Monday, May 9, 2011

Lost Communities of Virginia

We now interrupt the regularly scheduled blog for bit of shameless self-promotion...

Are you curious about small rural towns and how they came to be?  Are you intrigued by commercial structures that now seem to be in the middle of nowhere?  Do you enjoy hearing stories of the past from those who lived it?  Lost Communities of Virginia is a new book by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg from the Community Design Assistance Center at Virginia Tech, published by Albemarle Books, and distributed by University of Virginia Press.  

From the book jacket:

"Virginia’s back roads and rural areas are dotted with traces of once-thriving communities.  General stores, train depots, schools, churches, banks, and post offices provide intriguing details of a way of life now gone. The buildings may be empty or repurposed today, the existing community may be struggling to survive or rebuilding itself in a new and different way, but the story behind each community’s original development is an interesting and important footnote to the development of Virginia and the United States.
"The Lost Communities of Virginia project began with curiosity as Kirsten Sparenborg followed a green highway sign pointing to Eggleston and found a rural Giles County community, an elderly storekeeper, and the no longer obvious story of a once-thriving springs and railroad community. The Eggleston encounter planted the seed for Virginia Tech’s Community Design Assistance Center’s project to locate and document small Virginia communities before their built history and storytellers are lost. Over 2,600 communities were surveyed with 30 chosen that best represent the range of community types found in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
"Each community, though typical, is also unique. Lost Communities of Virginia documents stories of coal towns and grist mills, railroads and steamboats, clay smoking pipe makers and excelsior manufacturers, maple syrup and shad, church meetings and jousting matches, traveling salesmen and springs resort visitors to pique the imagination. The communities have lost their original industry, transportation mode, or way of life, but contemporary photographs, historical information, maps, and excerpts of interviews with longtime residents
awaken the bustling past."
Kirsten began this project, but I completed it, researching and visiting each of the 30 communities, writing the chapters, making maps, and taking additional photographs as needed.  Each of these small communities is, in its own way, a microcosm of American history.  Some contributed to national causes like Pocahontas coal powering U.S. Navy ships; all were affected by national economic and social circumstances such as Depressions and the advent of the automobile.  

I urge you to look at your own home town and learn more about its past.  If you live in a city or large town, look at your neighborhood.  What economic driver caused its development?  What happened when that driver was lost?  Why would new development be likely to survive today when it didn't in the past?  Are there older residents who can tell you about your community's past? Be curious about your home and you will learn a lot about the community's place and its attitudes in today's world.

The Lost Communities of Virginia book is available through on-line sellers and at your local bookstore if you live in Virginia.  Be sure to visit the Lost Communities of Virginia Facebook page for more information.

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