BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - This week our Region 8 Road Trip took us to Batesville. Batesville is the oldest town in Arkansas and although photographers were not unknown to the town very few photographs of early Batesville and the surrounding areas exist.
His name was Harry Lewis Miller, and although not nationally famous as a photographer, his black and white photographs of the early days of Batesville and the surrounding area made him famous in a small town.
Miller first appeared on the 1900 census in Batesville. Miller had moved to the town from North Dakota to set up his photography studio.
Sharan Pittser the Curator of Collections at the Old Independence Regional Museum donned a pair of linen gloves and carefully pulled photos and photo albums from their protective plastic covers.
"He (Miller) was really creative and artistic in so many ways." Pittser said. She showed me a photo of a chubby dark haired baby laying on a blanket. "Heavens, he took a picture of a baby in its diapers when you just did not do that."
Miller used a bellows view camera and glass plates to make his photographs. All of which had to be transported by wagon and buggy to various locations.
One of the ways Miller specialized was in his photography of the African-American people living around Batesville. From children playing in a stream to a community group in their Sunday best in a cotton field, Miller was one of the first to record their every day lives.
Miller married widow Birdie Kennard McDearmon in 1902 and there are a few pictures of him and Birdie; although, it is not clear who took them since auto timers were not yet in common use in the early 1900's. One particular photo show Miller and Birdie from the back looking out over a large cultivated area. Pittser said that the couple hoped to buy this particular piece of land but the deal fell through.
Miller was fascinated by the building of the railroad and steamboats, as well as the people on the river and the houses and towns they lived in. There was a large Greek community involved in the railroad construction and Millers sharp photographs bring these work-worn faces into startlingly clear focus.
But Miller also was passionate about the landscapes around Batesville.
Pittser, "He was taking a lot of landscape pictures that other photographers were not taking at the time. " One picture shows an older African-American gentlemen and his dog sitting on a high bluff over looking Calico Rock others show shell harvesters with the high rock walls behind their boats.
Cushman cave outside of Batesville was a particular favorite location for Miller. He took pictures of the cave both inside and out, The pictures show muddy cave explorers inside the cave and groups of well-dressed men and women holding parties in the large entrance. Miller was so fond of this cave he chose that location when he and Birdie were married.
Even though he did have a studio in town Miller actually took very few pictures of Batesville itself.
Pittser, "There's a couple of main street pictures, one of a circus parade and one when there was snow on the ground."
Miller left Batesville around 1910 moving to Little Rock and back North before eventually winding up in Los Angeles where he died in 1943 at the age of 72. Very few of his photos remain there are 3 complete albums. another album was nearly destroyed in a fire and only a few burned photos survived with their charred edges enclosed in protective sheets of plastic. Family members and others have been bringing or sending photos in over the years. The largest collections are in Batesville and Little Rock.
Historic buildings may remain but the living history is often lost to time. Miller's photos catch that history in sharp black and white.
Pittser, "We wouldn't have those if it hadn't been for Harry Miller and his interest in unusual pictures.It's the life of that time, from 1900 to 1910. We wouldn't have it if he had not recorded it."