ca. 1870–1918, negatives 1900–1918
58 8 x 10-inch glass-plate negatives,  12 carte de visites

Michael Miley (1841–1918), probably most famous for his portraits of Robert E. Lee, was a Rockbridge County native who contributed greatly to the burgeoning field of photography. After serving under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Civil War, Miley moved to Staunton to study photography under J. H. Burdett, where he learned to print positive images using the albumen wet-plate process. He returned to Rockbridge County a year later and joined forces with Andrew Plecker, a traveling photographer from Lynchburg, which led to his most famous photograph: Robert E. Lee with his horse Traveller at the Rockbridge Baths. 

Miley MO35517 In 1866, Miley partnered with businessman John C. Boude to open a photography studio at the corner of Main and Nelson Streets in Lexington. He purchased Boude’s half of the business in 1870, named the studio the Stonewall Art Gallery, and found his niche as a portrait photographer. Miley also photographed classes and athletic teams at Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute. In 1895 his son Henry Miley joined the photography business and renamed the studio M. Miley & Son. Around this time, Miley began experimenting with carbon printing, a process that produced a permanent print in one color. The resulting experiment led to a patent on his color process in 1902, and in 1905 Michael and Henry Miley received a medal of merit from the Franklin Institute, which honors achievement in science, engineering, and technology. It is believed that Miley produced the first color photographic prints in the United States. An estimated five hundred color prints are attributed to Miley. He never capitalized on the process because it was too expensive and time consuming, requiring imported materials.

The Library of Virginia has a collection of 58 glass-plate negatives and 12 carte de visites taken in and around Miley’s studio in Lexington. Although some of the images have been identified through crowdsourcing projects, most are unidentified. The most notable images in the collection are photographs of the singing group The Charity Nightingales and of the poet Spotswood Styles and his family.

The glass-plate negative scans are currently on Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_virginia) and will soon be cataloged on DigiTool.


  1. Kollynn Meier said:
    16 December 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Michael Miley is my great great great grandfather, more info(he was captured and 3 of his brothers went to the Union and he and his other brother went to Confederacy.

    • kollynn meier said:
      10 May 2015 at 11:09 pm

      actually he is my step great great great grandfather, but it still counts dont it
      my step grandfather actually has a book salvaged from his photogragraphy shop after it burned down
      and it contains many pictures of civil war generals many with general lee and his family and his horse traveler, his son was a photographer as well and has many pictures of later to be famous ww2 generals after graduating from the academy

      • Bonnie Miley said:
        27 November 2016 at 7:27 pm

        I’m related to him, also. My fmgrandfather and father were named after the great generals of the Civil War. Ashly Jackson Miley. They were very proud to be descendants of this great man, Michael Miley.

  2. Don Hopkins MD said:
    18 May 2015 at 3:38 pm

    I am the author of the newest work on Robert E. Lee photographs “Robert E. Lee in War and Peace, a Photographic History of a Confederate and American Icon.” I would be very interested in hearing more about the book and photographs salvaged from Miley’s studio. Any help appreciated.

    • kollynn meier said:
      14 October 2015 at 9:51 pm

      @Don hopkins
      hey I apologize for getting to you so late so if you do see this and you have instagram follow me @20meiek and Ill DM you some pictures just tell me some things that you want, my grandpa( Miley’s great grandson)
      knows more on the subject though

      • Very Interesting said:
        19 October 2015 at 2:30 pm

        I found this site when I noticed M. Miley in the lower left plate of an original photograph of my Great Grandmother who lived in Rockbridge, Va. She was born in 1851 and looks to to be about 18 in the photograph – so I would say it is circa 1870. Thank you so much for posting the information and photos!

  3. Katherine Heintzelma said:
    22 October 2015 at 9:52 am

    From an antique store in Kitty Hawk NC, I bought an old photograph by M. Miley & Son Lexington VA of an interesting looking woman. The writing on the back reads “Ethel Puilt when she was at C. A. School”. My guess from the photo is that it was taken in the 20′s. I would love to know more about her and what C. A. School was. Any info would be appreciated. I can email a picture of the photograph.
    Thank you!

  4. John Swisher said:
    7 November 2015 at 9:10 am

    I have done extensive gemology research around Lexington, VA regards my great grandfathers family of Kerrs Creek, VA and most if not all of his children must of had their portraits taken in the Miley Studio.
    I am in hopes of other Swisher’s will see the tintype within my portrait section of my website and correspond with me on what they may know.

    • Pat Parks said:
      20 June 2016 at 10:57 am

      My grandmother was a Swisher from Kerr’s Creek. I also have Miley family photos. Are you trying to identify family members? Glad to help if I can…

      • Dale said:
        21 June 2016 at 7:54 am

        Yes, any identification of the portraits would be greatly appreciated. The collection is available on flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_virginia) for viewing, and comments can be left regarding portraits. THANKS!

  5. Don Hopkins said:
    11 January 2016 at 8:03 am

    I do not do Instagram etc. Would be very interested in more information on Miley from Kollynn Meier. Perhaps she could contact me by eMail for phone number. I am in the process of revising the Miley info in my book. Don Hopkins

    • Norma said:
      9 April 2017 at 10:16 pm

      Michael Miley was my great-granduncle. I wrote an article about him that was published in the UDC magazine, March 2016. One of my cousins had some of his photos, but since he passed away, I don’t know who now has them. I’m looking for a photo of Amanda Miley, Michael’s sister.

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