Every community has a history, but not every community has someone who loves that history enough to make sure that the stories are retold for others to love as well.
Fortunately, Clarke County has Maral Kalbian.
Kalbian’s most recent contribution to the preservation of Clarke’s local history is Images of America – Clarke County, part of Arcadia Publishing’s popular series that captures local histories through pictures. Kalbian’s contribution includes more than 200 vintage images and memories of days-gone-by selected from thousands of images reviewed over the last year and through the eye of a professional historian.
“The book contains images from a wide variety of local and regional sources that even long-time residents probably will not have seen before” Kalbian said in an office that she leases from the Clarke County Historical Association in Berryville, Virginia. “The book covers a range of different subjects that will hopefully appeal to a wide audience and initiate new conversations about these subjects.”
Anyone who knows Maral Kalbian, or who is familiar with her work, might wonder how this lover of detailed histories known for her devotion to precision was ever convinced to get involved with Arcadia Publishing’s armchair-style approach to documenting local history. Arcadia’s business model reproduces black-and-white and sepia-colored photographs to create concise books that are often sold behind the counters of local hardware and grocery stores throughout the communities that the books describe. Though Arcadia’s style is popular with casual readers, it isn’t the in-depth kind of work that Kalbian normally does.
“I thought a lot about it and decided that I really wanted to do it” Kalbian said. “I wanted to make sure that as much of Clarke’s story as possible was told. If someone wrote it I think that I’d be really upset.”
However, Maral Kalbian, who is a well-known across Virginia as a historic preservationist and has managed her own historic preservation consulting firm for more than 20 years, simply doesn’t lower her professional standards for anyone or anything and the Arcadia Publishing project was no exception. Instead of simply submitting a set of pictures and with superficial captions for the new Clarke County edition – a task that Kalbian could easily have accomplished over a long weekend given her encyclopedic knowledge of the county’s history – the perfection driven historian chose instead to lift Arcadia’s business model to her own standards of excellence.
So Kalbian spent more than a year of her time pouring over dozens of photo archives then researching each photographic selection to ensure that the limited caption space she had been allotted by Arcadia – typically about one hundred words per photo – was a concise but rich reflection of the ten to twenty hours of research time invested in each image.
“I tried to make every word count” Kalbian said.
As a historian, Kalbian who grew up in Winchester, has the added advantage of a personal connection to the area covered in her new book. After graduating from Handley High School in 1980, Kalbian went on to earn a bachelors in art history at Smith College and a master’s in architectural history and a certificate in historic preservation from the University of Virginia. Today she and her husband, Branson McKay, live in Clarke County with their two sons, Simon and Evan.
Images of America – Clarke County is as much a joy to read as Kalbian is to speak with because the book reflects the same enthusiasm and curiosity for learning that one hears in her voice whenever she speaks about the rich history that surrounds the citizens of Clarke.
And perhaps few no better than Kalbian just how much history Clarke contains. The intellectual challenges about what to leave out and what to leave in were, in some ways, as much work as the research needed to unlock the story behind each photo.
“The challenge was more than just finding interesting photos” Kalbian said. “I wanted to engage and interest the reader so I needed to find photos that fit the story that I was trying to tell. It was like a puzzle.”
Organizing the photos was also important. Kalbian said that she tried to define the chapters of the book by subject areas that have meaning and context for local readers. For example, the book contains chapters devoted to important population areas like Boyce and Berryville but the many smaller Blue Ridge communities also receive a chapter. Clarke County’s African American story receives a chapter as does “Persons of Note”, early history, transportation and everyday life.
It is difficult to page through Kalbian’s excellent work without finding pictures on every page that beg the reader to linger for a closer look. For instance, a 1968 photograph of the Burwell-Morgan Mill Restoration Committee features many smiling faces with legendary names from Clarke County’s history like Byrd, Gilpin and Burwell. Coiner’s Department store is featured as is a strikingly patriotic photo of a young World War One veteran named Robert Jenkins. Jenkins, an African American soldier, is buried in the Milton Valley Cemetery on Josephine Street according to Kalbian.
“My goal was to present images that cause the reader to say to himself â€˜That’s interesting, I’d like to find out more about that subject’” Kalbian said.
Kalbian’s own intellectual curiosity to “find out more about that subject” is precisely what fueled her drive to spend so much time researching and refining the caption for each image in the book. For example, Kalbian decided that her chapter titled “Agriculture and the Hunt” needed to include mention of the Berryville Horse Show, a wildly popular event with a large grandstand area on the site of today’s Ruritan Fairgrounds west of town. Page 86 and 87 of Images of America – Clarke County show two images of the event with crowds that would rival today’s Clarke County Fair.
The research necessary to document the two photographs took Kalbian on a week-long quest for more information.
“I started by looking in the Clarke County Historical Association archives for images about the horse show” Kalbian explained. “I found these wonderful pictures of women harness racing but not much information about the actual event. I decided that there had to be a newspaper story about the races somewhere.”
Kalbian’s hunch about the races paid off after a look into the archives of the Clarke Courier. A 1910 story in the Clarke Courier not only described the races but a 1910 story also mentioned that while “very few accidents marred the show” nine attendees were arrested for “peddling liquid cheer.”
Kalbian, who is also the author of Frederick County, Virginia: History Through Architecture as well as other publications and professional reports, has lectured extensively on topics related to historic preservation throughout the region. She has also earned numerous honorary and professional awards for her work. So not surprisingly, in another bow to her desire to impose a greater academic rigor on her publisher, Kalbian insisted on including an extensive bibliography in the book.
“If people want to learn more about Clarke County history I want to be sure that they have some resources so that they can do it” Kalbian said.
In addition to being a mother and writer, Kalbian is an active community volunteer. She serves on several boards including the Clarke County Historical Association, the Clarke County Library Advisory Council, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Branch of Preservation Virginia, and the Board of Trustees at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia. In many ways, her new book is simply another facet of her unselfish desire to bring attention to rich cultural heritage that so many Clarke County citizens often overlook.
“I hope the book will provide people a better understanding of Clarke’s complex and fascinating history and a deeper appreciation of the people and places that formed it and continue to shape it today” Kalbian said. “Clarke County’s rural setting is still intact despite developmental pressures in this area, that is something unique.”
“So many people were very willing to share photographs and information with me” Kalbian siled. “My only regret is that I wish I could have included them all!”
Maral S. Kalbian’s book, Images of America – Clarke County, from Arcadia Publishing is available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.
Kalbian will be signing copies of her book at a wine and cheese reception benefitting the Burwell Morgan Mill on Thursday, September 1st in Millwood, Virginia. Copies of Images of America – Clarke County will be available for purchase at the event.