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Tracking Progress - New Book Chronicles Boone County Changes
By Lew Moores   - 02/21/2006

The Sunday Challenger

THEN...:Flooding at a Rabbit Hash store in 1937.
RABBIT HASH - The photos were taken 30 years apart, but they show the passage of time only in the sign above the general store and the clothing the children wear.

The top photo is of the 1937 Ohio River flood that reached 80 feet and caused millions of dollars in damages; Craig's General Store in Rabbit Hash is awash in debris-clogged waters. Below is the 1997 flood; Craig's has become the Rabbit Hash General Store - probably the most iconic of all Rabbit Hash images - with waters reaching halfway up the entrance.

The two images are collected in yet another new book in the series of local history books being published by Arcadia Publishing, the Mount Pleasant, S.C. publisher that publishes picture books of local and regional history.

While the Rabbit Hash images are notable for their similarity, much of this new book - due out in bookstores this week - details in the images some of the contrasts between old, decidedly Boone County and the booming Boone County of today.

"Then & Now: Boone County," (Arcadia Publishing, $19.99) was put together by Robert Schrage, assistant director of Northern Kentucky Area Development District, who wrote the introduction, took most all of the current photos and wrote the captions that give text to the images.

"I wanted to do some additional works," said Schrage, who co-authored another in the Arcadia series, "Burlington." "I love history. I've always liked the idea of a then-and-now book that goes back and looks at historic images and then picture what it looks like today. I've always been fascinated with that type of presentation of history. Particularly in Boone County, where there has been such rapid growth and development. A lot of that stuff is getting lost."

Photos Were Time-Consuming

Schrage, who lives in Rabbit Hash, serves on the Boone County Historic Preservation Board and Rabbit Hash Historic Society, worked on the book for four to five months. Once historic images were gathered, he still had to research the history. But the lion's share of his time was spent re-capturing in photos places and structures found in the historic images and what they looked like now.

"Clearly, (the captions) flowed pretty well for me," said Schrage. "I wrote them in a matter of days. But the pictures took me months, maybe two-and-a-half months. Every time I'd go out I'd see something different. They took the most amount of time, but that was probably the most important part of the book. The images are what captures your eye."

The book is organized by scenes, schools, churches, communities and businesses. Dirt roads morph into paved streets. Empty landscape becomes filled with residential housing. Fields become suburbia. Horse and buggies are replaced with automobiles. Straw hats and wool ivy caps disappear. A handful of scenes don't change much - a street scene in Petersburg in western Boone changes hardly at all, save for the addition of pavement. Then and now.

Among Schrage's favorite images is an undated one showing students leaving Boone County High School in both horse and buggies and a car.

"I did schools because they're such an institution in the county," said Schrage. "Churches are part of the history of the county. They're (churches) not going to show development, but the scenes section was going to show the real development of the county. You drive by things and take them for granted. Nearly every inch of the county has a history to it. Yes, I do worry about historic preservation in the county. It's a given that when you have a county growing as rapidly as Boone County, there's going to be losses. There's two buildings in the book now that are already gone."

Schrage was born and raised in Ludlow and has lived in Rabbit Hash since 1989, just a mile from the general store. He is about to embark on another Arcadia project to explore the Ohio River from the Cincinnati-NKY area to Louisville using vintage postcards portraying river life.

Appreciate Boone County

"I love Rabbit Hash, that's where I call home," said Schrage. "I've always been partial to the river corridor because I've lived my entire life, with the exception of one year, within a mile of the Ohio River. I really love the Ohio River. I gave them a proposal for a book on the Ohio River valley. It's a book based on postcard images. The impression I got is they want to do it."

In the meantime, he wants for readers to appreciate Boone County, then and now.

"I think books like this really do play a small role in the preservation of the history of the county," said Schrage. "I really wanted people who were long-term citizens of the county to be able to look back and see the things they know have been lost. But I think it also serves a role with people moving into the county who don't understand the history, who didn't grow up in the county."

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