About the Donner Collection

This collection of 548 photographs comes from two albums of family photographs created by Conrad Munro Donner (1844 – 1916), a peripatetic engineer from the Hamburg-Altona area near the border between Denmark and Germany who had an active interest in photography. Self-taught, the bulk of his images reflect his experience of lowcountry rural life in Beaufort County, SC near the turn of the 20th century.

Conrad and his brother, Leonard Donner, moved to Beaufort in 1889 as mining engineers for the Pacific Guano Mining Company. Several factors led to the decline of the Beaufort area phosphate industry in the mid 1890s and the brothers decided to try farming for a living.  Around 1900 they purchased Hall’s Island to go into the “White Asparagus” business. The Donner brothers remained on Hall’s Island until their deaths within weeks of each other in August 1916. They are buried in the St. Helena Episcopal Churchyard in Beaufort, SC.

Few images of phosphate mining operations in Beaufort County are known to exist. The 35 images that Conrad Donner took of the Pacific Guano Company, a phosphate mining company operating on Chisolm Island, are especially important as they show key aspects of an industry crucial to the post-Civil War economy of Beaufort. Activities on Hall’s Island are well documented through images of farm life, often including photographs of African American laborers hard at work, and photographs of family hunting and fishing trips. Conrad Donner took images on Chisolm Island, Halls Island, and Yemassee, SC; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rye, New York, and Hamburg-Altona, Germany.

Professor Christopher Donner of Miami [ nephew of Conrad and Leonard Donner] and Dr. Christopher and Ann Donner of Cape Cod, Massachusetts donated the two albums to the Beaufort County Library in 2001.