Mystery Monday: Who Is ‘A. Beerbower’ in the Frances “Fannie” Isabella (Brown) Chapman Photo Collection?

A. Beerbower, Iowa City, Iowa photographer.
A. Beerbower, Iowa City, Iowa photographer. (Click to enlarge.)

Beerbower Family, Helbling Family (Click for Family Tree)

A kind lady who owns this photo contacted us after finding the blog’s stories about other Beerbowers. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly who this “A. Beerbower” is. We do have a few possibilities, and knowing the photographer and being able to determine approximately when he was in business and where can help us pinpoint who it might be. Thankfully, we have a scan of the reverse of the picture, and it includes the photographer’s name and place of business.

Isaac Augustus Wetherby was a portrait painter in Boston, Massachusetts in 1849, but by 1854 he had taken a photo of the old Iowa Capitol, so most likely the image of A. Beerbower was taken sometime around or after that later date. Further research listed on a walking tour in Iowa City stated that Wetherby had a commercial photography studio from 1854-1874 in Iowa City, so we now have our time frame for the photo.

A. Beerbower, Iowa City, Iowa photographer, reverse.
A. Beerbower, Iowa City, Iowa photographer, reverse.

Iowa City can be a transient place, since it is the home of the University of Iowa. Students from other states attend the university, and people often had their likeness made when they were visiting an area. So we know that just because the photo was taken there does not mean that A. Beerbower actually lived there.

Andrew C. Beerbower is one candidate for consideration as “A. Beerbower.” He was born about 1843 in Ohio (possibly Hardy, Holmes, Ohio) to George Albert Beerbower and Margaret Virginia Wolgamott. George was the son of Caspar J. Beerbower (1782-1851) and Christina (Reiber) Beerbower (1784-1849), as was Eleazer John Beerbower (1815-1882), our direct ancestor.

Andrew’s parents moved the family to Lincoln Twp., Madison County, Iowa, about 1852, when Andrew was about nine. Andrew was 17 when war broke out, and enlisted in Company H, Iowa 23rd Infantry Regiment on 29 Aug 1862. Might this image have been one he had taken for a sweetheart or his parents before he went off to war? Possibly, but often those photos would be in full military uniform. Also, Iowa City was 150 miles from Andrew’s home.

The photo was not taken when he came home, as he did not make it home- he was killed at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, in Louisiana, on 7 June 1863- his birthday per one account.

Andrew’s brother was Albert A. Beerbower- yet another candidate for the above picture. Albert was also born in Ohio, about 1845 or so. He married his first wife in Montezuma, Powesheik, Iowa. Looking at census records, we find an Albert Beerbower in the 1880 US Federal Census- in Iowa City! He was 35 that year though, so could this be his picture? (Have not yet found him in the 1870 census.)

At first glance, one last candidate is Albert W. Beerbower, born September 1888 in Iowa to Orange J. Beerbower and Jennie B. Beerbower. When one reads back that our photographer was only in practice from 1854-1874, we see that we can eliminate this particular Beerbower.

There were a lot of Beerbowers in Madison County, Iowa around these years, so there may be others, or the man in the picture could have been from another state entirely. Right now though, my wager is on Albert A. Beerbower being the proper identification of this photo- if he was found in the 1870 census in the same place, it would be a very plausible conclusion, and age 25 may be closer to his actual age when the portrait was taken.

The only way we will know the name of this young man for sure is by someone else having the same image and knowing who it is. We hope that one of our readers will be just that person, and contact us!


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. I. A. Wetherby–
  2. “Old Capitol” in Iowa, 1854 by I.A. Wetherby- Isaac A. Wetherby image of Old Capitol at the time of the 1854 Johnson County fair. The Capitol was in Iowa City, Johnson Co., Iowa until 1857 when it moved to Des Moines.
  3. Wetherby Cottage–
  4. History of Madison County, Iowa, and Its People, Volume 1. Herman A. Mueller, editor,  S. J. Clarke publishing Company, 1915, page 298.


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