Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Local Histories as Reference

Although the internet can be a great resource sometimes I think we've become just a little too dependent on the "Google Machine."  Sure, "Googling" is a great start whether you're shopping or researching how a 200 year-old building looked in 1954, but it's not the only way to get from "here to there." 
I've found local town histories are one resource that many modelers overlook.  Although in many cases the railroad history in these is thin on details (if not outright incorrect!) they often have wonderful vintage photos and lots of details in the text that may seem a little too down in the weeds for a history not centered on one town or city. 
Two of the Arcadia histories I've found useful. 
The most obvious source of these are the small format photo books published by Arcadia Publishing. I have the books on most of the towns along the CV, including Essex Junction and White River Junction (which is actually located in Hartford, VT).
The History of Waterbury is a little heavier on text with fewer photos - but there are some images useful to the model railroader such as this shot of Pilgrim Plywood. 
Although not as readily available, detailed town histories can be obtained either through local historical societies (which usually are the publishers and distributors of these books) or located and purchased through online book sellers such as Amazon and Alibris. 
Most of the ones I've located are reasonably priced, so I simply purchased them. If you locate one that's truly rare the price may be a little steep - especially if you're unsure of how useful the information in the book may be. If you don't wish to purchase the book you try to borrow it through interlibrary loan. Another possibility is to stop in the town library next time you're in the area you're modeling on a research trip - you might find other sources there like old maps and newspapers.
I've had the Acadia books and the Waterbury town history book shown in the photo above for a number of years. 
I thought this might make a worthwhile blog post when I was trying to uncover photos of different sides of some of the buildings in Randolph - and not having a lot of look with online searches. I also wanted to find any photos of the Randolph Furniture factory.
After exhausting my usual sources I resigned myself to having to use a commercial model as a "filler" and turned my attention to some of the other buildings. As I was researching the Brigham Gelatine plant I came across an article online from the Randolph newspaper. Although the article was about plans to convert the Gelatine plant to a condo, there was a small photo in the article that credited Wes Herwig's Early Photographs of Randolph Vermont, 1855-1948. 
I'd never heard of this book, but a quick search on Amazon revealed a copy for sale. Less than a week later it arrived. It proved well worth the price. There wasn't a single picture of the furniture plant, there were four or five, along with lots of photos of the other buildings in town. (Ironically, there were no pictures of the old coal and ice building, perhaps one of the best known structures in Randolph).
Randolph Furniture. Eventually this would become part of the Ethan Allen Company. 
I hope my chance encounter with this book inspires you to check with the local historical societies in the areas you're modeling. You never know what you might uncover.

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