THE OPPORTUNITY offered to De'Onne C. Scott was to produce a picture book on Stafford County's past.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
But consider that Stafford has more than 100 million years of history and Scott had just five months to prepare a text and collect more than 200 photographs.
"I lost a lot of sleep worrying about all the details," admitted Scott over a cup of coffee last week. "I think my next book will be all fiction with no pictures."
Despite the stress, Scott met the deadline and her first published book is now available as part of the "Images of America" series by Arcadia Publishing.
Scott said the book includes about 230 photos, of which about 50 percent have never been published before. Almost all the photographs depict scenes from 50 years or more in Stafford's past.
The softcover book is 128 pages long and sells for $19.99. The author will have a book signing Sunday
from 4 to 6 p.m. at Belmont, the Gari Melchers Estate and Memorial Gallery in Falmouth.
Scott said copies of the book will be available at the gift shop at Belmont and at Borders Books, Music & Cafe. It also can be ordered from the publisher's Web site at arcadiapublishing.com.
Scott said friends who have seen advance copies of the book usually respond with "Oh, I know that place " or "Yes, I remember that " as they turn pages.
She said the project began as a result of her postcard collection.
"Apparently, someone from Arcadia saw part of my collection on the local library Web site, and they contacted me about doing a postcard book," Scott said. "At first, I thought it was some kind of a scam."
That first phone call came last November. And Scott said that by the time the paperwork was finalized, she had a five-month deadline.
"They told me they needed at least 180 images," Scott said. "But my postcard collection had only about 30 Stafford County scenes. So I proposed to Arcadia that I do a regular picture book instead."
Scott, 51, is a native of West Virginia, but she has lived in Stafford since 1973. Her husband, Paul, is a sixth-generation native of the Fredericksburg area. So, between them they had lots of contacts in their quest for Stafford photographs.
Scott works part time as a docent at Belmont, and she was able to access some photos from the Belmont archives. Others were available through the Library of Congress.
Many longtime county residents also proved to be key contributors to the book. That group included Daniel Chichester, D.P. Newton, Shirley Heim, Eileen Shelton Greene, Marion Brooks Robinson and the late Rev. E.T. "Tick" Bourne.
Scott said two good sources of background information for her book were the previous works "They Called Stafford Home" by Jerrilynn Eby and "A History of Our Own: Stafford County, Virginia" by Al Conner.
Some chapters of Scott's book have a specific focus: prehistory, Americans Indians and Pocahontas, George Washington or the Civil War. Others are more general: historic churches, people, places, creeks and rivers, or Stafford's changing landscape.
Scott admits that some of the photos don't include a lot of caption information.
"I'm hoping someone out there will be able to add some details," she said. "I think that's part of a good book--to put something out there that will start a conversation."
The book's cover photo shows Falmouth residents gathered on the porch of Berry's Grocery in the early 1900s. Other interesting photographs include interior shots of Belmont from the 1920s and school groups from as early as 1900.
Heim, a retired educator, provided the old school photos and also gave Scott some advice that helped shape the project.
"Shirley told me early on to put lots of people in there," Scott said. "And she was right."
Scott, who has a college degree in historic preservation, said she began the project expecting to focus on historic sites.
"But people quickly became the heart of the book," she said. "The more research I did, the people became more interesting, and that became the largest chapter."
Scott said her favorite photograph is a portrait of a young woman named Susie E. Noonan.
Susie's mother was a woman named Alice Sullivan, who during the Civil War lived near the intersection of Newton and White Oak roads.
According to family legend, a Union soldier who was camped nearby helped himself to a warm pie that Sullivan had placed in a window to cool. An outraged Sullivan went to the nearest officer to complain. We don't know if the pie was returned, but the culprit proved to be a soldier named Noonan. And after the war, he came back to Stafford and looked up the woman whose pie he had stolen. Eventually they married, and their daughter became the young Susie Noonan in the photograph.
Scott said she picked up some nuggets of information about Stafford while preparing the book.
"I was surprised to learn that there were so many schools in the county's history, and also just how important Falmouth was--more important than Fredericksburg at one time," she said. "And I was interested that John Wilkes Booth's body passed through Stafford after his death--right on Belle Plains Road within sight of where I now live."
I asked Scott what she hoped people would take away from her book.
"I hope readers come away with an appreciation of the diversity of the county's history," she said.
"In the end, what's really important is the people the survivors, the people who stuck it out during the hard times, especially after the Civil War. They're the ones who really built the county."