John Hudson has a way with words.
Whether singing the Star Spangled Banner at the annual Memorial Day gathering in Berryville’s Rose Hill Park or speaking at the many community events he attends each year, it seems like Hudson is always turning beautiful phrases.
So it isn’t surprising that when the town of Boyce wanted to commission a formal history to commemorate its 100th anniversary Town Council Member Billie Hott turned to native son John Hudson.
“I was foolish enough to agree to write it” Hudson joked standing in front of the Boyce Town Hall discussing the product of nine months of work, his latest work “Welcome to Boyceville”.
In reality, Hudson’s tongue-in-cheek statement could not be further from the truth. Hudson’s deep love for the people and history of his hometown shouts from each of the 96 pages that he has dedicated “to the citizens of Boyce who, for the past 100+ years, have had the good fortune to call Boyce, Virginia â€˜home’”.
While “Welcome to Boyceville” is certainly a history of the “small Virginia town of Boyce” described on its cover, it is even more Hudson’s love song to people and place where he grew up expressed through stories, pictures and loving memories.
“Growing up in Boyce was small town life at its best” Hudson said.
While Hudson’s book contains plenty of facts and figures that will delight Clarke County historians, it also is filled with stories and anecdotes told in a way that only a hometown boy can do.
For instance, Hudson recounts in the book that Boyce barber Howard Lloyd would often meet children on the street of Boyce and remark that the child needed a haircut. “If the child answered that they didn’t have the 15 cents, he would cut their hair for free” Hudson says in the book.
While the barber story may bring a smile to the faces of readers, Howard Lloyd is more than just an anecdote to Hudson. “I have many memories of sitting in H. B. Lloyd’s barbershop” Hudson remarked. “There was a spring-loaded platform on the wall for customers to play cards on while they waited for a haircut.”
Hudson said that he wanted the book to serve both as a history but also tell a story of the place he loved growing up. His clear and personal writing style often succeeds in transporting his readers back in time to the places that Hudson knows so well.
“I wanted it to serve as a historical record first” Hudson said. “But you can’t tell a story like this without the human element that drove it.”
The history and story in Hudson’s book were painstakingly researched by a hand that understands its subject. Hudson’s lifelong love affair with Boyce has enabled him to present the town’s chronological history in a clear and concise way without sparing the rich human history that continues to shape the town today.
For example, Hudson’s research identified the four major landowners who carved land out of their adjoining estates to create the town. Sections of Saratoga, Pagebrook, Roseville, and Pleasant Hill, which later would become Scaleby, all contributed land to form the new village.
“I wasn’t able to find any record of payment to any of the original landowners for their properties” Hudson said. “But in later years when the town asked Scaleby for more property to expand Mrs. Gilpin said â€˜We have given enough already and will keep what we have.’ That leads me to believe that the initial land used for incorporation was a gift.”
Throughout the book Hudson presents a rich narrative history through both the milestones and the actors that have shaped his hometown and the surrounding area.
Revolutionary war General Daniel Morgan begins Hudson’s story in nearby Millwood and Morgan is later credited with establishing the commerce road to Winchester that is the town’s main street today. Civil War Colonel Upton Boyce also makes an appearance in Hudson’s book. Again, with a flourish of historically detail that makes “Welcome to Boyceville” so readable, Hudson tells the reader “Upton Boyce was one of the original and staunchest free silver advocates (inflationists who supported increased silver production as a way to reduce the nation’s debt).”
As senior vice president and marketing director for the Bank of Clarke County with a master of business administration degree from Shenandoah University, perhaps it is no surprise that Hudson includes Upton Boyce’s fiscal allegiances in describing Boyce’s namesake. Even so, Hudson’s writing includes just the right amount of detail and moves quickly without staying too long or too deep with any one subject.
The result is a fast moving and pleasing story with lots of facts and figures for readers inclined to details.
Hudson first guides the reader through the early years of Boyce, then called “Boyceville”. The town’s name was later changed at the request of railroad executives who feared freight delivery mix-ups with Berryville just eight miles further north along the tracks.
“Welcome to Boyceville” then expertly chronicles through pictures and words the critical impact that the railroad has played in Boyce’s history. In one account, Hudson describes the expansion of the town’s small train station in 1913 to the grander train station still standing today.
“Three large landowners believed that many important people and expensive racehorses were using the Boyce train station. So, the three landowners decided to contribute $17,500 to the town’s existing $2,500 budget for building the new station.”
The result, Hudson said, was a train station more suited to a town of several thousand.
Hudson not only chronicles the events that have made Boyce what it is today but also describes potential history making events that did not occur.
One such event, the eventual highway routing that sent Route 50 south through Waterloo in 1935 rather than through the heart of Boyce, is a fascinating example.
Hudson said that U.S. Government plans for sending Route 50 down Boyce’s Main Street included a 28 foot high, 40 foot wide overpass across the railroad tracks in order to comply with automobile-crossing restrictions for federal highways.
“If the elevated highway had been built much of what we see here in town today would have been destroyed” Hudson said.
Hudson said that research for the book included interviews, reading letters and historical documents as well as physically turning every page of the Clarke Courier archive from 1880 until its demise in 2009.
“Boyce never had its own newspaper” Hudson said. “But it did get a lot of coverage in the Courier.”
With the publication of “Welcome to Boyceville” Hudson assumes the mantle of Boyce’s foremost living history expert. Even so, banker and author doesn’t shy away from offering his perspective on where the town may be headed over the next 25 years.
“People in Boyce have always enjoyed a quiet and pastoral lifestyle and unless the town decides to annex more property what you see today is it in terms of size. However, Boyce has a strong potential to expand its commercial base through unique shops and stores here in the old downtown district.”
As Hudson shares his economic vision while standing on the steps of the Boyce Town Hall his eyes drift up the street to many of the storefronts that thrived when he was a child.
“Boyce was a really active place in the 60’s. There was always something to do in Boyce” Hudson reminisced. “Writing the book was quite a journey of discovery for me even though I grew up here.”
In listening to John Hudson describe his literary journey one understands that he has been writing “Welcome to Boyce” for his entire life. Don’t be surprised to hear if Hudson announces a sequel about Boyce because it is unlikely that either are finished making history.