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Book captures snapshots of Escalon
By Leslie Albrecht   - 09/18/2008

The Modesto Bee

ESCALON -- Horses and carriages cruising down a dirt-paved Main Street, men relaxing on the porch of the city's first saloon in the late 1800s and stores selling five-cent candy bars.

Those are some of the bygone images captured in a new book about Escalon's history. "Escalon" is a 127-page collection of photos accompanied by paragraph-length captions.

It goes on sale for $19.99 Sept. 24 at the Escalon Historical Society; proceeds will go toward the society and its museum.

The book is part of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series, which specializes in printing histories of communities throughout the country. In the Central Valley, the publisher has printed histories of Turlock, Atwater, Sonora and Madera.

Arcadia doesn't release sales figures for its books. Neither does the Barnes & Noble in Merced, which stocks the Atwater and Madera versions, but a store manager confirmed that the "Images of America" books do sell.

The Escalon Historical Society has ordered 400 copies of the book. The book features about 200 photos.

Historical Society member Barbara Willis picked out the photos and wrote the text for the book, which took about six months to put together. Willis got the idea to pursue the project after she saw an "Images of America" book during a visit to Marshall, Mich., the small town where she spent her teenage years.

She pitched the idea to Arcadia last fall, then went to work picking out photos. Willis also interviewed about two dozen people who helped bring the pictures to life. Interviewees told her anecdotes about the faces, buildings and events in the old photos, some of which date back to the late 1800s.

Stories included reminiscences of people such as Frances Bender, the red-haired proprietor of the legendary
Bender's Escalon Home Bakery Fountain.

Willis also learned about Escalon's sacrifices during World War I, when a flag emblazoned with 70 blue stars, one for every local soldier serving in the war, hung over Main Street.

Willis won't be paid for her work on the book. The Historical Society will keep the entire cover price of copies purchased at its museum; the society keeps a percentage of profits from copies sold elsewhere.

Willis said she hopes the book will preserve memories for Escalon's older residents and introduce a new generation to parts of the city's history they may not know about.

For example, probably not many Escalon teens are aware that the town once was home to blacksmith businesses and its own movie theater, said Willis, 56.

"As time has gone on and I've lost friends and family members, there are things that I can't get answers to because the people that could give me the answers aren't here," said Willis.

"There are things that I want to pass on to the next generation. I have to set about gathering the information in order to pass it along, so there's not a void."





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