Burlington’s blueprint may have changed throughout the years, but the fascination with the city and its place in textile history remains. For those who have lived here, they’ve seen the changes firsthand. But for newcomers, the history of Alamance County may not be so readily accessible.
This is one of the reasons Don Bolden, Times-News editor emeritus, compiled 222 vintage photographs depicting the city’s growth from a railroad town, once known as Company Shops, to the various industries that have called Burlington home in his sixth book, “Images of America: Burlington.”
“I wanted this to be as comprehensive as possible, to show the whole community,” Bolden said in a recent interview at the Times-News. “So many people are going to see themselves in this book.”
The 127-page book by Arcadia Publishing is divided into seven chapters including the World War II years, schools, sports and recreation, churches, businesses, government, streets, events and people.
One photo Bolden particularly was happy about was of Charlie Morgan, a well-known area resident and a character in David Wright and Gary Cole’s original play “Cole’s Dairy Lunch.” In the photo, Morgan is shown seated among churchgoers at The Peoples Methodist Church on Spence Street; the photo was taken around 1950.
“Dave Wright brought that one to me,” he said.
A photo of Cole’s Dairy Lunch, once owned and operated by Gary Cole’s grandfather and for which the play is based, can be found inside the book, too.
“A lot of people helped me with this book. It was quite a challenge, since there were no dates on most of the photographs,” he said.
Another challenge Bolden, a 51-year employee of the Times-News, encountered came in the form of reproducing many of the photos. He had negatives of many of them and since very few places develop black-and-white slides anymore, he had to turn to his great-niece Kristin Reinheimer, a junior at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Kristin works in a photo lab and was able to print the photos for him.
Although most of the photographs came from Bolden’s personal collection, folks such as Jerrie Nall, Kathy Barry, Jim Maynard and Terry Woodings, assisted him with various bits of information and photographs, too.
“I pull an Alfred Hitchcock in this one — I make a cameo appearance on page 42,” Bolden said with a laugh, pointing toward the photo of Walter Seamon, Arlene Stafford and Bolden, members of the Glenhope School’s first-grade class in 1941. According to the caption, “they were the only three in the class to achieve perfect attendance for the year.”
Although a number of the photographs proved to be fascinating, Bolden still is impressed with the existence of photos recounting a fire at The Railroad Hotel on May 24, 1904. He has about 12 photos from that fire, a few of which he used in another book.
“I don’t know how they were made,” he said. “Whoever shot them must have stayed there during the fire. That’s the only thing I can figure out.”
The Railroad Hotel remained in operation long after the railroad had gone.
“It was a favorite stop as a restaurant. It was arson; reports say it was a disgruntled employee who had been fired from the hotel that day and returned after dark to set it on fire,” Bolden said.
Other photos, like a shot of downtown Burlington, remind Bolden of his childhood.
“That’s the way the town looked when I was growing up,” he said as he pointed out a photo on page 112 featuring the street preachers, who came every week for years to preach the Gospel. They usually gathered in front of Gibson’s Ice Cream Shop on Saturday afternoons. Bolden said that building would later become Biller’s Jewelry Store.
Bolden has a number of book signings/sales planned for the next few weeks, including an event at the Times-News, 707 S. Main St., Burlington, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. He will be at the Alamance County Arts Council, 213 S. Main St., Graham, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. Nov. 23 at the Village at Brookwood, 1860 Brookwood Ave., Burlington, including a PowerPoint presentation with photos; and at 1 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Textile Heritage Museum, 62 North, next to the Glencoe Mill Village as part of its 7th annual Mill Village Christmas Tour.
“Images of America: Burlington” is $21.99. Bolden also will have copies of the 2007 book “Remembering Alamance County: Tales of Railroads, Textiles and Baseball” for $19.99, and 2002’s “20th Century Alamance — A Pictorial History” and 1995’s “Alamance: A County At War” will be sold for $10 each.
Don Bolden lives in Burlington with his wife, Billie Faye. His column can be found Sundays on the Region front.