By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
EDINBURG -- The whole notion of not judging a book by its cover can be tossed out the window for the latest depiction of Shenandoah County's rich history.
In association with the Shenandoah County Historical Society, Edinburg resident Jean Martin pieced together a comprehensive pictorial history of the county in the March release of "Shenandoah County," part of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. Covers for the books in the series have the same look, except for the picture featured on them.
The society submitted five photographs to the publishers as options for the latest book cover, and two were sent back as finalists. Martin said the group's vote on the final two was a tie, which meant she was able to break it and select the ultimate choice for the cover.
And since the book is about the county, she knew what the picture needed to be showcasing -- agriculture. As a result, the cover of "Shenandoah County" is that of a team of horses assisting a farmer who is bringing in wheat on Buck Hill Road off Back Road, and from that, readers can easily judge what awaits them in the next 128 pages.
"You learn something with every photograph," Martin said. "They can get the history of the county through these pictures."
The project was about 18 months in the making, with Martin asking residents to come forward with unpublished family pictures. She got as much as she could have bargained for -- Martin said hundreds of people shared photographs, and a number of those people are thanked at the beginning of the book.
About one-third of the pictures are from the society's Hugh Morrison Jr. glass plate negative collection, which is in the Shenandoah County Library, where Martin works as the archivist. Morrison ran a studio from 1895 to 1950, and there are approximately 28,000 negatives in his collection.
To tell the county's history through pictures, Martin needed such a large variety of images to choose from. The book breaks the history down into chapters dedicated to such things as churches, recreation, farming and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Martin said what she views as her favorite picture seems to change constantly.
Among her top selections is a photograph of students from Mt. Jackson's Triplett School having a "How to Fight Tuberculosis" assembly outside around 1930. Some children are dressed as clowns, representing germs, as others portray doctors and nurses. Two boys stand in front with a sign that reads "Sleep With Windows Open."
Another of the author's favorite photos is of W.C. Stickley, a farmer who turned his Buick into a tractor, and the image shows Stickley holding the plow while his wife does the driving. The farmer changed the back wheels for better traction.
Those types of stories are everywhere to be found in "Shenandoah County," and the style in which they are told caters to people who may not be inclined to read a book that is mostly a narrative. It's nothing new for Martin -- she has also authored "Images of America" books for Farmington, Conn., and Burlington, Conn.
"You can look at the pictures if that's all you want," she said. "You can just read the captions if that's what you want."
The captions range in length from 40 to 140 words.
Barbara Adamson, president of the historical society, said if a book of this type had not been published, it's likely that a wide audience of people would never have gotten the chance to see the pictures that exist in people's houses. The fact it highlights the entire county also gives it more appeal, she said.
"Many other books have been more specific, about Strasburg, or Woodstock," Adamson said. "This book focuses on the entire county. I think we needed something like that."
Martin said the book has been well received, with one kudo in particular standing out. She said a woman called and left her a phone message to say she could not fix her husband dinner one Friday night because she could not put the book down.
"We do it for the people," Martin said.
"Shenandoah County" is available for $21.99 online and at select locations in the area. For more information, contact the historical society at 984-7842.