Friday, June 10, 2016

Bridge, the photographer

Back in April, I said I was going to write more about Ephraim Cranshaw Bridge, also known as "Bridge, the photographer" --- and then never quite got around to doing it.

Bridge came to mind again this week when two visitors from the Des Moines area stopped at the museum, one interested in coal mining history and the other, it locating this 1869 composite photograph of Chariton buildings. He remembered seeing it perhaps 30-40 years ago, at a time when Living History Farms was looking for information about how a pioneer Iowa town might actually have looked.

The composite is unique because it contains miniature versions of 41 views of Chariton as it appeared in 1869, including most of its business buildings, all of its churches, the courthouse, the school and a good selection of its better houses. Although the views are faded now, they give a unique perspective on how what then was a frontier town actually looked.

And although the views are tiny, Bridge's camera captured extraordinary detail --- so it is possible to enlarge many of these tiny photos many times.

We're not exactly sure why Bridge made the composite, but most likely it was his way of introducing himself to the community --- and a way to raise some cash. We have two copies at the museum and there must have been many more.

Curiously, however, I have never seen a larger photograph featuring any of these views --- other than enlargements made from the composite and we do have several of those, too. 


Mr. Bridge was a native of England, born there on March 22, 1840, who came to Patterson, New Jersey, with his family when he was six years old. He opened his first photographic studio in Patterson and married there on June 18, 1866, Mary A. Irwin (born in Patterson on Jan. 14, 1844).

The couple came west to Chariton during 1869 and he opened Bridge's Photograph Gallery in a small frame building along what now is Braden Avenue, just west of the northwest corner of the square. That small gallery was among the views included in the composite.

Photography was by no means new in 1869, but it remained something of a novelty. So Bridge kept on hand photographs of various people and scenes for guests to view in his gallery, featuring examples of his own work. Portraiture of Lucas County pioneers was his principal source of income, however.

During 1870, Bridge sold his building and commissioned a special wagon that served as a portable studio and gallery --- and hit the road, visiting other area towns as well as farmsteads along the road; setting up in Chariton when he wasn't traveling.

The nomadic life suited Bridge --- and he continued to roam (with Chariton as home base) for the remainder of his life --- but by train rather than horse and wagon. He sold the wagon and rented quarters on the square for his studio later that year.

Bridge remained in the photography business for about 20 years, locating finally in the what was known as the Mallory Brick, a two story building just west of the alley on the north side of the square. He also opened branch studios in Lucas, Lacona and perhaps elsewhere.

In addition, as the years passed, he processed photographs commercially for other studios. When tintypes were at the height of their popularity, he styled himself "the tintype man." And he also developed a passion for poultry --- raising and marketing fancy fowl on the side.

Finally, about 1890, Bridge parlayed his photographer interest in and knowledge of lenses into optometry --- and began selling glasses instead of photographs.

He was good at what he did, enjoyed travel and soon discovered that he could make more money as a traveling representative for companies that marketed optometric supplies than he could as a Chariton optometrist. Chariton remained his home base, however.

Bridge was still on the road during 1912, age 72, when he became critically ill because of a strangulated hernia in Macon, Missouri, on May 29. He was taken to Blessing Hospital in Quincy, Illinois, for surgery --- but died there early on the afternoon of May 30 before surgery could be performed.

Funeral services were held in Chariton on Sunday, June 2 --- and burial followed in the Chariton Cemetery.

Ephraim's wife, Mary, was not in good heath at the time of his death and she died six months later, on Jan. 26, 1913.

Ephraim and Mary had four children, but two sons died young. The surviving daughters, both born in Chariton, were Sophia, who married Peter E. Vail, a Garden Grove native. She died on May 6, 1928, in Chicago, where the family had relocated after leaving Chariton in 1917. And May, who married as his second wife Addison Hale McCollough and died May 5, 1949. The entire family is buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

Ephraim Bridge's obituary was published in The Herald-Patriot of June 6, 1912, but there is no mention in it of his work as a pioneer Iowa photographer.

He left only one grandchild --- in Chicago --- so we have no way of knowing if he had preserved any sort of archive of his work.

But we do have his 1869 composite views of Chariton and many other portraits of early Chariton residents that were the work of Bridge, the photographer.

1 comment:

Sonja said...

what interesting history...especially since dad had his photo studio in Chariton too....I wonder if dad knew about this guy? will never know.....he would have loved the history of it all though....thanks again