I finally finished that Avery County history that I’ve been working on for the past couple of months. I’ve written 28,000 words since January 1.
Why do I write county histories? There is a need. A few years ago, I sat down (I was working at Caldwell Community College at the time), and went through scores of counties in the Southern states. Many counties had never had a formal, organized history. (Those black heritage volumes do not count! While there can be good information in these, they are haphazard in coverage, and often contain little more than long lines of genealogy.) And for the counties that did have histories, most of them were at least 40 years old. Watauga County was one of those. Their first history was written in 1915. There was a small volume done in 1949, but nothing else. Avery County’s last history was done in 1964. Caldwell County’s were in 1930 and 1956. Yancey County has never had a history. If I remember correctly, neither has Alleghany County or Mitchell County. And those are just a few of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
My first venture into writing county histories was the tome on Watauga County. It was, more or less, a chronological history, with two chapters about the Civil War. Next came two pictorial histories, one on Avery and the second on Caldwell. The latter was released in November and is currently sold out and re-printing. This last project was a collection of essays on different local history. The time span for the essays runs from the 1770s (Overmountain Men) to the 1980s (Blue Ridge Parkway - Viaduct). There are two just essays about the War: one on Col. John B. Palmer (58th NCT) and the other on the Blalocks (26th NCT). The last option is to do a history topically, i.e., chapters on education, religion, military, etc. I have a county in Alabama I am thinking about writing a history for and this would be the layout if I ever get to write it.
Why all this talk about county histories? The War Between the States had an effect on each of these places. Boys marched away, often to never return. And in many cases, the war was brought home by deserters, bushwackers, or whole armies. A few counties in North Carolina even have War-time histories (Yadkin, Carteret, and Davidson come to mind). Three cheers for those historians that have undertaken these ventures. The War happened almost 150 years ago and the opportunity to write about those dreadful events is quickly passing. The folks who remembered those events are gone and the folks who remember hearing those stories are quickly passing on. With today’s generations of people who just don’t read (and are largely indifferent), well, that history will soon be gone.
My advice? Get out and collect at least the history of your community, and get copies of it into your local library. Maybe someday somebody like me will come along and need to use it.
And, don’t forget to document where you get that information!