We've all seen it happen. Year after year you drive by an old house or barn, still standing its ground as development encroaches, and then it one day it's gone and a strip mall takes its place. And what about that neighbor in his nineties who spent his entire life in your community and could tell a million stories, if anyone cared to listen? He'll be gone one day too, and with him the eyewitness account of maybe a century of experiences, changes, and perspectives. We all see it happen, but few of us do anything about it. I look around Tacoma and see history everywhere, much of it threatened, and I wonder how much will survive. The saddest part is that most of the time we don't even know what we've lost until it's too late.
An enthusiastic local historian named Lawrence "Andy" Anderson hates to see those kinds of things happen. He grew up in logging country, near Graham in rural Pierce County, Washington, surrounded by history. When he played in the woods as a boy he could still find what remained of pioneers' log cabins, and even as a boy he appreciated the what his older neighbors knew about the past. As a young man, Anderson realized the old folks who remembered would soon be gone so he began to seek them out and record their stories. They shared photos with him, opened up, and brought local history to life with their rich and vivid memories from those times.
The result was his book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain - A History of Early Graham, Kapowsin, Benston, Electron, and Vicinity." It's filled with photos, carefully researched and documented, well written and entertaining to read. I'm one of the lucky people with a copy because now even the second printing is sold out. I'm pestering him to publish a third. But every one of us is lucky that this important piece of Washington history exists at all. If Anderson hadn't decided to take on this project decades ago, when those interviewees were still alive, maybe no one else ever would have, the opportunity lost forever. To many of us Anderson is a hero.
Are you curious about your community's past? Did you ever have the urge to write about local history? Maybe your own family has been in one place for generations and your connection to that heritage inspires you to preserve it. If so, you might want to read an article I wrote based on an interview with Anderson, and recently published on a website called Neighborhood Life This website's growing number of readers appreciate it as an important source of helpful information, ideas, and discussion for anyone who wants to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. My article, called "A Closer Look at Home - Thoughts on Writing Local History" can be found listed first on the "Features" page, and is also directly linked to from the Home page. It offers all kinds of good advice on writing local history. By reading it you can benefit from the experience Anderson gained through many years of work.
Quoting from the article, he says, "Writing good local history requires nothing less than total determination and passion in pursuit of the subject." If you think you can meet those requirements, consider this important endeavor. As in the case of Anderson's book, maybe if you don't do it, nobody else will. Please have a look:
Note: The photo at the top of this page is a snapshot of my great-grandparents' homestead in Alberta, Canada and the photo in the still life below is of a huge tree stump on Vashon Island, taken by Albert Therkelsen. Neither exists today.