After their first date in Shawnee in the late 1970s, historic preservation consultants Jeff Darbee and Nancy Recchie fell in love with each other and the area.
"I was working at the Ohio Historic Preservation Office on nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and saw there was an unfinished one for Shawnee," Darbee said. "I went down there to take a look, and that's where I went on my first date with Nancy. It's a wonderful historic resource with overhanging porches; I've never seen anything like it. Then we got to know people there."
Three decades, numerous friendships and various projects later, the husband-and-wife duo have put together a pictorial history book about the region they love so much.
"Little Cities of Black Diamonds," released today by Arcadia Publishing, explores life and times in the Little Cities region during the coal boom from the late 1800s to early 1900s.
The Little Cities of Black Diamonds encompasses parts of southern Perry, western Morgan, northern Athens and eastern Hocking counties. Many communities in the 15-mile area are part of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council, which, like Darbee and Recchie, works tirelessly to preserve the area's history and culture.
"Over the years we got to know people and we admire the perseverance of these folks - active preservationists in Appalachian Ohio," Darbee said. "They're trying to increase heritage efforts and interest in culture. We also want to increase interest and support, and thought people ought to know the history so they can appreciate the area."
Darbee and Recchie built on their relationships with these passionate residents, as well as private collectors, libraries and organizations like the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council, to obtain hundreds of photos and information and piece history together.
The authors, who previously authored the pictorial history book "German Columbus," enjoyed this form of storytelling instead of just creating a text-only book.
"The saying 'a picture is worth 1,000 words' is true," Darbee said. "It helps you visualize that time period. There are terrific pictures like in the beginning of the railroad section there four guys on a push car with one playing a shovel like a banjo. This is evocative and shows how they lived. We found things like this that added richness to the book. It's about the places and the people who lived there."
While Darbee is partial to Shawnee, he also enjoys the "distinct character and sense of place" each Little City has to offer - and he hopes readers will too.
"I hope people will want to see the area, appreciate the area and patronize its businesses," he said. "I hope they take away an increased awareness of what the multifaceted area has to offer in teaching, entertainment, recreation and architecture.