By Harley Nefe
Arcadia Publishing recently released a new book in its Images of America series titled “Remembering Boone” in preparation for the town of Boone’s 150th anniversary coming up in January 2022.
Boone’s historical evolution from the 1870s to the present is narrated in the book by Dr. Eric W. Plaag, who is the chairperson of the Digital Watauga Project, which is an initiative of the Watauga County Historical Society and the Watauga County Public Library. The book contains 217 select images from Digital Watauga’s extensive collections.
The idea of the book stemmed from a discussion the Historical Society was having back in March.
“We were starting the conversation about, ‘Hey, the sesquicentennial of the legal incorporation of Boone is coming up in January of 2022, and we don’t think anybody is planning anything yet, so we better get on that,’ and that started a dialogue with the Historic Preservation Commission and the town more generally with cultural resources,” Plaag explained.
Now, there are a lot of people working currently on planning a series of events for 2022 that will celebrate what they are calling “Boone 150.”
“There was a decision made that sesquicentennial was a mouthful and that Boone 150 was easier,” Plaag said.
As part of the Historical Society’s discussion, members realized that it has been almost 20 years since the last book, which was written by Donna Akers Warmuth, was published through Arcadia Publishing on Boone.
“This was a good opportunity to approach them about doing a 150th anniversary edition using different images than what were in Donna’s book, in large part because the Digital Watauga project is a project of the Historical Society, and we have access to all of these images that we have permission to use, so why not do that?” Plaag said.
However, what Plaag and the other members of the Historical Society didn’t realize was how short the timeline was going to be to complete the project.
“We submitted a proposal in early April to Arcadia, and they came back and said, ‘This sounds great; we need everything by June 30,’” Plaag recalled. “So, it was a really quick turnaround. I did pretty much all of the work going through our collections and selecting appropriate images, writing the text and determining the organization of the book. My one requirement for doing this was I didn’t want any money, so we had to figure out a way with Arcadia to arrange it so that all of the revenues would get paid directly to the Historical Society.”
All of the work for the project was completed with an anticipated publication date for January 2022; however, it ended up being fast-tracked for October. The book was officially released on October 25.
Within the book, Plaag shared that there are a few really early images because Digital Watauga doesn’t have a lot from the late 19th century and very early 20th century.
“I would guess there are probably half a dozen duplicates from things that Donna used that are also in this book because there isn’t anything else from that period,” he explained.
When reflecting on the organization of the book, Plaag said, “I zeroed in on a few themes that i wanted to emphasize in that chronological story, but I also knew that, this is generally true of local histories, is that they do a really poor job of talking about race, generally speaking. So, I wanted to weave into this the story of Boone’s Black community as part of that. I knew for sure I didn’t want to do a standalone chapter because that just looks like more separatism that we have seen enough of in Boone’s history, instead that story is weaved into the chapters as the chapters proceed.”
The first chapter of “Remembering Boone” focuses on early Boone and the Lost Province from 1850 to 1918 then goes into the arrival of the Linville River Railway at Boone in very late 1918.
The second chapter is about the Watch Boone Grow campaign of the 1920s and a second resurgent campaign at the very end of the 1930s.
The third chapter is called “Flood, War, and Rebirth,” and it starts with the 1940 flood and the impact of war on the town as well as the rebirth of Boone’s economy shifting from a primarily agricultural focus to more of a tourism focus after the war. The chapter covers the period from 1940 to 1959.
“The fourth chapter is an unusual chapter,” Plaag described. “We have a collection called the Palmer Blair collection. Palmer was a photographer from 1947 to 1957, and when we were looking through one of the boxes in his collection, one box was labeled, ‘Workers of Boone.’ It was a thing Palmer did in 1952. He was always frustrated that stories in the newspaper were never about real people, never about the average Joe type person. They were always focused on the politicians everybody knew or the businessmen and women everybody knew. So, he decided he was going to go into just about every business in Boone and Perkinsville and a few others and take a picture of the people working in those businesses. So, it’s a collection of about 400 images, and we made the decision to devote a chapter to sampling some of those images and showing some of those people that aren’t normally in the history books and don’t normally have their story told.”
The fifth chapter is called “Becoming a University Town” and covers 1960 to 1979. The chapter focuses on not only the growth of Boone but also the growth of the university and the tensions that emerged from that as well as some environmental issues that were at hand in the 1960s and 70s and the ways in which the tourism economy was drawing people to Boone and creating pressures as far as housing and other things in the community.
The sixth and final chapter of the book is titled “The Characters of Boone” and extends from 1980 to the present. It focuses on the question of defining what boone’s character is and preserving that character and the obvious battles that have emerged not only between the town and the university but also the town and the county that are usually around that question.
“We give examples of some things that have occurred over the last 40 years that speak to that,” Plaag said.
Overall, the Watauga County Historical Society is very excited about the release of the book, and they can’t wait for the community to grab copies as well for $23.99.
“We are very pleased.” Plaag said. “We have books in our hands; Mast General Store has them on their shelves, and it is available at the usual online outlets.”
Plaag will also be having a book signing on November 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Jones House.