At the age of 8, author Mollie Gallop Bradbury Mims wrote her own newspaper.
She laid out the pages in pencil, hand-drew the pictures and sold them to her neighbors for a nickel each down North Robinson Street in Cleburne.
In 1985, she published a 900-page tome, “Johnson County History,” a compendium of the county’s colorful past.
This week marks the release of her second book, “Cleburne,” part of the “Images of America” series — a book filled with more than 140 years of Cleburne history, this time presented in 208 photographs and descriptions.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this book could be worth millions.
A few pages into the book, a picture shows dozens of horses and buggies circling the Johnson County courthouse in 1883 before it burned down the same day the Titanic sunk.
The first airplane built in Texas, started in Cleburne and finished in Keene, was called “Old Soggy No. 1” and is pictured in Chapter 2.
Near the middle of the book, a photo shows the empty, green expanses that surrounded Yellow Jacket Stadium in 1941.
Mims said the year she spent researching the book taught her much about the county and her own family, and she thinks even longtime Cleburne residents could find something they never knew.
“I’ve always been interested in family history, and I’ve learned by working in genealogy that if you don’t record it, write it down, save it, preserve it now, when that person is gone, that information is gone,” she said. “So, I guess my love for that turned into trying to save some of the community history.”
Starting in the Layland Museum as a historical researcher, Mims waded through thousands of negatives the Times-Review donated several years ago covering the ’50s through the ’70s and any other photos and documents she could find.
“The museum has extensive photograph files on some subjects, so I was allowed access to that and to scan what I thought might be needed. I also helped people dig boxes out of their closets and took photographs off of several people’s walls, including this cover photograph,” she said. “I dismantled them out of their frames, scanned them and handed them back. A lot of the times those are one-of-a-kind photographs where someone just shot a picture of something and it turned out to be great.”
The cover photograph, courtesy of Dewey C. James of the Johnson County Cooperative Gin in 1934, was one of eight photographs Mims sent for approval, choosing images she thought would be appropriate for the cover showing different aspects of life through the decades in Johnson County.
Of the 8,000 photos and negatives she looked at, she said, she found it difficult to narrow them down with so many people sharing incredible stories, photo or not.
Among the many who volunteered their time to help her, Mims thanked the Layland Museum, Sandra Davis Jones, Gary Shaw, Bob Force, Tommy Altaras and Stamm Todd.
“One of the most difficult things for me to do was to keep the length of the descriptions within the publishers guidelines because there’s so much more to the story that I wanted to tell about many of the pictures,” she said. “A lot of things that I wanted to put in the book that I found out about, I had to leave out because I couldn’t find a quality photograph.”
But the images that did make the cut capture moments that have been buried by time or locked up in a museum, some of the best having never been published before.
“One of the most interesting photographs I found was actually in the collection at the Layland Museum, and it had been donated a number of years ago by a woman in Cleburne,” she said. “The photograph is the dirigible that [Charles] Rosendahl flew over Cleburne.”
The photograph shows the 785-foot-long, helium-filled airship floating high above North Anglin Street, where his mother turned on all her lights so her son, commander of the USS Akron, could see his home and drop a weighted letter down to her.
“Another photograph that is in the book was a war-bond parade, and I questioned whether or not it was in Cleburne. They thought it was, but they weren’t sure,” Mims said about a photo filled with townspeople grazing hands with soldiers riding by in a troop train during World War I. “I knew this one was because the person who took it wrote on the back of it.”
The accompanying picture features hundreds of residents marching down Henderson Street and mirrors today’s community in the midst of a foreign war and battling an influenza epidemic.
“This one I thought was very interesting because it showed so many of the buildings. I went through town to find some of these buildings because some of them still exist,” she said.
It was, indeed, Cleburne. She knew from noticing a dime store here, a Piggly Wiggly sign there and a fuzzy dome far in the background.
“So, you go back to the old telephone directories and look up where those stores were and what street it was. Then you find out if that was at that address then that building is still here, right where that address was,” Mims said. “But what really was the tipper on this one, there’s a little dome right there, and I couldn’t figure out what that was. This is looking toward the railroad track and the courthouse is here off Henderson Street. That dome, at that time, was Henderson Street Church.”
Mims’ father, J.C., moved to Cleburne to work for the Santa Fe railroad, like thousands of others, and some things she learned hit closer to home.
“I had to leave out a lot of things. For about a decade, we had a Jack and Jill’s Doll Store, which a lot of grandmothers, mothers and little girls came to, and that’s very unusual for a community this size to have something like that,” she said with a smile. “My mother had it. It was in our home. I had no photograph. So, I couldn’t use it in the book, and there’s a lot of stories I got like that.”
“Cleburne” by Arcadia Publishing will be available at arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665 on Monday for $21.99.
It will also be at local retailers, online bookstores, the Layland Museum and the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce office by the end of the week, she said.
Mims will have a book signing from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the Liberty Hotel, located at 205 S. Caddo St. in Cleburne, and another at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Layland Museum, located at 201 S. Caddo St.
As for future projects, Mims said she is always writing and would love to get the “Johnson County History” book republished.
Maybe as she’s signing a copy of “Cleburne”, she can teach you something you’ve never known about the town.