The Mudge Brothers Pictured Themselves in Chattanooga

Thursday, May 14, 2009 - by Harmon Jolley
One of the many portraits made at the  Mudge studio in Chattanooga.  Click to enlarge.
One of the many portraits made at the Mudge studio in Chattanooga. Click to enlarge.
- photo by Marion M. Mudge

News of an opportunity to make money travels quickly. In the late 1800’s, a manufacturing boom fueled by the area’s natural resources and railroads occurred in Chattanooga. The completion of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad in 1879 provided a new way to travel to the area. It also allowed the “grapevine” to grow – think of all the conversations about Chattanooga’s growing wealth that occurred at the train stations.

Up in Michigan, two photographers – Marion M. Mudge and his brother, Ellsworth L. Mudge – must have heard the news about opportunities down south in Chattanooga. They decided to leave their home in Gratton Center, Michigan, and see if Chattanoogans wanted to use some of their new disposable income on family portraits. In 1894, the brothers Mudge opened a photography studio on the second floor of 815 Market Street.

The Mudges specialized in a relatively new size of product called the cabinet photograph. The pictures measured 4.25 by 6.5 inches, and were mounted on thick cardboard. Their name came from the fact that they were large enough to be displayed on a cabinet. Their size also invited visitors to a person’s home to pick up the photo for a close inspection.

Another specialty of the Mudges was the double-image photograph. In this type of picture, the same person was shown in two different poses in the same scene. For instance, the subject could be seated and playing the piano, while also standing and singing. Think of the 1960’s television show “Bewitched” and how Elizabeth Montgomery could play both Samantha and her evil cousin, Serena. The hallmark of a double-image photographer was to be able to hide the dividing line in the photo.

Marion Mudge and his wife, Helen Spalding Mudge, lived on Cowart Street near Pine Street. Those streets do not intersect today; in fact, they’re not that close to each other. The Mudge residence was in Hill City on the north shore of the river. The 1904 map “City of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Vicinity” by G.M. Hopkins Company of Philadelphia confirms Cowart and Pine as being streets of Hill City. There was also Upper Ferry Road near today’s North Market Street.

Ellsworth Mudge lived at 314 Georgia Avenue. However, this address was not in downtown. He lived in the new suburb of St. Elmo, where today’s St. Elmo Avenue was then called Georgia Avenue.

The siblings did not maintain their photography partnership very long. By the 1900 census, Marion Mudge had relocated to Norwich, Connecticut. Ellsworth kept the Chattanooga studio going a few years, then moved into other lines of work. Ellsworth passed away in 1921.

Marion eventually settled in Valparaiso, Indiana, where he maintained a photography business for fifty years. His obituary in the November 25, 1950 Vidette-Messenger noted that he was also interested in painting, and that his pictorials of the dunes along Lake Michigan and of the American west were prized by collectors.

While in Chattanooga, Marion Mudge wrote a chapter “The Photographer’s Advertising” for the book “Photographic Mosaics: An Annual Record of Photographic Progress” by Edward L. Wilson. His article opens with the statement, “The photographer’s best advertisement is the work that leaves his gallery and the pictures which are displayed in his street showcase.” This is confirmed by the fact that people are still interested enough over a hundred years later to write of and read about Marion M. Mudge and his photographs.

If you have additional information on the Mudge brothers, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.


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