After writing seven books, local author and historian Tom Perry still says he doesn’t know how all of it happened. His love of history and the library brought him right back to where he started — the library.
Perry was the last author to speak in a series at the Mount Airy Public Library called “Lunch with an Author.” He spoke to a crowd of about 20 Tuesday afternoon.
Perry grew up in Ararat, Va., near Laurel Hill where he started the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Trust.
“My grandparents, Erie and Idell Bates Perry, lived on Pine Street. My father, Erie, was their son. I would visit my grandparents because my mother worked at Cross Creek Apparel (Quality Mills) for 38 years as a working mom. My dad would leave me with his parents at the corner of Pine and Marshall streets just a few houses down from the old Mount Airy Library.
“My mother worked her whole life in a mill, but she also had a great love of reading,” Perry said. “I developed that same love of reading and a love affair with the library.”
Perry said local writer Ruth Minick called upon him to help her get a local marker for the Stoneman’s Raid in Mount Airy. He said the sign later became his “reason for living.” He became obsessed with learning everything that had anything to do with the history of J.E.B. Stuart.
Perry started the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust, Inc. in 1990. The non-profit organization preserved 75 acres of the Stuart property including the house site where James Ewell Brown Stuart was born on Feb. 6, 1833. Perry wrote the eight interpretive signs about Laurel Hill’s history along with the Virginia Civil War Trails sign and the new Virginia Historical Highway Marker in 2002.
Perry served as president of the organization when more than $250,000 was raised. As emeritus board member and president of the national advisory board until recently, Perry guided the direction of the organization and when people visit the site today there is not a single thing at the site that was not Perry’s idea. This is documented in his papers at Virginia Tech along with oral interviews and writings.
Perry believes it is time for the site to become a state or national park. He continues his work to preserve Stuart’s Birthplace producing the Laurel Hill Teacher’s Guide for educators and the Laurel Hill Reference guide for groups and the organization to share his lifetime of research on the only preserved site in the nation relating to the birthplace and boyhood home of James Ewell Brown Stuart.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the effort, Perry has released new editions of five books on Patrick County and J.E.B. Stuart history. The five new editions include “Ascent To Glory: The Genealogy of J.E.B. Stuart,” “The Free State of Patrick: Patrick County Virginia In The Civil War,” “J.E.B. Stuart’s Birthplace: The History of the Laurel Hill Farm,” “Notes From The Free State Of Patrick: Patrick County, Virginia, and Regional History” and “God’s Will Be Done: The Christian Life of J. E. B. Stuart.” The books have new material after being revised and indexed.
Perry has produced three photographic histories released from Arcadia Publishing including “Images of America: Patrick County, Virginia” and “Images of America: Henry County, Virginia” and “Then and Now: Patrick County, Virginia” to be released in March and May 2009, respectively. Also, coming this year are “North Carolina Has Done Nobly J.E.B. Stuart’s North Carolina Connections” and “J.E.B. Stuart’s Birthplace: A Guide For Educators and Visitors.”
Perry will host The Free State of Patrick Festival at the Ararat, Va., Ruritan Building on April 25 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The theme of the event is book, community, history and many regional authors and historical organizations inside the building while the local vendors focusing on the Dan River District of Patrick County will set up outside to sell their crafts, wares and promote their business or organization.
Perry said he wanted to do something to support the community he grew up in and promote authors and historical organizations, whose mission he supports.
There is no charge to set up at this event, but interested persons must be approved and submit the proper paperwork by April 15. There is no admission charge, and parking is free. Unregistered outside vendors must pay $20 after April 15.
The event is sponsored by Pages bookstore, 235 N. Main St.. The Ararat Ruritan Club is at 4711 Ararat Highway, in Ararat, Va.
Perry’s books are available on www.amazon.com and Perry’s Web site www.freestateofpatrick.com.