Edward Beyer, who lived from 1820 to 1865, was a German landscape artist born in the Rhineland.
He was a graduate of the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. In 1848, he traveled to America and spent six years in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 1854, he and his wife embarked on a grand tour of Virginia where he spent three years sketching and painting rural scenes.
Back in Germany, in 1858 he published his “Album of Virginia.” This work consists of 40 hand-colored lithographic plates of Virginia views, produced in Dresden and Berlin. Each plate is annotated “Entered According to Congress in the year 1857 by Ed. Beyer in the Clerk’s Office of the District of Virginia.”
Beyer’s album is of special interest to local readers because three of the forty images show places in Montgomery County: White Sulphur Spring Montgomery resort, the Virginia and Tennessee railroad tunnel near Shawsville, and Yellow Sulphur Springs resort (the topic of a recent column). Two images show places in Giles County: Bullard Rock on the New River and the Salt Pond near Mountain Lake. Two further images show places in nearby Monroe County WV: the Salt Sulphur Spring resort and the Old Sweet Spring resort.
Other familiar western Virginia places pictured in the album include Natural Bridge, the Peaks of Otter (with views both of the peaks and from the peaks), and two images showing rock formations inside Weyers Cave.
Sixteen of the images show springs resorts. So Beyer and his wife must have traveled in considerable style, as these were comfortable and even luxurious stopping places.
Copies of the original edition of “Album of Virginia” are rare and expensive. The Library of Virginia and Boston Public Library hold copies, and there are currently two copies for sale by rare book dealers — one for $58,000 and one for $42,000.
In 1980 the Library of Virginia reprinted Beyer’s “Album of Virginia” and copies of this reprint edition are available at Newman Library at Virginia Tech, at McConnell Library at Radford University, and at the Roanoke County and City public libraries. Even this reprint edition is relatively rare and expensive, with a good secondhand copy being currently offered for $800.
Fortunately, a complete electronic replica of the Boston Public Library copy of “Album of Virginia” is readily available on line in multiple formats. It was posted in 2014 to the Internet Archive, which bills itself as a “non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, … and more.”
To view the album on line, or to download it in one of the several available formats, go to the link http://tinyurl.com/BeyerAlbum.
The image of Bullard Rock on the New River shows the Eggleston Cliffs in Giles County. It is the only one of Beyer’s images to show a nighttime scene and depicts boatmen harpooning fish attracted to the light of fires in their boats.
Chester Bullard was a well-known Massachusetts-born preacher who moved to Montgomery County as a teenager and by the age of 25 had planted six churches. It is said that with his strong voice he could preach to his congregation gathered across the river from the top of the 250 feet high Eggleston Cliffs. Bullard successively married four wives and lived to be 83 years old. He is buried in Snowville, a few miles from Radford.
The image of the tunnel at Shawsville shows it only a couple of years after its construction. The railroad reached Christiansburg in 1854, with the first permanent station being constructed in 1857 at the north end of Christiansburg’s Main Street, about 400 yards east of today’s Cambria Station. In modern times, railroad buffs have published many photographs of N&W trains at the tunnel.
There are other local pictures by Beyer not in the “Album of Virginia” but in his other major publication, “A Pictorial Journey from Bremen to New York and through the United States of North America.”
In 2011, the Historical Society of Western Virginia published a translation of this work that included 50 illustrations selected from the 135 scenes Beyer is known to have painted.
Other local places he painted include the towns of Buchanan, Salem and Christiansburg. Beyer’s 1855 picture of Christiansburg is reproduced on line at the web site of the Montgomery Museum.
High quality reproductions from the “Album of Virginia” are sold on line at the shop at the Library of Virginia (www.thevirginiashop.org/albumofvirginia.aspx). Half-size reproductions cost $17.45, original size reproductions cost $58.25 and 150 percent reproductions cost $122.60.