Digitizing the Photograph Collection

Blog Post # 16

by Jane Van Ryan

Joseph Mabry at Lookout Mountain Carte de Visite, 1860s

Joseph Mabry at Lookout Mountain
Carte de Visite, 1860s

There’s much more to tell about Evelyn Hazen and the last two or three years of her life, but in this blog post I want to discuss something much more current. About two weeks ago, 139 photographs of Evelyn and her family were delivered to the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection where they will be scanned digitally and made available for viewing by the public.

The photos include portraits of people from two of Knoxville’s most famous families—the Mabrys and the Churchwells. For the past several years, some of the photos have been on display at the Mabry-Hazen House, which was turned into a museum after Evelyn’s death. Three generations of Mabrys lived there, and the house became the repository for nearly all of their worldly possessions, including their antiques and photo albums.

Calvin Chappelle, executive director of the Mabry-Hazen House, has been searching for and cataloguing the photographs for several years. Some are daguerreotypes, which were in vogue between 1839 and 1860. Invented by Louis Jacque Mande’ Daguerre, daguerreotypes are images captured on a silvered metal plate. Much heavier than paper and very delicate, these forms of photography usually were placed in a protective frame such as a folding case.

Daguerreotypes also were expensive, a luxury only the wealthiest families could afford. Evelyn’s ancestors were among Knoxville’s elite. The Mabrys had significant land holdings in East Tennessee, a railroad, and Joseph Mabry published the Knoxville Whig after the Civil War. They also had sizable investments and business dealings, one of which led to Evelyn’s great-grandfather and grandfather being shot to death on Gay Street.

The photography collection at the Mabry-Hazen House also includes a few collodion positives, also called ambrotypes, which are photographs recorded on glass. This version of photography first appeared in studios in about 1853, but the technique quickly was adopted by street vendors who took photos of visitors on vacation at the beach and at Niagara Falls and sold them as souvenirs.

Alice Mabry Hazen with daughters Tintype, 1890s

Alice Mabry Hazen with daughters
Tintype, 1890s

These glass plates typically were backed with black velvet or black-varnished paper to make the images easier to see and were placed in frames or protective cases. Ambrotypes were less expensive to produce than daguerreotypes, making them more affordable for the average person.

Chappelle also took three albums containing Cartes de Visite to the library for scanning. These small portraits, which are 2 ½-inch-by-4-inch albumen photos printed on card stock, were exceedingly popular around 1860. They depict not only family members, but also several of Knoxville’s most notable historic figures, including Dr. John Mason Boyd.

A medical doctor and surgeon, Boyd was born in Knoxville in 1833, attended the University of Tennessee, got his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania, and administered the healing arts for 53 years. His skill and involvement in the community earned him Knoxville’s respect and devotion. Thousands mourned his death. A monument was erected to his memory at the Knox County Courthouse.

Laura Evelyn Churchwell Mabry
Ambrotype, 1850s

Boyd’s photo and others from the Mabry-Hazen House will join the impressive historical and genealogical collection at the Knox County Library. The materials available for research include more than 75,000 books, 15,000 folders on the First Families of Tennessee, census records, more than 3,000 printed genealogies, and telephone books dating back to 1898. These materials are not allowed to be removed from the John Z. C. Thomas Reading Room nor loaned to other libraries.

Some of the documents and photographs are available in the online digital collection here.  Eventually the Mabry-Hazen House photographs will be accessible through this website where they will add a new dimension to the McClung Collection and Knoxville’s rich photographic history.

All of the photos found in the Mabry-Hazen House have a connection to its former residents, including Evelyn Hazen who like her ancestors contributed to Knoxville’s legacy. It was Evelyn who broke with tradition and did something unconscionable in the 1930s. Despite social convention, she sued her former lover for seduction and breach of promise to marry. The scandalous court case was covered by The New York Times and other newspapers all over the country.

To learn about the suit, read my book The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen, which is available at the Mabry-Hazen House and Knoxville’s independent bookstores. More about Evelyn in the next blog post.