By Keysha Drexel
Three Over the Mountain authors will hold book signings next month for books they have written on the histories of their hometowns.
Hoover native Heather Skaggs, Mountain Brook native Catherine Pittman Smith and Vestavia Hills native Rebecca Walden are the newest authors in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, which chronicles the history of cities and towns across the nation through pictures.
The books are “warmly embraced” by the communities they feature across the nation and the Over the Mountain books should be no exception, said Lydia Rollins, publishing editor for Arcadia Publishing.
“Our authors have put tougher loving tributes to their communities,” Rollins said. “Our books are a special way of preserving not just history but stories. They’re a way of connecting locals to their communities.”
And Rollins said the publishing company has learned that the best way to connect locals to their communities through the books is to have those books written by locals.
“It’s wonderful to see cities like Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills get so excited about their history,” Rollins said. “I think a lot of that has to do with having a local author.”
Local authors like Skaggs, Smith and Walden know their communities, Rollins said, and that makes their work resonate with people familiar with the communities featured in the books.
This is the second book Skaggs, a Hoover High School graduate, has written about her hometown. Her first book in the “Images of America” series was a book on Bluff Park published last year.
In “Hoover,” Skaggs celebrates the beginnings of the young city, which was incorporated in 1967, through photos of its communities as they grew.
Skaggs, 35, is a freelance writer and lifelong resident of Bluff Park but said doing research and gathering photos for both books taught her something about her hometown.
“I knew most of Hoover’s history but I did not realize the location of the first (Hoover) City Hall was still standing,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs said the most difficult part of writing the book on Hoover was gathering the many photos needed to tell the history of the city.
“Gathering historical photos is like herding cats,” Skaggs said. “Getting everybody on the same page with what I needed was a challenge but it turned out great in the end. I had many sources for photographs and I enjoyed working with each one of them.”
Skaggs said she hopes the book teachers readers more about William H. Hoover, a businessman who moved his insurance company to the area from Birmingham in the 1950s.
“I hope (the book) is seen as a tribute to the man William Hoover was and the city he wanted to build,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs said she also hopes looking through the pictorial history of the city will inspire current Hoover to consider how their own photos might someday figure into the history of the city.
“I hope that the book inspires others to dig through old family photos and (to) take a second look at modern photos and think to themselves, ‘Will this photography be important in telling a story in the future?’” Skaggs said.
Smith’s book on Mountain Brook will officially go on sale on Nov. 3.
“I am so excited to share my love, enthusiasm and appreciation for Mountain Brook with the old and young alike,” Smith said.
In more than 200 vintage images, “Mountain Brook” explores the city’s growth, leisure and vision, Smith said.
Smith grew up on Dexter Avenue and later, Montevallo Road in Mountain Brook. She has a studio in Crestline Village where she works as a photographer and storyteller.
“Having grown up here, I have been a part of this community for almost 50 years and have loved the intimacy, the loyalty, the natural beauty, a strong sense of history and the traditions,” Smith said.
The most rewarding part of putting the book together, Smith said, was reconnecting with old friends, the parents of old friends and meeting new people who had photos to share and stories to tell.
“I have loved learning what was here before and driving around with my daughter and sharing with her the story of how Mountain Brook began, how it’s changed and grown,” Smith said.
The book takes readers through the history of the elite suburb, which was the brainchild of Robert Jemison Jr.
“The neighborhoods were designed to be anchored by villages as community centers for residents within walking distance,” Smith said.
Mountain Brook native and author Patti Callahan Henry said Smith’s book “reveals the layers of history that influence and shape this forested cathedral.”
“If I thought I loved Mountain Brook before, that feeling doesn’t compare to the deep admiration and respect I have for our city after reading the Mountain Brook book,” Henry said.
For Vestavia Hills High grad Walden, a newspaper columnist, writing a book about Vestavia Hills was a way of finding out about parts of the city’s history that often can’t be found on the public record.
“So much of the city’s ethos is wrapped up in stories one will never find looking through board meeting, city council and other organizational minutes,” Walden said. “It’s captured in the memories of people who were born and raised here, those who open and operate family businesses here, those who worship, coach and volunteer here.”
Many of the nearly 200 vintage images in “Vestavia Hills” came from the private collections of residents, Walden said.
“Without this book project, local residents’ stories, which reveal much about the city’s earliest character and its identity today, might never be shared outside their immediate families,” Walden said.
Walden said before doing research for the book, most of her knowledge on Vestavia Hills was based solely on her own experiences growing up in the city.
Walden said learning about the contributions of early movers and shakers in the area reaffirmed what she loves about Vestavia Hills.
She said she hopes readers will find the city’s history as intriguing as she does.
“But most of all, I hope they are reminded why they chose to call this place home,” she said.
The authors will hold joint book signing events at Books-A-Million on U.S. 280 from 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 16, at Barnes & Noble at Patton Creek in Hoover from 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 22 and at Barnes & Noble at The Summit from 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 23.
For more information on the books and the authors, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.ϖ