Francis Peacock moved four times and never left his Paeonian Springs farm, which he stopped farming in 1997.
Russell Baker, a retired reporter and writer, spent his earliest years in Masonville without electricity, gas and plumbing. That was in the 1920s and 1930s when at the end of the workday, “we’d all sit out on the porch and talk about the wisdom of the ages,” he once said.
John Tolbert won $1 in a bet for running for a seat on the Leesburg Town Council. The year was 1949, 27 years before the late Tolbert was elected to the council, where he served from 1976 to 1990 and never missed a meeting. He was the first black man in Loudoun County to run for public office, something two other black men did not think he could do, so they made the bet.
The stories of these Loudoun residents are captured in “In Their Own Words: Recollections of an Earlier Loudoun,” by Gale Waldron and Sarah Huntington.
“It’s a tribute to these people and to an earlier time. It was important to capture their words,” said Waldron, a New Jersey native who has lived in Virginia since 1951 and in Loudoun County since 1985. “It’s a little book, but it’s a huge undertaking.”
THE BOOK HAD ITS START four years ago or maybe 24 years ago, depending on whether Waldron or Huntington tells the short or long version.
In 1978, Huntington moved from South Carolina to Loudoun County, opening a photography studio five years later in her ex-father-in-law’s general store in Lincoln. There, she met some of the “old timers,” the phrase Waldron and Huntington use to describe the 32 seniors portrayed in their 65-page book. She photographed some of them in her studio and thought about combining her photos with stories. In 1998, she and Waldron, who had just established the Loudoun Art Museum, began the series that lasted a year-and-a-half and included six to seven memoirs. Waldron had already taken up an interest in the county’s history after meeting the late Asa Moore Janney, owner of the general store.
“When I moved to Lincoln in 1995, I couldn’t believe him. He was always telling stories. You could hardly get in and out of the store,” Waldron said.
Waldron and Huntington decided to expand the memoirs into a book, beginning the majority of the work a year ago. They interviewed Loudoun residents from Ashburn to Bluemont and from Lovettsville to Middleburg, meeting with farmers, newsmen, bankers, politicians and doctors. The residents told their stories of old villages, lost roads, fall harvests, bootlegged whiskey and card games.
“They have been here a long time and have seen the community change from an agriculture community to a virtual suburb,” Waldron said about the residents they interviewed and photographed for the book.
“It’s about location, but it is also about an idea a lot of people can relate to — the idea of losing a sense of community,” Huntington said.
Barbara Holland of Bluemont called Loudoun a "place of character" that has turned into a suburb. "I'm always interested in things that remind us how things used to be," said Holland.
Holland met Waldron and Huntington years ago and has been a full-time Loudoun resident since 1990. Before that, she spent her summers in the county beginning in the late 1930s. "I liked the interview style and I liked the photography. Everybody looks rooted and permanent," she said about the book.
MOST OF THE RESIDENTS are 80 to 90 years old and grew up in Loudoun in the 1920s to 1930s. The memoirs in the book span from the 1920s to the 1970s.
“We soon realized that their stories were more than individual accounts. Together they presented a history of sorts told by some of the characters who have lived here for decades,” Waldron said.
Waldron interviewed the residents, recording what they said, as Huntington set up her photography equipment for the photo shoot that would follow. “I would get them on tape because I wanted their own words,” Waldron said.
Waldron transcribed the tapes, then “whittled” what the residents said down to the thread of the story, giving it a beginning, middle and end in about 300 words, she said.
“Their stories are their own personal history,” Waldron said. “These stories aren’t going to take place today. They’re all very nostalgic. … This is the way it was. It ain’t no more. ”
“They’re pretty much anecdotal. They’re vignettes,” Huntington said.
Waldron said she and Huntington are “two little country bumpkins, and we don’t like all the change. We feel attached to Loudoun and wanted to record it before it’s gone.”
Waldron and Huntington found a friend to design the book and organized a fund-raiser enabling the pair to self-publish. They published the book this year.
WALDRON LIVES outside of Lincoln and Huntington lives in town. Waldron sold the Loudoun Art Museum in 2001 and is continuing freelance writing, something she has done for the past five years. She also is the gallery manager for Gallery 222 in Leesburg. Huntington operates a portrait and photograph studio in Lincoln and has been photographing Loudoun's personalities since 1980. She is a graduate of the Corcoran School of Art.
Waldron and Huntington are considering following up with a similar book to “In Their Own Words,” which is their first book. They will hold a reading, discussion and book signing from 2-4 p.m., Oct. 26 at the Rust Library in Leesburg.