Three Glass Plate Negatives

Three Glass Plates
Revealed views from the past

SOURCE: John Wilson,
CC-BY License  chattanoogahistory.COM Creative Commons License

Snapshots in Time

John Wilson has graciously provided glass plate negatives including three historical views in Chattanooga that were donated to him at some point in the past few years.

Wilson is the author of several local history and family books. He joined the News-Free Press as a staff writer in 1971, and in 1999 launched the online newspaper,

An early view of 'Hill City'

One of the few Chattanooga glass plates is broken diagonally - somewhat along the decking of the newly built ‘county bridge’, now known as the Walnut Street Bridge. The bridge was dedicated February 18, 1891 and was the first non-military highway bridge across the Tennessee River. High water is also apparent in this photo, but doesn’t help date it as minor flooding was a regular occurrence pre-TVA dams. The inland towing steamer ‘Lora’ is moored nearby. Its hull built in 1895. Based on the lack of development, in Hill City (the North Shore), the scene is likely pre-1900.

Annual Report of the Supervising Inspector General, Steamboat Inspection Service 1909

Inside Southern Express

The growth of railroads led to the ability to transport valuable packages quickly. The express business flourished in the latter half of the 19th century, and by 1900 there were four principal express companies: Adams, Southern, American, and Wells Fargo. Southern Express predated the Civil War as Adams Express. Express business continued to climb until 1920, then remained stable for a decade.

Clues in this photo include a painting on the wall of the 'Battle Above the Clouds', a framed Southern Express Money Orders notice, scales, and some packages posed for the shot.

Streetcar #49

Identified by David Steinberg, author of Chattanooga's Transportation Heritage, as 'streetcar #46 from the Chattanooga Electric Railroad.' It features an advertisement to Take the New Incline #2. This would indicate a date of 1895 when Incline #2 opened.

Glass Plate Rescue

As can happen with 100+ year old gelatin plates - the emulsion was pulling away from the glass. Further inspection revealed the glass itself had deteriorated. The loose flakes of emulsion were softened with warm water and transferred to a clean glass plate.

A very dilute solution of plain gelatin was used to adhere the pieces to a new piece of glass - stabilizing them for scanning and future preservation.

Deteriorating Emulsion and Glass
Pre-Scan Original View
Restoration with Gelatin
Loose Pieces Secured