I can imagine Martinsville residents noticing my latest book, Martinsville Memories, and asking themselves, “Who’s this author? I’ve never heard of him. It’s weird we’ve been living in Martinsville all this time and never run into him.”
Not as weird as you might think, considering I’ve only been here a year – and I spend most of my time in my upstairs office, writing. But I got out into the community enough to be intrigued by what I found there. Green trees embracing blue skies. Winding roads. And historic buildings with, I knew, a wealth of stories to tell.
Being a storyteller, I took that as a challenge. Who had traveled these roads before me? What had happened in those buildings on Church Street, and who built those mansions on Mulberry Road? What about the buildings that used to be there, but aren’t anymore? What had happened to them?
A parade of questions ran through my mind, and of course, I had to find the answers.
Why should a relative newcomer tell the story of Martinsville? I don’t have an answer to that beyond the fact that I wanted to. And this is what I do. It’s pretty much what I did for more than three decades as a journalist, except these days I’m reporting on the past, digging up stories from history, rather than finding them in the present.
I became a newspaperman after resisting the temptation to switch my major to history midway through my college career. But I took plenty of history courses, anyway – almost enough to earn a minor. And now, writing books like Martinsville Memories is the perfect way to blend these two passions; to have the best of both worlds, as it were.
I enjoy discovering stories I haven’t heard before. I have a particular passion for old roads, which led me to write two highway books (Highway 99 and Highway 101), and to embark on a journey that took me 7,500 miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Lee Highway, Lincoln Highway, Route 66 and the Ohio River Scenic Byway this past spring. So, it should come as no surprise that I’ve included a bit, in the first chapter of Martinsville Memories, about local highways.
I love learning about the places I’ve been, too. I wrote about my hometown in Fresno Growing Up. So, I figured, why not write about my new home, too? I’ve really enjoyed living in Martinsville, and was curious to know more.
This book is the result of that curiosity.
In this volume, I took a slightly different approach than I have to previous books. I’ve always thought of myself as, primarily, a writer. But for many years, I’ve enjoyed photography, too. I started taking photographs for the newspaper at my most recent stop, and I took numerous photos for several books I’ve written, too. So, this time, instead of starting with the text and finding photos to illustrate it, I went about things from the opposite direction: I built the book around the photos.
I took hundreds of them in Martinsville, Ridgeway, Collinsville, Axton, Fieldale, Bassett and along the rural roads that connect them.
In fact, I initially intended Martinsville Memories to be, primarily, a picture book. Of course, being a writer, I’d have to explain those pictures – and, the more I found out, the longer and more detailed those explanations grew. The end result is a book that’s fairly well balanced between words and pictures, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
What did I learn along the way? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. But here’s just a taste:
I learned about a gunfight that took place on the streets of Martinsville that was every bit as dramatic – and deadly – as the famed gunfight at the OK Corral. I learned that a Hall of Fame baseball player started his career in Martinsville, and that another Hall of Famer once managed the city’s minor-league team. I read some colorful stories about bootlegging and its connection to NASCAR. I found out that Martinsville had once produced more sweatshirts and been the home to more millionaires per capita than anyplace else in the nation. I learned the history of some old gas stations, restaurants and fast-food chains that have become mere memories and, in some cases, begun to fade from memory altogether.
I consider it one of my callings to preserve those memories. To remind some of what they might otherwise forget and to share these stories with those who have never heard them. I enjoy hearing those stories, and that’s why I write them down.
I hope you enjoy them, too.
Note: Martinsville Memories is now available on Amazon! If you live in the Piedmont or Triad areas, come to one of the following events to meet me and get a personalized, signed copy : 40th Annual Martinsville Uptown Oktoberfest, on Church Street near Broad Oct. 5; Dragon Festival 2019 at the Virginia Museum of Natural History on Oct. 19; or the 2019 Fall Craft Show at Bassett High School on Nov. 23-24.