Jackson County is both rich in heritage and full of stories, and our recognition of the newspaper’s need to share more of that local culture gave rise to the Ruralite Cafe about a dozen years ago.
In a similar fashion, the realization that readers would likely enjoy a photo feature that contrasted modern scenes with their historical counterparts led Herald photographer Nick Breedlove and me to create the newspaper’s “Then and Now” series on Aug. 25, 2005. Given that week’s historical significance – the 65th anniversary of Jackson County’s greatest natural disaster, the 1940 flood – we chose a photo of downtown train tracks damaged in the 1940 flood.
After choosing that first ‘Then and Now’ candidate, Nick set out down the train tracks behind Mill Street to try and capture a modern-day companion image. Having aligned the new shot with the old shot, he compared the two on his computer by overlaying the new photo on top of the old one.
That first pair of images was so successful that a weekly feature was born. Our subsequent discovery of a box of dusty, unlabeled – but very interesting – photos a year or so later was the genesis of our companion “Back Then” features. We’ve now published hundreds of old photos – as “Back Thens” when it would be difficult or impossible to capture a companion current image, and as “Then and Nows” when we have a discernible mountaintop, ridgeline or structure.
Even with modern technology, there are a few pairs that Nick can’t line up perfectly –because trees are in the way or roads have been widened, built up and/or relocated – but he always gets as close as he can so our readers can see how things have changed.
These features have now given rise to two books. “Sylva,” which I wrote, came out last September from Arcadia Publishing. “Jackson County Then and Now,” co-authored by Nick and me and also from Arcadia, will debut Monday, July 27, during a 5-7 p.m. drop-in reception and booksigning at City Lights Bookstore.
When we signed the contract, Nick and I had amassed quite a few pairs of images for and only needed about 20 additional sets to round out the book.
As always – many “Back Then” photos have only been properly identified because readers call or e-mail us information – our Herald readers were amazingly helpful. In fact, our readers deserve much of the credit for both “Sylva” and “Jackson County Then and Now,” and we truly appreciate the unselfish way they share their old photos and their time. We’ve included photos that have been rescued from Dumpsters and pictures found in shoeboxes in the attic. The books include photos that have been sent from all across the country. We’ve seen Sedro Wolley, Wash., postmarks as well as envelopes mailed from Georgia, New York, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and more – a steady flow every week. We still have people who stop by The Herald and say “I’ve been meaning to get this by here for a while ...” and hand us a photo that explains one someone brought in a few weeks back.
Taken together, these images form a patchwork quilt of local history. Looking through all of them, we can begin to picture Jackson County as it once was.
One of Nick’s favorite photos to take was the “Now” image for the old train depot that once stood in the exact center of town across Mill Street from Jackson’s General Store.
“You have the peak on top of Jackson’s General Store with the words C.J. Harris and that along with the mountains were the only features in the photo I could line up.” Another of his favorites is the one given to me by the late Willa Mae Scroggs. Taken in 1895, it shows Main Street from up above City Lights. To get his current image, Nick was assisted by Dr. Patsy McGuire.
“It was a treat to hear her stories about how the town used to be,” Nick said. “She’d point down near City Lights (former office of Dr. Ralph Morgan) and talk about the cows and chickens she used to see roaming Main Street.”
Because these books wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our readers, the royalties from the Sylva book went to the Jackson County Genealogical Society, and we’ll donate our portion of the proceeds from “Jackson County Then and Now” to the Jackson County Historical Society. We want the funds to go to groups that actively work to preserve local history.
Even though it’s all about history, Nick, 25, thinks “Jackson County Then and Now” will appeal to his generation as well as their parents and grandparents.
“Its really mind-blowing to see something like the old Baptist Church or Commercial Hotel taking up most of what’s now bank parking lots,” he said. “Our ‘Then and Now’ book makes it easy to visualize the past.”
Copies of “Jackson County Then and Now” can be reserved by calling City Lights at 586-9499.