Friday, April 13, 2007

Scenes of bygone days

A new book includes photographs that line the walls of the Botetourt Funeral Home in Eagle Rock.
The Roanoke Times
By JoAnne Poindexter

Debra McClane has developed a keen interest in history and architecture.

She speculates that growing up in Botetourt County's Trinity community stirred the interest.

She lived near the 235-year-old town of Fincastle, county seat for Botetourt County, which was founded in 1770 and once stretched to the Mississippi River. When McClane learned that Arcadia Publishing, which publishes local and regional histories, was seeking writers, she applied.

McClane's work in the publisher's Images of America series was released earlier this year.

"Botetourt County" is a 128-page book of photographs, depicting several generations of life in the county, which once encompassed what is now West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and part of Illinois.

McClane viewed hundreds of pictures in an effort "to represent all parts of the county."

"Eagle Rock really became the key to this book because of the types of photographs" she found showing recreation, industry, the James River and overviews of the town and bridges, she added.

She used several pictures from her parents, John and Doris Alderson, who live on the farm that has been in the Alderson family since the 18th century.

"I thought there must be a big collection of photos somewhere, but there really wasn't," said McClane, a consultant in architectural history.

After viewing pictures at the Botetourt County History Museum, The Fincastle Herald and from the historical societies, state and local libraries, Virginia Tech and other state agencies, she took suggestions to view albums from various families.

McClane, who now lives in Richmond, found some of her most promising images in the albums.

They gave the book an angle it would not otherwise have had -- everyday people, she said.

"I wanted to talk about the big picture ... the history, but it's the people I think who are the most interesting."

About 18 of the nearly 250 pictures in the book were found in an odd place -- on a wall of the only funeral home in Eagle Rock.

Ray and Bobbi Sloan own that business, the old Eagle Rock Funeral Home, as a branch of their Botetourt Funeral Home.

Fifty-eight framed pictures of notables and not-so-notables line the foyer wall outside the funeral home's small chapel.

"We inherited them," Ray Sloan said.

Bill and Myrtie Simmons, the previous owners, left the pictures along with some other items that Bill Simmons had collected.

The late Bill Simmons swapped many pictures of bygone ages and places with his friend Tommy Myers, who now lives in Alleghany County, Myrtie Simmons said.

Myers ended up helping McClane write captions for those and other photographs in her book.

The problem, though, is that neither Myrtie Simmons nor anyone else can identify people in many of the framed pictures even though some have partial identifications on the back.

That didn't stop McClane from using the images in her book.

"I walked in there and I fell in love with most of the photographs," McClane said. "I was trying to represent all parts of the county. Eagle Rock is really the key to this book."

The cover of "Botetourt County" is taken from one of the Sloans' photographs.

It's a 1917 photograph of construction of a kiln stack at the Eagle Rock Limestone Co. that operated from 1905 to 1954.

Bobbi Sloan said the pictures have become a conversation piece and she wants to get them identified and indexed.

Those paying respect to families mill around the funeral home, trying to determine the people in them, Myrtie Simmons said.

"People have really appreciated us having them here. But as for who those people in those pictures are, I don't know," Bobbi Sloan said.

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