New book chronicles Columbia's history

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Columbia - posted Mon., Mar. 11, 2013
The new 'Images of America: Columbia' book boasts more than 200 vintage images and memories regarding the history of the town. Contributed photo. - Contributed Photo

A new book, “Images of America: Columbia,” seeks to capture the history of the town through Arcadia Publishing’s familiar image-rich format. “The book was to contain between 180 and 220 vintage photographs with introductions to each chapter and captions for each of the photographs,” said John Allen, one of the book's authors. Allen, who writes for the town’s quarterly newspaper and serves as president of the Beckish Senior Center, collaborated with town of Columbia historian De Ramm and Ingrid Wood, president of the Columbia Historical Society.

According to Wood, the impetus behind the book was Su Epstein, director of Columbia’s Saxton B. Little Free Library, “who over the years, gently nudged John Allen, De Ramm and the Historical Society Past President, Pat Grabel, to consolidate the historical material into one book that had a dominant photographic component,” she said. “Our Arcadia editor, Lissie Cain, contacted Su Epstein several times over the years to encourage someone to write a comprehensive history in their pictorial format.”

“The publisher was seeking photographs and material that was from the town’s beginnings in 1804 to the early 1960s,” said Allen. “Ingrid, De, and I got together and discussed the opportunity.” Many of the surrounding towns, including Lebanon, Hebron, Willimantic, Coventry and Bolton, had already published a book by Arcadia. “Columbia is also rich in interesting and important local history because it was a crossroads town between Hartford and Providence and New York and Boston in the olden days,” said Wood.

“We decided to give it a try and sent in a proposal,” said Allen.

The majority of the photographs in the book came from the archives of the Saxton B. Little Library and the Columbia Historical Society. “Many photographs were contributed by Columbia residents, private collectors, the Lebanon Historical Society, and the University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections,” added Wood. The entire process, between sorting through and selecting photographs and writing text, took approximately nine months, according to Wood.

“In some ways Columbia is much like many other eastern Connecticut towns with incredible Revolutionary War-era history and amazing early industrial revolution activity,” said Wood. “What happened after the Civil War and emancipation is that populations moved to where the work was in the nearby cities or to the expanding western frontier. I recommend this book as a comprehensive and pictorial history of Columbia that complements all of the earlier publications.”

“This book is a compilation of the histories of our town and contains some information previously published by other groups… but also contains a host of new materials,” said Allen. “It is an ideal gift to give to our families who may have moved to other parts of our nation and still hold memories of growing up in a small, peaceful and beautiful community.”

Wood said there are many interesting tidbits about Columbia included in the book. Among the highlights: “Lebanon Crank, as Columbia was called until 1804, witnessed several military campaigns during the American Revolution involving the French Army under General Rochambeau and the American Continentals under General Washington,” she said. Due to its terrain, “Columbia became the site of numerous types of very early industrial mills, including one of the earliest cotton mills in Connecticut in Hop River Village, along the Hop River border with Coventry,” said Wood.

“Images of America: Columbia” is scheduled to be released on March 25. Confirmed locations where it will be immediately available include the Columbia Town Hall at 323 Route 87, Landmark Natural Foods Cafe at the corner of Routes 66 and 87, Columbia Historical Society's annual meeting on April 19, at 6 p.m., at Columbia Congregational Church Hall in Columbia and local bookstores. “The best bet, if you don't want to get out in a snowstorm, is the Arcadia Publishing website,” said Wood.

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