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RyPN Briefs November 14, 2011
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Book Review: The Virginia Creeper in Ashe County
Images of Rail

Ashe County Historical Society

Arcadia Publishing 2011

Yet another in the IMAGES series, this book is, like the others, a series of capsulized historic monographs surrounding the real treasure collections of very well reproduced, high quality, old photographs.

Well, this one maybe not so much like the others...

Maybe I'm just a bit more personally engaged with the subject of this one, living not far away and having a more than passing familiarity with the line and area, but this book just doesn't seem to be quite as polished and well produced as the others in the series I've reviewed here. Each chapter seems to have been written apart from every other one, and they all spend a lot of ink covering the same ground about how important the logging industry was to the area, how the railroad opened it up, and where the tracks ran. The chapters are titled geographically, based on the town along the line, and the book's authorship is credited to a society rather than to any individual, so it might have been written by a committee of separate people copying each other unintentionally. It didn't make for a lot of interest in much of the text, and there isn't a lot of text in IMAGES books.

But this series is really about the photos. Again, I find the overall quality of the photos used in this book are not as high quality as the overall quality of those I have seen in other IMAGES books. Perhaps there just wasn't a lot of artwork of professional quality to choose from, and they did the best they could. Maybe they didn't know better. It's still disappointing.

The captions are another matter I don't see the technical historical expertise here that I am accustomed to find in IMAGES books. There's not a lot of technical railroad information, Shays running on local logging lines are mixed in with real VC images, no information as to the location and grade of the logging lines is included, and some are just inaccurate in ways that are unfortunately obvious to railroad and logging historians, which does cost a bit in credibility and leaves a bad taste. People sitting around a small steam sawmill are not waiting for a train at a flagstop. The "wagon" which establishes the time frame for the picture of the station agent isn't a wagon, it's a baggage float of a type in common use for more than 60 years and means not much in terms of time frame. Don't write captions if you don't know the subject of the photos, people...

I am a fan of the IMAGES books in general, but I have to fault Arcadia for accepting this submission which does not do justice to the VC or to the logging industry in the area. They need to trust their authors less, especially if they are committees. Still, if you want information about the VC and Ashe County, there's not a lot to turn to so you might have to make do with this book and find your technical information elsewhere. I'm a bit embarrassed for them actually...I generally support making history accessible and try to encourage small town historians and preservationists, but I expect more in terms of quality of imagery and content from Arcadia than this one provides. Better luck next time.