Kalbian’s New Book Presents Clarke’s History Through Pictures

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.

Local historian Maral S. Kalbian has selected a variety of historic images to tell Clarke County's history in her new book. Many of the photos came from the Clarke County Historical Association while others were gathered from private citizens and various historical repositories.

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.

Maral Kalbian has been a historic preservation specialist for 24 years - photo courtesy of Maral Kalbian

“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.

Christ Episcopal Church, constructed in 1834 on land donated by George Burwell of Carter Hall was nearly destroyed by a 1947 fire - Photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

“My goal was to present images that cause the reader to say to himself ‘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.

The Millwood Colored School, built in 1910, now serves as a community center operated by the Millwood Goodwill Association - Photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

“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.”

Kalbian describes Berryville's brick passenger train station, unexpectedly demolished in the 1990's, as unusually elegant - Photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

“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!”

Coiner's Department Store opened its doors in 1896 and operated continuously until 1995 - Photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

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.



  1. Margaret Friant Pittman says:

    Will she be signing copies during the Back Roads Century race on Sept. 18? That would be a perfect time!Lots of riders; lots of visitors! I am looking forward to getting a copy that weekend….

  2. Isabelle Jaynes says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book. I love learning about local history.I’ll definately be buying the book!

  3. legend in her own time

  4. Already glanced thru this book, it is unbelievable!

  5. Brian McClemens says:

    We are selling This New Book at “The House Of Light Cafe” next to “The Berryville Grille” .. Come by and Pick it Up .. We are also trying to see if we can get Maral Kalbian to do a Book Signing .. Thanks.. Have a Blessed Day !!

    • Mr Mister says:

      Another shameless plug. I think CDN has an advertising section.

      • been here a long time says:

        why so negative?. It’s a great book about Clarke Co. If you don’t want to know more or see how it was in the old days, don’t buy the book.

        • Mr Mister says:

          My comment was not towards the book. In fact I am going to buy it. I have a couple of books about Clarke Co. and Berryville already.
          See I can promote the book without a shameless plug for my business!!

      • B-Ville Native says:

        In your own little world of negativity, this could be viewed as a “shameless plug”. But everyone doesn’t live in your type of world!

        • Not to keep things going, but just how many books are sold out of the Grille?

          And look at all the thumbs down on the post. Apparently, I don’t live by myself.

          • The Grille doesn’t sell books. The House of Light, next door to the Grille, sells books, and I believe that’s where the shameless plug directed folks.

            So what if it was a shameless plug?

    • Sharon Strickland says:

      Brian – I was out of town when the book signing took place. Please ask Ms. Kalbian to come to your place and do another one. I like autographed copies.

  6. Thank you Clarke Daily News for informing me about Maral Kalbrian’s new book. I look forward to reading her new book and seeing the pictures. To learn more local history, consider reading “A Separate Place — The Formation of Clarke County, Virginia” by Warren Hofstra. To see Beverley Byrd Greenhalgh’s pictures of famous homes in Clarke County, consider reading “In the Shadow of the Blue Ridge” by Mary Gray Farland. Retired farmer Harry Jones of Grace Episcopal Church knows a lot of local history. Mary Morris and Jennifer Lee are valuable resources of information and they work for Clarke County Historical Association.

  7. Jennifer Lee says:

    In answer to a couple of earlier inquiries, Maral herself will not be at the Century bike event on September 18 but signed copies of the book will be for sale at the Burwell-Morgan Mill and the Clarke County Historical Association’s Museum on Main Street in Berryville after September 1. More information is available at http://www.clarkehistory.org.

  8. J.Mackay-Smith says:

    Congratulations Maral! We will also have the book available at Locke Store in Millwood- look for a signing date later on this fall at http://www.lockestore.com.

  9. Rice St. Resident says:

    I am relatively new to Berryville, and have always wondered why there was no train station. Can someone enlighten me as to what happened to the train station, as the article says it was unexpectedly demolished…?

    Many thanks!

    • Been Here A Long Time says:

      N&W came in at night & demolished it with out any permits etc. They only answer to their selves

      • Rice St. Resident says:

        thats sad… thanks for the answer!

        • Longtime Berryville resident says:

          William Herbert Whiting passed away at age 59 in 2009 and he had drawn some detailed black and white pictures of the old railroad station. As a kid, I rode my bike often down Byrd Ave from Church Street to the train station. It was fun to chat with Mr. O Brian, who was the N&W employee in charge of the train station. There was a telegraph machine inside. Railroad employees would give me money to ride my bike to Caves store to buy their cokes and snacks. A train would be coming through shortly, when the railroad signal light was green. It was fun to watch the long trains and notice the large variety of freight cars and wave at the man in the caboose.

          • My son (11) still likes to sit and watch the trains go by now – for the graffiti art. He thinks of it as a moving art gallery.

  10. Mary T. Morris says:

    I watched Maral work thru this entire book process, and marveled at the extensive time, effort and research she put in to make this the best book possible. It was almost 2 years of unrelenting work, and the book is SO worth every minute she spent on it. I was blown away at the photos she got that I had NEVER seen before, and lusted after them with a passion. Thank you, Maral! This book will be relevent for many years to come.

  11. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, I knew two kind elderly ladies who were cousins that lived together in a brick home on Church Street. Virginia Page and Catherine Page grew lots of vegetables in their garden and drove a Ford Model A car into the 1970’s. They were neighbors of my Renshaw grandparents, who had lived on 207 South Church St. They were known as the “Berryville Page Girls”. Prior to World War 2, they would ride passenger trains to Roanoke and ferry boats from Baltimore to Norfolk. They would go to New York City by taking a train from Berryville north to Shenandoah Junction. Catherine Page was an artist and Virginia Page was the daughter of an Episcopal minister at Brutan Parish in Williamsburg. The railroad through Berryville was built after the US Civil War.

  12. Wendy Gooditis says:

    Lovely book, Maral! I love that I could buy this nice book at the feed store! And I thought your signing was tonight: I meant to be there. Bummer, dude. But thank you for producing this book for us.