Pictures of the past

Rick Watson
Posted 7/1/17

I have thousands of pictures I’ve taken through the years. I also have old photographs scanned from family photo albums and other sources. I’m a fanatic about protecting these pictures. I’d …

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Pictures of the past


I have thousands of pictures I’ve taken through the years. I also have old photographs scanned from family photo albums and other sources. I’m a fanatic about protecting these pictures. I’d heard horror stories about people who lost all their possessions in a fire or tornado. When cloud storage technology improved, I started storing copies of my precious pictures electronically. Sometimes I scan through my online picture albums for inspiration. Old photographs are like time machines.

Several years ago, I discovered a cache of images of Old Dora in the city’s archives. George Sides Sr., who was the mayor at that time, gave me permission to make electronic copies. I’d been researching the old library. At one time, it stood on a hill overlooking the railroad. It was a stone structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corps before World War II. I discovered that the shell was still standing. It was one of those Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal projects that helped feed America during the Great Depression.

What I found in the city’s archives was a rich collection of black-and-white photographs. These images were of the town and its people just after the turn of the last century. There were pictures of baseball teams, social events, coal miners, and the stores lined up along main street.

Many of the pictures had handwritten notes along the bottom edges describing the objects in the image and the names of the people. Some of the names I recognized were of people I’d met years ago. Others were names I saw on tombstones at Davis Cemetery.

Every year or so, when I’m not wearing a watch, I’ll take a side trip down through Old Dora. The concrete road has buckled and bowed in places. Any speed over 5 miles an hour is begging for a busted shock absorber on your vehicle. It’s best to have the windows rolled down. The road was a little rougher than the last time. I would not have thought that possible. Weeds, vines, and privets as thick as a broom obscured much of the east side of the street.

The roofs have collapsed on most of the structures. When passing the old Masonic Lodge, I noticed through the entryway that the afternoon light was shining on vegetation growing inside the shell of the old building. The scene inside was how I imagined the secret garden looked in author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic book by that title. Stepping out of the truck, I pulled the phone from my pocket and snapped a few pictures for my Instagram page.

The day was warm, and I leaned against the ticking hood of my truck sipping bottled water as I took it all in. The smell of creosote from the railroad crossties hung in the air. I closed my eyes remembering that smell from when I was a kid. It was a scent I’d smelled a thousand times. Back then, the wall on the west side of the main street was as gray as a tombstone. The wall was the only thing between main street and the trains that rumbled through the old town like clockwork, as the old saying goes.

The only paint on that wall these days was sprayed on by teenage lovers and seniors from the high school a few miles away. WE ARE AWESOME, WE ARE GREAT, WE ARE SENIORS 98. And so on. I snapped a few more pictures before getting in my truck and snailing (is that a word?) on through the street toward the highway.

I thought as I left town that the pictures I’m taking these days might one day end up in someone’s archives. I hope they give someone as much joy and sadness as the ones I rediscovered this past week gave me.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, “Life Goes On,” is available on You can contact him via email at