National Society of Colonial Dames of
America in Tennessee

Vanderbilt Collection - Dyer Observatory
Portrait #1635
Dyer, Arthur J.
Artist:Seyfert, Muriel M.
Date Created:1953
Owner/Location:Vanderbilt University
Dyer Observatory
1000 Oman Drive
Brentwood, TN 37027
Frame Dimensions:
Image Dimensions:45 x 37
Materials/Media:Oil on canvas
Date Documented:23 August 2008

Description:The subject is an older man in three-quarter view facing slightly left but with his head turned to look at the viewer through blue eyes framed by glasses. His gray hair is parted on his left, and he is smiling. He wears a blue shirt with slightly darker blue bow tie under a grey buttoned vest with darker grey pants. His left hand is on the bridge railing and his right is on the head of what might be an Irish Setter. The dog on his left wears a blue collar and has a dark head and light body and muzzle. The Cumberland River behind the subject shows barges and another bridge in the distance.
History of Work:In 1935 Muriel E. Mussells married Carl Keenam Seyfert. Muriel Seyfert painted the portrait while living in the Director's House on the Arthur J. Dyer Observatory property.
Notes:The Arthur J. Dyer Observatory is an astronomical observatory owned and operated by Vanderbilt University. Built in 1953, it is located in Brentwood, Tennessee. The observatory is named after Arthur J. Dyer, who paid for the observatory's 24-foot (7.3 m)-wide dome, and houses a 24-inch (610 mm) reflecting telescope named for astronomer Carl Seyfert. Vanderbilt's first observatory (1875)was housed on the campus itself.

When Seyfert joined the university's faculty in 1946, he lobbied for increasing the astronomy department's modest course offerings and for a new observatory. He solicited donations from over 80 Nashville businesses to outfit the new observatory and convinced Dyer, owner of Nashville Bridge Company, to donate the funds for and to install the observatory's dome. When the observatory opened in December 1953, Seyfert was named its director, and, after his death, the 24-inch (610 mm) telescope was named in his honor.

Arthur J. Dyer, an 1891 graduate of the Vanderbilt Engineering School, founded the Nashville Bridge Company, the state's most productive and important bridge building firm. Dyer worked for a variety of bridge companies over in the 1890s before he borrowed $750 and entered a partnership with H. T. Sinnot in a bridge company known as the H. T. Sinnot Company. The firm reorganized in 1902, when Dyer purchased Sinnot's interest and renamed the firm the Nashville Bridge and Construction Company. In late 1903 or 1904 the firm underwent a second reorganization and became known as the Nashville Bridge Company. The firm built its headquarters in downtown Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River, where a large complex containing a six-story office building remains. It also maintained a Latin-American branch office in Colombia.

The commissions of Nashville Bridge Company came from throughout the southeastern United States as well as many Central and South American countries. The firm was recognized for its work in movable bridges and built several along the Gulf Coast. The company claimed to have built over half of all the bascule bridges in Florida.

As a result of federal legislation passed in 1916, the bridge building industry changed and standardized bridge plans. While independent bridge companies continued to design and build bridges for cities and counties, their work on state projects was generally limited to providing steel or construction activities.

In 1915 the Nashville Bridge Company built a small floating derrick hull for the Army Corps of Engineers, which marked the beginning of its shift from bridge construction to the marine field. The company expanded by building a new plant in 1922-23 at Bessemer, Alabama. In the late 1920s Dyer's son Harry took over operations of the firm's Marine Department. His crews built barges on a production line basis and launched them from pivoted arms, a technique never used before. This new method proved very successful, and the company's barge business expanded substantially. Although the Great Depression resulted in bankruptcy and closure of innumerable bridge companies across the country, the Nashville Bridge Company's anomalous survival was due, in large part, to its diversified interests in marine production. In the early 1940s the U.S. Navy hired the firm to manufacture dozens of vessels, and the company expanded its Nashville complex.

Over the years, the Nashville Bridge Company decreased its bridge building and expanded its Marine Department. By the 1960s it had become the world's largest builder of inland barges. In 1969 the Dyer family sold the company, and there have been several subsequent owners. In 1972 the firm sold its bridge and structural building operations.