Art Studio through the Volunteers in Service to America program.

“We’re grateful for this help to bring us another step closer to restoring this historic building for current and future generations,” said Gray Photo Studio Board President Carol Long.

Long said the grant provides funds for an ADA-accessible restroom and building entrance to help bring the historic building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Helping oversee the project and assisting with fundraising and programming plans for Gray Photo Studio is Devon Wilson, recruited through AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program by Stafford County Economic Development Director Carolyn Dunn.

“Devon arrived in March, just as COVID-19 restrictions began to shut us down,” Long said.

Wilson’s interest in Gray Photo Studio dates back to summer 2019 when Wilson was a member of a national Bike & Build Tour that made a stop in St. John to do volunteer work at Gray Photo Studio.

“There’s a lot of work gone on for the restoration and a lot more still to do,”

Wilson said. “It’s amazing to me that the building’s still here.”

For the past five years Wilson, a Kansas native born in Atchison in northeast Kansas, has lived in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he attended Vassar College, graduating in spring 2019 with a major in physics.

“I’m excited to help bring Gray Photo Studio back to a place where it can be a central part of the larger community,” Wilson said.

Even though there is still a lot of work to be done, there is also a lot of work that’s been completed through community volunteers, Dunn said.

The progress of the restoration process is chronicled on the Gray Photo Studio Facebook page, including the find in the attic of a cap gun by St. John High School student volunteer Trinidad Garcia during SJHS Student Service Day in May 2019.

Also, chronicled are finds of old newspapers used as insulation under flooring, including the torn and battered front page of a 1940s Wichita Beacon with bold-face headline spanning the front page declaring, “Nazis Begin Furious London Raid.”

“We found Hitler hiding under the carpet upstairs,” Long said in one Facebook post.

Although COVID-19 has made its impact on restoration, Long said that it is possible that individuals or small groups might be able to make use of Gray Photo Studio space as early as August, even though interior restoration is far from complete.

Work on completing interior walls and carving out spaces for a small museum and retail sales area will continue as funds become available.

“Fundraising is front and center to complete the work,” Long said. “Donations are tax-deductible.”

A major item for needed completion is insulation which Long estimates at $12,000.

Long has posted information about the insulation and other fundraising needs on Gray Photo Studio Facebook page.

Another current need is for subflooring for the kitchen floor, estimated at $380.

A donation of $100 will replace a worn window with fresh frame and waterproofing, with a total of $1,300 needed to replace 13 windows, excluding the large north window that originally provided light for the historic photo studio.

Dunn estimated inside lighting fixtures for the restoration at $1,200.

“Any amount is welcome,” Long said.

Checks should be made payable to Gray Photo Studio. Mailing address is 991 NE10th Avenue, St. John KS 67576.

While complete restoration is still on the horizon, Long said she and other Gray Photo Studio board members have hopes for individuals or small groups to be able to use the space, in its unfinished condition, as early as August.

Serving on the board with Long are Amy Collins, secretary; Lisa Milton, treasurer; and Bill Clausing.

Long may be contacted for further information about Gray Photo Studio through email at