"Images of America: Norcross" has been a work in progress for more than a year, and it's finally here with a bookshelf debut today, Aug. 29, and a booksigning Sept. 10. Written by locals Cate Kitchen, Edie Riehm and Gene Ramsay, the book is a collection of pictures and stories told by Norcross residents and those whose descendents were from Norcross.
"This is the first Norcross book that tells the story through the lens of a camera and through other people’s perspectives," said Riehm, who's been researching and writing about Norcross history for almost nine years. Having lived in Norcross for more than 14 years, she's also been published in scholarly journals, taken the role of historian for the Historic Norcross Holiday Home Tour and plans to finish her doctorate's degree in history at Georgia State University in December.
The book covers more than a 100 years of Norcross history, starting in 1870 with John J. Thrasher establishing the town and the railroad arriving, to few photos from the 1990s. It covers multiple sections including local military colonels, original pioneer settlers, baseball legends and generations of families.
The three authors interviewed at least 80 people and compiled hundreds of photos from families. The book is 128 pages long with around 200 photos, each having an accompanying caption to its story.
The book's publisher, Arcadia Publishing, first contacted the city with the proposal to expand the Images of America series with Norcross, which prompted Mayor Bucky Johnson to email Riehm's husband, who passed the information to her. From there, Arcadia contacted Riehm and she asked a few people if they were interested in compiling the book with her. Gene Ramsay, another Norcross resident who's always enjoyed Norcross history, agreed to contributing to the project.
"[History's] an interest of mine," said Ramsay, "but it’s not my profession by any means." Ramsay has authored a few scholarly articles and given tours of the Oakland Cemetery and the Fox Theatre.
The city also thought it would be a good idea for the coordinator of the Norcross Welcome Center to be involved, which brought Kitchen in. Having just accepted the position around the time of the book proposal, she wasn't as familiar with the city as others.
"It was like a crash course in the history of Norcross, which the person in the Welcome Center needs to know," said Kitchen.
With the trio now formed, the next step was to collect photos and stories. Kitchen said one interesting part of Norcross that sets it apart from many other "Images of America" cities is that Norcross doesn't have its own archive of photographs.
"We went on a literal scavenger hunt for these photographs, and the response we got from the community was just fantastic," said Riehm.
Kitchen and Riehm explained how history coffees were held on Saturdays throughout the summer and fall so that people would bring their photos and tell their stories. They also contacted people directly, and once word about the book got around, the number of photographs seemed to multiply.
"Once we hit September or October, it took on a life of its own," said Riehm. "People met with people and said, 'Oh, I donated photographs, you need to donate photographs.' It just sort of snowballed."
Even though Kitchen was fairly new to Norcross history, the stories and people intensified the importance of everyone she met. "It was very gratifying because I got to meet the Nesbits, the Ivys, the Garners, the Carrolls... These families were here from way, way back," she said.
Of the research, one particular anecdote that sticks out to Riehm is of a boy, Hillilard Clark Jones, who died around the age of 10 or 11 during the Civil War, specifically in the Battle of Atlanta in the late summer of 1864. (He's pictured in the book with his younger sister and sister-in-law, on the same page as the grave of the family's slave.)
Riehm explained that for the past few years, she was always intrigued of the boy since his grave predates Cemetery Field. Through interviewing people for the book, she was able to piece together the boy's story: He was shot in the head by a Yankee after his older brother, a Confederate soldier, and his scouts went to visit their father on their farm.
As for Ramsay, he remembers a photo of Kenneth Walker and his family, given by his daughter, Deborah Walker-Little. Kenneth Walker was a soldier in World War II who cooked for the army after being a chef in Norcross. He felt that the recipes the army gave him were bland, so he took initiative and convinced his superiors to allow him to kick it up a notch in the kitchen.
"That evening, there was a visiting general, who promoted him on the spot for ingenuity and cooking a good meal," said Ramsay.
Once the photos were compiled and scanned, the three laid out the photos in the book's format and wrote their descriptions. After countless hours, meetings and edits, the book was finally finished in February of this year.
"When it was over, it was almost anti-climatic and sad because we had worked so closely together for such as long period of time," said Kitchen. "There was always so much to do and then all of the sudden, it was done."
"It’s very gratifying to see something that you put a lot of work into and then a lot of people contributed to come together in the final product," said Riehm. "And the really wonderful thing about this book is that it was really a community effort. We could not have done it without the community."
The book, priced at $23.53 including tax, can be purchased through Amazon and at the Welcome Center starting today. There will also be a book signing with all three authors at the Norcross Cultural Arts Center on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.
A portion of the book proceeds sold at the event will benefit the Norcross Arts Alliance, the Norcross Cluster Schools Partnership and the Norcross Welcome Center.