By Annie Howard
Heather Skaggs knows her roots.
An author and history buff, she grew up in the Mountain Oaks neighborhood, which would be incorporated into Hoover.
“The history that I know, I grew up with,” she said. “This is my home.”
Her passion for Hoover shines through in her three books: “Images of America: Bluff Park,” “Images of America: Hoover,” and “Images of Modern America: Riverchase.”
Each book reaches back into the history of Hoover, piecing together a place through photos, memorabilia and stories.
Skaggs found her niche in history early. Growing up, she enjoyed the History Channel, along with frequent family museum trips. In school, she took to “history, geography, world history – subjects like that,” she said.
Skaggs found her path when she discovered journalism.
“That’s when I learned how to tell a story,” she said. “I was always pretty good at creative writing, but journalism and media was where I learned how to let someone tell their story through me, through the words I put on paper or video.”
Skaggs turned her storytelling to Hoover with her first book, “Images of America: Bluff Park,” published through Arcadia Publishing.
To put together each book, Skaggs taps multiple sources.
“I start with talking to local churches, local schools. I’m looking for historical photographs that they have or memorabilia,” she said. She’s asked for everything from original photos of groundbreakings to old church bulletins. Long-time residents are another valuable source.
She also uses some good, old-fashioned sleuthing.
“Sometimes I’m not necessarily looking at what’s in the foreground of the picture,” she said. “I’m looking at what’s in the background.”
In older photos, the background offers a glimpse of a Hoover from days gone by.
“There was one picture of a person standing at City Hall,” Skaggs remembers. “In the background, you could see a business called Children’s Palace.”
Skaggs had fond memories of the store, a toy shop for children with a cas- tle-like exterior.
“I have looked everywhere for a picture of that,” she said. “It just happened to be that I was flipping through some scrapbooks, and in the background, there it was!”
She’s found other surprises in her writing and research. At a particularly memorable book-signing, a woman approached her with 15 books.
“She turned to a page in the book, and it was a picture from a church groundbreaking,” Skaggs said. “And she pointed to it and told me, ‘That’s my husband right there.’ Her husband had passed away and she had never seen the picture. So she got one to give all her kids and her grandkids.”
Skaggs connected with her own past through a book similar to her own.
“It wasn’t too long after “Bluff Park” came out that my mom had picked up another Arcadia book, ‘Images of America: Hueytown,’” she said. “She was looking through it and we saw a picture of my grandad and her grandparents, my great-grandparents.”
Skaggs’ mother had never seen the picture before.
“It’s like, ‘That’s them!’” Skaggs said.
She said it can be humbling to connect with others over the common history of the community. Reminding others of that shared history is a way for her to give back.
“Knowing the history of where you are helps you to appreciate what or who came before you,” she said. “And if you appreciate something more, you take care of it.
“Especially for younger folks, and even school-age children and high school, it’s very important for them to know the history of where they are. There are lessons there.”