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Local residents will have the chance to visit with the author of an Images of America book that brings the history of Carroll County to life through photos.
Carroll County Public Library hosts author Phyllis Codling McLaughlin at 6 p.m. Friday, March 1, for a book-signing event.
The book features the communities, people, churches, schools, businesses and industries of Carroll County that all flourished because of their location along major rivers.
“Carroll County” came together over the summer and autumn last year as McLaughlin researched the community’s history and worked with many local residents who had the photographs that tell those stories. McLaughlin is special sections coordinator and a former editor of The News-Democrat.
She had purchased copies of other Images of America books in places such as Madison, Ind., Detroit, Mich., and Gettysburg, Penn.
“One day I was online and looked up their website,” McLaughlin said. “There, you can see all the books they’ve published in a database you can search by region. When I saw there were no books for Carroll County, I just thought that this would be an excellent opportunity.”
She first had to convince the editor at Arcadia Publishing that such a rural community had enough history to fill a 128-page book.
Once she accomplished that, McLaughlin got to work on the book last April.
“The biggest challenge was getting people interested in sharing their family history and treasured photos,” she said. Columns she wrote for The News-Democrat sparked that interest and the work of collecting photos and information continued through July and early-August.
Research tools such as Ancestry.com, FindAGrave.com and the pages of The News-Democrat aided in her search for information, such as birth and death dates and obituaries for people in the photos or information to go with the pictures.
“I did get most of the information from the people who donated them,” McLaughlin said.
A lot of people donated photos. She said Carol Shelton gave her far more than she could ever use, as did Amy Baglan and Gary Ford.
“Nancy Jo Grobmyer gave me several excellent photos – the most poignant being the one of her father- and mother-in-law receiving her brother-in-law’s posthumous medals during World War II,” she said. “Bill Mumphrey was generous in letting me have access to a photo album donated by James Bond, and that’s where most of the Ghent photos came from.”
She praised Darrell Maines for his help with photos of Worthville and Sanders, saying those sections would not have been as interesting without his photos. Maines’ hobby is collecting old photos from the area, which he often finds at estate sales.
“My favorite of his was the one of the baptism in the creek, which I positioned across the top of two facing pages,” she said.
McLaughlin spent most of July and August trying to organize the photos and determine the layout of the book, which was entirely up to her.
One of the keys to the book is how she divided the history into sections ranging from the county seat to people, the river, schools and churches.
“It was this part of the project where my journalism experience really helped,” she said. “In fact, I don’t think I could have done it if I didn’t have such a good understanding of storytelling.”
That said, determining the chapters was the most difficult part of pulling the book together.
“Nancy Jo Grobmyer asked me one day how I was ever going to be able to do this, not being a native,” she said. “Believe me, that certainly would have helped in a lot of ways. Again, working at the paper made a difference; I am a lot more familiar with the area and the people than someone who might move here to work at just about any other job.”
She said she believed the best way to get it to flow well was to start with the earliest photos and move them forward in time, which she said worked.
While many communities are well represented, others such as English and Locust are not.
McLaughlin said she believes there is a school photo from English that got in, but she noted that she was “kind of at the mercy of people who own the photos. It’s possible they didn’t want to share them or, I suppose, didn’t know I was looking for them even though I tried my best to get the word out.”
She said she would have liked more of Locust, such as the old store that’s still standing at the corner of East Prong Locust Road and more of the Hunters Bottom area.
Space also played an issue in what was included, she said.
“The company has a very strict policy on the number of pages the book will be ... if you notice, each one has 128 pages and the layout plan for those is very specific,” she said.
In the end, she found that she had more photographs than she could ever use in that limited space.
“There were several that I wanted to use, but had to cut simply because I felt other photos were more important to get in,” she said. “I wanted as much variety as I could get and to get as many different people in as possible.”
Other photos had to be removed because their quality just wasn’t good enough to meet the requirements of the publishing company. But she did argue and win on a few of the pictures that found their way into the book.
“I had a lot of encouragement from my editor there, who was always ready to answer my questions and give me advice,” she said.
The second draft was completed in October, which mostly was helping them make sure the photos were all in the right place. The final draft was completed at the beginning of December, and it went to print shortly after that.
McLaughlin has had a love for history since her college days. In hindsight, she said she should have minored in it.
Finding out that her great-grandfather served in the Civil War motivated her to study that period of the nation’s history.
From her time as editor of the newspaper, McLaughlin said she found that Carroll County has a “rich and interesting history.” Through her work on this project, she said she found out even more about the people and the events that shaped the county.
“I think that the thing we’ve lost in modern society, with interstates making travel so easy now, is the self-sufficiency of the small towns. There were so many stores here, selling everything anyone could need. And factories,” she said. “Carrollton was much more than a top tobacco market. The Carrollton Furniture Company was very well known for making fine furniture. I recently found a newspaper clipping from sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s that claims that the first piano made west of the Allegheny Mountains was made here in a small piano factory here in Carrollton in the early 19th century. That’s a new one for me, and I plan to research that more.”
Despite her experience with newspapers publishing each week, McLaughlin said she was “petrified” that she might have made some mistake in the book that would kill her credibility and make everyone “hate the book.”
“It was scary seeing people looking through the book, just because of that,” she said. “But so far, the mistakes have been few and fairly minor. The worst has been incorrectly identifying Becky Tull’s mother in the caption for the cover photo.”
But she felt better when she saw that the caption under the same photo at the beginning of Chapter 5 had Florence Wood’s name correct.
She said that Buck Johnson also pointed out that he served in the Korean conflict, not the Vietnam War. He also let her know she gave him photo credit for a shot he had never seen before.
“So, I apologize for those things,” she said.
Despite all of this, McLaughlin said she would love to do another book and has a couple of possibilities in mind.
“I really enjoyed the process, and frankly, even with all my phobias about the final product, the best part is how well received it has been so far by people who have bought it,” she said.
Local residents will have the chance to talk about the book with McLaughlin Friday starting at 6 p.m. at the book signing at the library.
For those who can’t make that event, she also has been invited to give a talk about the book and Carroll County history from 3-5 p.m. March 30 at Village Lights bookstore in Madison.
The book is available in Carrollton at Artful Gifts, Carrollton Office Supply, Two Rivers Antique Mall, Welch’s Riverside Restaurant and The News-Democrat. It also can be purchased at the water district office in Ghent and from McLaughlin.