Rare Henry Wellge bird’s-eye view of Chattanooga resurgent

Henry Wellge, CHATTANOOGA. COUNTY SEAT OF HAMILTON COUNTY TENNESSEE . 1886 POPULATION 30,000. Chattanooga: Chattanooga Daily Times, 1886/1887.
Photolithographic bird’s-eye view, 18”h x 28”w at neat line plus titles, legend and margins, uncolored. Some wear and staining, largely confined to margins, lower-left margin trimmed but still ample for framing.

A rare 1887 Henry Wellge bird’s-eye view of Chattanooga, Tennessee documenting its post-war resurgence as a major rail hub and manufacturing center.

The view depicts Chattanooga in its splendid natural setting, apparently fully recovered from the ravages of the Civil War. In the far background is the massive bulk 2389-foot Lookout Mountain, a long ridge straddling the border of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, with its northern end holding a commanding view of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. A legend in the lower margin identifies dozens of public buildings, schools, churches, factories and other businesses, including among others the “Hebrew Synagogue”, “Howard School (Colored)”, and “Shiloh Baptist Church (Colored).” Dozens of belching smokestacks, heavy rail traffic, and numerous steamers plying the Tennessee River all contribute to the impression of a thriving metropolis.

This is a later state of the view, which was originally published as a two-stone lithograph by Beck & Pauli in Milwaukee in 1886. The present example is a photolithographic variant, issued by the Chattanooga Daily Times on March 23, 1887. The Times issued yet another edition in 1888, on two stones with a different added title. All versions are rare; indeed, I have been able to locate but one other example of this variant, held by the Library of Congress.

Henry Wellge (1850-1917)
Wellge, one of America’s most productive and talented bird’s eye view artists, was born in Germany and arrived in Milwaukee around 1878. He soon entered into a partnership with one J. Bach, the two producing three Wisconsin views in 1879, the beginning of a series of thirty-eight lithographs of Wisconsin towns carrying Wellge’s name. In 1880, Wellge began working with J. J. Stoner, who published no less than forty of his views between 1880 and 1884. Wellge subsequently worked with George E. Norris of Brockton, Mass., serving as the firm artist, first in Brockton and then in Milwaukee.

Wellge evidently traveled widely in 1884-85, producing views of towns and cities in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, and Michigan, in addition to more Wisconsin views. In 1888, following Norris’s return east, Wellge established The American Publishing Company, producing some of his most impressive views, many of them employing vibrant chromolithography. One of these was a stunning 1897 view of Chattanooga as seen from Lookout Mountain.

Reps credits Wellge with a total of 152 views, published between 1878 and 1910 and has high praise for the quality of his work:

“Always well drawn and printed—sometimes brilliantly so—his views of Midwestern and southern cities in the decade of the 1880s provide particularly valuable records of urban conditions at a time when many other post-Civil War view-makers had stopped work or had reduced their output.” (Reps, p. 213)

Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, #3928 (describing the Beck & Pauli edition of 1886, but making no mention of this variant). As of October 2021, OCLC 56357594 records a single example of this Chattanooga Daily Times variant, held by the Library of Congress.