Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book to detail lesser-known history

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 4/9/2014

The title is simple.

The project was not.

Deb Barker on Sunday finished putting together a 127-page book filled with nearly 200 photographs that document Ottawa’s 150-year history, she said. The six-week project required the Franklin County Historical Society director to spend hours assembling the book, she said, sometimes beginning the day at 4 a.m. and wrapping up at about 10 p.m.

With the first major publishing deadline behind her, Barker looked relaxed as she chatted about how the book came together Wednesday morning at the Franklin County Records and Research Center, 1124 W. Seventh St. Terrace, Ottawa. The book of photographs, part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, is titled: “Ottawa.”

“I asked [Arcadia] if they wanted the title to at least say Ottawa, Kansas, since there are several Ottawas,” Barker said, “but they liked the title ‘Ottawa.’

“If there’s ever a book about Ottawa, Ohio, then I guess they will deal with that problem later,” she said, laughing.

The book is due out in mid-October, Barker said. Though it will not come out in time for the community’s sesquicentennial celebration in September, she said, it will be part of the community’s ongoing celebration this year to mark the 150th anniversary of Ottawa’s founding.

Assembling the book required Barker to sift through photo, biography and subject files to craft a brief caption for every photograph, she said.

“They have very strict guidelines, and you had to describe each photograph in 70 words or less,” Barker said. “Trying to describe [Ottawa founding father] Isaac Kalloch’s life in 70 words is not easy.”

Barker said one of her goals with the book was to include photographs from the different time periods that Ottawa residents might not have seen before.

“There are only so many photos from the 1870s, and some photos are very identifiable [with Ottawa’s history], but I also wanted to include photographs that tell the same story [about the community’s history] that people may not have seen before.”

One of the photographs in the 10-chapter book is a 1911 picture of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters table at a Chautauqua event in Ottawa’s Forest Park. Named for the lake community in New York where it originated, Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States that was especially popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“Boy Scouts came to America in 1910, so they were new to Ottawa,” Barker said.

Other photographs range from elaborate parades to floods to a pair of Ottawa tribal chiefs dedicating the Buffalo Woman statue on the Franklin County Courthouse grounds.

One photograph of the 1951 flood in downtown Ottawa, taken by renowned Ottawa photographer J.B. Muecke, was not captured without difficulty, Barker said.

“He was standing in deep water and he about slipped and fell over because he stepped on a catfish,” she said.

With thousands of photographs to choose from, it wasn’t difficult to find selections for the first nine chapters, Barker said, but the last chapter on the modern era was a different story.

“We didn’t have prints, because everything now is digital,” Barker said. “That made it a lot tougher.”

Some of the modern leaders in the book include Benjamin Franklin Park, a former mayor and city commissioner who negotiated with railway officials in the early 1960s to establish a museum in a nearly century-old railroad depot, Barker said. As a result, the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, is housed in a depot that was constructed in 1888 and donated to the Franklin County Historical Society in 1962 when the Santa Fe Railroad moved into a new depot.

Park also was instrumental in several preservation projects in the 1960s and 1970s, she said.

Others include Ottawa coach Orlis Cox, philanthropist Marguerite Gibson and Lamar Phillips, a former Herald reporter and flood control advocate who lobbied for the city’s levee system and other controls in Washington, D.C.

Another difficult aspect of organizing the book, Barker said, was that she was not able to look at a page with the photograph on it while she was writing each photo caption.

“We get the [page] galleys back in 15 weeks, and I’m eager to see what the photos and captions look like together,” Barker said. “That’s my last chance to fix any errors [before it is published].”

Barker, who plans to put together picture books on the Chautauqua movement in Ottawa and the World War II home front, was pleased with the quality and uniqueness of the photographs she found to tell the community’s history in the coming “Ottawa” book, she said.

“I hope people will enjoy it.”

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