By Carole King
It’s finished, printed and headed our way! For those of you living inside the bypass loop, you may have seen or heard the appeals by Karren Pell and myself for older photographs of Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods. Karren Pell, better known as the Alabama Troubadour, completed a photographic history book of Tallassee last year for Arcadia Publishing who later contacted her and asked her if she had any other ideas for other books to be included in their Images of America series. You know the books…those sepia-toned photo books that serve as great souvenirs. Since we had just finished the 100th centennial celebration of the incorporation of Capitol Heights as a city, that neighborhood’s history was fresh in our minds. So she asked me if I would be interested in a venture featuring our local historic districts, and the decision was made to birth Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods, which is now a reality and on its way to a fine book retail source near you soon!
We set about surveying what photographic materials to which we thought we could get access. We viewed collections at local universities, churches, Montgomery County Historical Society, Archives and History, Landmarks Foundation, and private individuals. We did several presentations to neighborhood associations, wrote several articles and did the television and radio circuit. To narrow our search, the decision was made to include photographs of structures and people located in the neighborhoods with official historic designation. These areas included Capitol Heights, Centennial Hill, Cloverdale Idlewild, Cottage Hill, Garden District, Old Cloverdale, Old Line Street and a section on the early downtown neighborhood. However, we found more and more documentation on subjects outside of our original parameters. We became fascinated by the properties that were eliminated when the Interstate 85 and 65 dissected the city and the earlier neighborhoods. Many of these magnificent mansions were captured in the Art Works publications of 1894 and 1907 and several neighborhood areas exist in those images only today.
Photographs came trickling in and we were beginning to sweat as our publication deadline rapidly approached. A last-ditch effort interview with Carolyn Hutcheson at WTSUM with a wide listening radius opened the floodgates to many family photo albums and our chapters began coming together, finally. We spent hours upon hours scanning photos to the publisher’s specifications, interviewing family members and researching facts and figures. We mourned the photos with great stories that we had to turn our backs on because of poor print quality and the good quality photos that had no story we could tell.
We made lots of discoveries about the lifestyle of people during this age of emerging photography. More affluent women had access to cameras and took up photography as a hobby documenting their families, pets, events, homes, vacations and rites of passage and then documenting it all in scrapbooks. Unless they were professionally shot in a controlled studio situation, almost all photographs were taken outside until close to the middle of the 20th century with the development of the flash concept. And, last but not least, almost every family had a goat cart!
One of our better finds was an envelope of photos that was actually in the Landmarks collection with no real documentation other than the photos had been found in the trash. After our extensive work on the pageants in schools and neighborhoods we were able to recognize these photos as documenting the annual May Day ceremony at the Cottage Hill School once located on Herron Street.
Especially fun was spending time with the many folks who brought out family albums in hopes that there was something we could use in the upcoming book. They reminisced and we gave advice on better ways to conserve these family treasures in exchange for access to them.
We were limited to 200 photos with short captions and since we had actually acquired about 350 images, the task of determining what would and what would not appear in the publication was difficult. There were lots of late nights of pouring over images and urgent phone calls with questions to the photograph’s owner. After submitting the initial images and captions and waiting for long weeks, we received a laid out proof for our review. The teacher in Karren and the editor in me came out and we hit the proof hard with our red correction pens even as we added images acquired later.
Just this week we received our authors’ copies in the mail, so we know the book is printed and will be arriving soon. As the shipping date—July 19th—for the printed product nears, we hope these readers will keep a watch out for the upcoming scheduled book-signings at our local bookstores, gift shops and specialty stores. We know there will be mistakes, we know there will be corrections and we know we’ll get bombarded with “how come y’all didn’t ask me for my family scrapbook?” We hope the publication of Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods will bring awareness about the importance of preserving family photos and records for perpetuity and encourage the documenting of our everyday life thus creating memories for all of our midtown historic neighborhoods.
Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!