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Historianís photo book notes change in Cape Fear
By Ben Steelman   - 10/01/2007

Star News

The title on the cover looks like Then and Now: Wilmington, but Susan Taylor Block says she didn't mean to trespass on the title of Andy Koeppel's 1999 book, Wilmington: Then and Now.

Block says her new book began when Jim Kempert, an editor with Arcadia Publishing of Charleston, S.C., approached her with an idea: to take some of the historic photographs from Block's earlier Arcadia books, Along the Cape Fear and Cape Fear Lost, and compare what those locations look like today. (Because development has been so overwhelming along the coastline, they decided to sidestep Block's Cape Fear Beaches.)

"So the title's really Wilmington, but it's in the Arcadia 'Then and Now' series," Block said.

Whatever the title, Block will be selling copies of it from 2 to 4 p.m. today at the Cape Fear Museum, 814 Market St. Price for the paperback is $19.99.

Block and Kempert spent some cold winter days driving around North Carolina to identify sites of some of the images that had intrigued the editor. Most of the "Now" photos in the book are Kempert's.

Some of the photos will be familiar to fans of the earlier books, but Block extensively rewrote her text, often updating it with material she'd found out since Along the Cape Fear came out in 1998 and Cape Fear Lost in 1999.

Take the oldest known photo of Wilmington: a scratchy daguerreotype dating from 1847. (It's on page 10.) Block has pretty well confirmed that the photographer was John Plumbe Jr., who was active in Wilmington about that time. "He liked to do landscapes," she said, "and he was fascinated with Masonry" - and sure enough, St. John's Masonic Lodge is in the background. There's some kind of carriage in the foreground, and Block found that a stable near the lodge rode people to the old railroad station, some distance from downtown.

"You just keep learning stuff," Block said. "It's fun."




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