Historic USA in 8000 Picture Books

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, Tucson

Destination: USA

Books: Series by Arcadia Publishing (1993-present)

Bookstores can provide a window into a community when you travel. In San Diego I wandered in to a large downtown bookstore in search of a section on local authors. Instead I found shelves of Arcadia books. There were books about the railroads, books about the fishing industry, books about the Chinese immigrants, books about baseball–you name your interest and there was a book about San Diego for that subject.

You also can generally find some of Aracadia’s 8000 titles in  gift shop book sections. Costco and Sam’s Club carry them.  Jane Eppinga, an author of several Arizona books for Arcadia, tells me that they even fill a shelf in an Ace Hardware here in Tucson.

Within Images of America,  the newest specialty line is national parks.  My friend Jane Eppinga, an experienced writer and historical researcher recently completed the book on Saguaro National Park. One of our newest National Parks, Saguaro was for many years (since 1933) a mere Monument, gaining National Park status only in the Clinton administration. Saguaro is unique in several ways. For one thing, it is divided by the city of Tucson, with Saguaro National Park east and west.  For another, it is the only national park specifically named to protect a particular plant–in this case the giant saguaro that is the symbol of Arizona and the Arizona-Sonoran Desert. I would think anyone visiting Tucson to hike or camp in Saguaro National Park, would thoroughly enjoy this pictorial history that starts with the Native Americans, tells about the miners and ranchers and the political wrangling, as well as the ecology and geography of the magnificent piece of land.

When you think photo book, you may equate it with coffee table book.  Not Arcadia. These are no frills, soft-cover, strictly black and white or sepia reproductions without fancy graphics and production values that let us say emphasize quantity of photographs over quality of reproduction. The books are mostly old photos, generally two to a page with a short paragraph explaining the significance of the people or events pictured. Don’t look for narrative or great literature here. The book is barebones, and you can digest it in a couple of hours.

After looking at the Arcadia website, I asked them if they’d be wiling to send me some samples for this article. (I’m giving them all away–so just tell me in the comments which one of the books I mention that you would like to have.)

As an example of their Images of America series, Arcadia sent me one on Orrville, Ohio, where Ken went to school–although I’ll admit that the town is more famous for being the home of Smucker’s jams and jellies than for being the home of my husband. Looking over the book was a happy nostalgia trip for Ken, as he recognized family names, businesses and streets in photographs pulled together from the collection of the Orrville historical society.

The theme of another Images of America book that I looked at, Hawaiians in Los Angeles, is echoed in several books about immigrants from a particular country that brought their culture to a given town or region. Paging through the photos and descriptions, the reader learns something about southern California and Hawaiian culture as well as about the specific families traced in this book.

An example of the wide definition of place in the Images of America series can be seen in The Napa River. This one was assembled by the author and the Napa County Historical Society. Many of the books partner with the local historical societies, who are, after all, the repository of the most historical photos. Fewer individual people are pictured in the Napa River book, but the subject matter spreads more widely than in many of the Images series, covering environmental concerns, industry, transportation, engineering and the economy.  Like several of the books, this one starts with native Americans, shows life in the 19th century, but ends with a chapter of present day pictures and description.

Should you prefer not to be “stuck in the past”, you might find the Then & Now series more to your liking. I looked at Tempe: Then & Now (Arizona), since I am familiar with that city.  So many times when I travel I try to imagine what the place looked like in the past. It isn’t easy.  But this book compares photos, many from the same vantage point, of important landmarks. I found it absolutely fascinating. Although I’ve seen some very expensive full-color photography books that do this beautifully, the Then & Now black and white version makes a smaller, cheaper version available.

Another local author, Barbara Marriott, specializes in the northern part of the Tucson valley, and her newest book falls into another newer line of Arcadia, Legendary Locals.  I took at look at her Legendary Locals of Marana, Oro Valley, and Catalina. People who lived in and influenced the area from the 1600’s to today are shown, with short bios.  While travelers may get a feel for the area, and the differences between the three communities, by looking at the book, I suspect that “Legendary Locals” will appeal more to the people who live (or have lived) in the community.

My main beef with the Images of America series has been that they have no index, although I see that some of the newer series now do have an index. While these books are not going down in history as classic travel literature, if you check the book stores when you travel in the U. S., you may find  some interesting tidbits about the communities you are visiting.

Disclaimers: Arcadia books provided these books for review.   The photo at the top belongs to me.  The images of book covers link to my Amazon affiliate account, and if you order anything at all through that link, although it costs you no more, you will be supporting A Travelers’ Library. Isn’t that nice?



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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Historic USA in 8000 Picture Books

  1. IF Richard Mussler-Wright does not post, (consider me posting in his behalf) It would be nice if he could have the Napa River book. His family was from that area and I bet he would especially appreciate it. 🙂

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