Wednesday, October 16, 2002
The Rev. Nelson Harris' idea for a book of postcards showing Roanoke's past gets publisher's stamp of approval.
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Here and there, spread across the pages of the paperback book, are black-and-white images of Roanoke's past.
Here, in 1917, is the Mill Mountain Incline, a cable-operated tourist railway that once carried people to the top of the city's favorite peak.
There, in 1908, is downtown's Ponce de Leon Hotel, a fancy place graced with wrought-iron balconies and large dormer windows.
There, in 1907, is Market Square, a place bustling with carriages and wagons and horses and people at a time when the city market was the center for goods and services in the city.
These photographs are collected in a new book, "Roanoke in Vintage Postcards," edited by a Roanoke City Council member, the Rev. Nelson Harris, and produced by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Postcard History Series.
The book includes images from nearly 200 old postcards, going back as far as the turn of the century.
Arcadia, which is based in Charleston, S.C., has published more than 300 books of postcards, representing big places such as Chicago and little places such as Rome, Ga.
Harris noticed one of Arcadia's books when he was traveling. He thought Roanoke deserved one too. He called the publisher and offered his help.
All the cards in the book came from his own stash. He has been collecting Roanoke postcards for about six year , starting with a couple he had found in a group of family photos. He has purchased others at antique stores and from Ebay. The typical price runs from $5 to $15, although he's paid as much as $34 to purchase one off the Internet.
When he started, he said, "I really had no idea of how many Roanoke postcards were out there. The more I looked, the more interested I became."
For him, some of the cards create a little sadness, in that they are images of "beautiful structures that are no longer with us." One example: the Terry Building, a six-story edifice built in 1892 with a castle-like motif. At the time, it was the largest building in Roanoke, and the first to be serviced by elevators. It was torn down in 1926.
Harris' collection includes more than 300 cards, so he spent some time sifting through them to pick out the ones that would go in the book. He also spent time in the Roanoke City Library's Virginia Room digging up background for the photo captions.
Harris' caption for the 1917 Mill Mountain Incline card notes that his copy included this hand-written message: "I have been up here. I am afraid the string will break." It also notes that the incline opened on Aug. 14, 1910, and carried 1,500 passengers the first day. The caption for a 1914 postcard of the incline notes that the fare for the four-minute round trip was 25 cents.
Nelson Harris will sign copies of his book from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Cantos Booksellers on Roanoke's City Market and at the Virginia Museum of Transportation from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 2.