2 albums, 7 x 11 and 9 x 11 inches, 200 photographs, along with 66 modern copy photographs from albums belonging to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources
In the early twentieth century, the Appalachian Power Company built a series of hydroelectric dams on the New River in Wythe County, Virginia. Completed in 1912, the Byllesby Dam took its name from H. M. Byllesby and Company, a Chicago investment firm that helped start Appalachian Power, and it created the serene 335-acre Byllesby Reservoir still popular with local fishermen and recreational boaters.
The photographs in this collection document the phases of the dam’s construction and the building methods of the period, with interior shots of the transformer house and its giant turbines and wide-angle exterior views of the dam and cement-mixing plant with its and volute casing and draft tube forms, like abstract sculptures in the wilderness, awaiting cement. As significantly, the photographs capture the daily lives of the workers who made their home in the camp, with images of black-papered dormitories for engineers and office staff, tidy vegetable gardens growing beneath power lines, a pair of well-dressed women on horseback (on the same horse), candid shots of “natives” (locals), and various shots of workers at rest and play and gathered around a campfire at night. The collection also includes two commercially produced scenic postcards of the completed dam and an original dance card for an October 11, 1912, banquet hosted by the Appalachian Power Company for its employees. The dance card offers this verse: “Ye who have worked and wrought this wondrous change / In these wild-timbered hills of Appalachia’s Range, / Forget, awhile, the caging of a giant to conserve his power, / And give to Mirth and Terpsichore this hour.” Most of the modern copy photographs, the originals of which are housed at the Department of Historic Resources, include annotations and dates.
A peculiar addition to our Byllesby Dam collection are the photographic headshots of the notorious “Allen Gang” members who shot and killed five court officials and bystanders at the Carroll County Courthouse on March 14, 1912. The courtroom raid and subsequent manhunt unfolded near the Byllesby Dam construction site, and one can only speculate about the ways in which this affected the workers.
Arrangement and access:
Albums purchased 2010.
Modern copy photographs gift of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, 1991