While the book itself only took a couple months to put together, the story is more than 170 years in the making.
The history of Oregon is the subject of a newly published book – the latest in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. A pictorial history of the area, it reveals a variety of slices of life from the 1840s through the 1950s.
The project was guided by a quintet from the Oregon Area Historical Society – Melanie Woodworth, JoAnn Swenson, Gerald Neath, Ann Morris and Dixie Brown. They pooled their efforts to fit more than 200 photos and 13,000 words of text in its 126 pages.
The group will celebrate both the release of the book and their 30th anniversary with a Sept. 17 gathering. The book will be available for sale ($25 or $30 by mail). A cemetery tour of Prairie Mound/St. Mary’s Cemetery will follow, with actors portraying famous Oregonians.
Brown, the newest member of the group among the quintet, said she “learned a lot” putting the book together.
“I think anybody who reads the book is just going to be amazed of the all the history they didn’t know about,” she said.
Labor of love
The idea for the book was initiated by the publisher, who contacted OAHS in 2012. After checking with others who had done books with the company, all reported a positive experience.
Then, once society members were finished with a massive project sifting through items donated by historian Florice Paulson after her death in 2013, they decided to go ahead with the project.
Swenson said during a recent trip to Georgia and South Carolina, she saw in gift shops many of those cities featured in the Arcadia series.
“I just think it’s really great we got one for Oregon,” she said.
It wasn’t before quite a strict process for publication, though. The group sent in a proposal Nov. 12 last year, with 12 photographs and information about the area, and the project was quickly approved, with a March deadline.
“We gave them enough say, ‘OK, they’re a viable group, they can do this,’” Swenson said.
Woodworth said it was helpful that many parameters of the book were already determined by the publisher – including a set number of pages and chapters. They split up the work among them and got to work.
“This was something that was really important for this organization to do, and this was really a team effort,” she said. “We learned a lot. No one person could have done this.”
Indeed, it took a village to complete the project, with several residents coming forward with photographs and information to help fill in some missing spaces. Neath said despite the 200-some photos included, there is still more about Oregon history not in the book.
“We have to rely on those we have photos for, and there may be some things missing in the book, but it’s simply because we don’t have documentation in photos,” he said.
Neath said the book covered the roughly 100-year span from the 1840s to 1950s because it showed how the area transitioned from a small-farm, rural community to a more urban, city environment by the end of World War II.
“Lifestyle had a lot to do with it between the first settlers for the town and what it eventually came to be,” he said “The lifestyle of people is tremendously different, even in my lifetime.”
In those days, Woodworth said, the community was much more active, with lots of groups and organizations.
“They didn’t have the distractions like there are today,” she said “They were very active in supporting their community. Oregon has a strong sense of a community and there are a lot of groups in the present day, (but) it’s just different; it’s a product of our times. Then, people were out on their front porches.”
Swenson said as members searched through photos for what to include, the process “kind of brought back little stories in our mind of a particular place or person.” When she and her daughter looked at an 1880s layout of the village, they were “astounded” how many businesses there were.
“Of course, the nature of those business was so much different than today,” she said. “I hope (the book) will make people think about their history, and maybe want to come and see the historical society here and the museum and dig a little bit from their history, too.”
Woodworth encouraged Oregon residents – or former residents – to share their family’s files and photographs with the society for future projects.
“We don’t necessarily have to keep the originals, we can copy them,” she said. “It will be interesting to get the response and feedback from people. We certainly hope they enjoy it – we enjoyed doing it.”