Pennsylvania Dutch Artist Paints Unique Sketches of Montgomery Co.
News Messenger Bicentennial Edition
James I. Robertson, Jr.
Thanks to a Pennsylvania Dutch artist who loved the simple scenes of America, a number of unique and intriguing sketches exist of Montgomery County as it was 125 years ago.
Lewis Miller, born in York, Pa., in 1796, began drawing at the age of three by making a rough sketch of the funeral procession of George Washington. Miller became a carpenter by trade, yet art every remained his first love. He traveled widely in American and briefly in Europe; everywhere the went, Miller filled sketchbooks with impressions of people and places. In the course of his long life, Miller composed over 2,000 sketches of the American rural life he knew so well.
The Pennsylvanian made as many as four trips to the Montgomery County area in the 1846-1871 period. The purpose of the journeys was to visit a cousin, Charles Edie Miller, a talented poet-artist-sculptor residing in Christiansburg. On each trip Lewis Miller noted in drawings the pleasant sights that he beheld. Some sixty-five scenes of life in southwestern Virginia survive. They are noteworthy for vivid detail and human warmth. Each provides a homely sight into the people, customs and frontier society of that age.
Reproduced here, through the kindness and permission of the Virginia State Library, are fourteen Miller drawings of this region. Most of these sketches were done during the 1853 and 1871 visits by Miller to Christiansburg.
At least four of the drawings were made on a July 13-14, 1853 excursion from Christiansburg to the Salt Pond (now Mountain Lake). The party included sixteen sightseers on horseback, a Mr. Pepper and his daughter in one buggy, and Charles and Lewis Miller in another carriage. While Charles handled the reins, Lewis made quick sketches of interesting subjects.
The group traveled along the Allegheny watershed to the sleep village of Blacksburg. By mid-morning the party had crossed Brush Mountain, passed through a valley and climbed Gap Mountain. The travelers then descended to the hamlet of Newport and followed Sinking Creek to Chapman's Springs (now Eggleston). There Miller and his friends spent the\ night at the famous resort hotel.
On the following morning, the group left early on the nine-mile trek to Salt Pond. The ascent afforded breath-taking views that did not escape Miller's every-busy pen. A stop at the Pond was brief, as the party wished to be back in Christiansburg by sundown. Miller later polished his rough drawings into the finished products shown here.
Lewis Miller died in Christiansburg in 1882 at the age of eighty-six. His remains rest today in the Craig family cemetery. Yet in a sense this proud but unpretentious artist still lives through sketches now regarded as an integral part- and portrayal- of our American heritage.