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Town’s Past Gets New Look in Book
By Chris Fordney   - 02/26/2007

The Daily

It is either novelist William Faulkner or former Winchester Mayor Stewart Bell Jr. – or maybe both – who said, “Big thins happen in small places.”

The people of New Market realized that the morning of May 15, 1864, when about 14,000 soldiers massed west of town for a daylong battle that resulted in a rare Confederate victory that late in the Civil War. It was won partly through a just-in-time charge by cadets from Virginia Military Institute and because the Federal commander gave his orders in German when most of his troops spoke only English.

Today, New Market is known most for that battle, but that was just one day in the town’s long history. A new book in the Images of America series, “Around New Market,” captures the up and downs and daily rhythms of the town’s past in 128 pages of historical photos.

The book was written by John D. Crim, a retired construction engineer whose family goes back many generations in New Market, and James R. Graves, manager of the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum at Luray Caverns.

In a phone interview, Crim said the image on the book’s cover, which shows a dozen men in front of what is now the BB&T branch, came from his attic and the through his research he learned that one of the men was his great-grandfather, John W. Crim, a veteran of McNeill’s Rangers.

That was just one surprise in the yearlong project. “It has been interesting,” Crim said, partly because “we weren’t sure we would come up with enough images.”

Another surprise was finding a photo taken in the center of town one spring in the mid-1920s, and then coming across a very similar photo that showed the town deep in snow. Eventually they figured out that someone had “artfully altered” the same negative to created the snow-covered scene, Crim said. Both images are in the book.

Crim said New Market has always been a village of small businesses because the railroad was prevented from coming through the town and instead was laid down on the other side of the Shenandoah River to the west. As a result, no large industry dominated the town and it avoided boom-and-bust cycles, he said.

He said the photos, which depict buildings, people and the landscape surrounding the town, came from such official sources as VMI and from residents and their relatives. “We bothered everybody,” he said.

The book is dedicated to longtime New Market historian Nancy Branner Stewart.

Among the interesting characters in the book is prominent millionaire and race horse breeder Willis Sharpe Kilmer, who in the 1930s owned Court Manor, a stately farm on the southern edge of town.

According to the book, Kilmer made much of his money with “a wildly popular cure-all called Swamp Root, which was introduced during Prohibition and contained alcohol. Known for his curtness, Kilmer was once asked what the tonic was good for. He replied, ‘It is good for a quarter million a year!”

The book went of sale last week for $19.99. It’s available at the New Market Battlefield visitor’s center, the gift shop at the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant and at Luray Caverns.

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