Bill Conger and Kim Parks give us a visual experience of local history
Story by Randy Rudder and Tilly Dillehay
The two people who were signed for two similar book projects with Arcadia Publishing last year couldn’t be more different.
He works as a school counselor, with a long history as a radio personality, a writer for entertainment publications, and book author. She is the Executive Director of Historic Lebanon, a nonprofit that works for historic preservation, community revitalization, and economic development.
What do they have in common? A love of local history.
And because of that, they were both invited to join the Images of America team. Over the past year, Bill Conger was signed to write Images of America: Mt. Juliet, and Kim Parks was signed to write Images of America: Lebanon. These books are local editions of a huge series that focuses in on photographic history in local communities across the country. There are over 7,000 editions so far.
Bill Conger and Images of America: Mt. Juliet
Compiling a photographic history of Mt. Juliet may not seem quite as exciting as covering the 2000 Al Gore-George W. Bush election results, interviewing country music stars backstage at the CMA Awards, or being an on-air radio personality. And Mt. Juliet author Bill Conger has done all of those things.
Still, he seems to be getting plenty of kicks out of this latest project.
Bill Conger studied communication at Middle Tennessee State and was hired as a DJ at WJLE in Smithville. He later worked as a feature producer with Jim Owens, TNN and CMT. Along the way, he has been a contributing writer for a number of entertainment periodicals, including American Songwriter, Bluegrass Unlimited, The Writer magazine and others, and has written another book entitled Rejoice in the Lord Always: The Jeff Hillman Story. He is currently a school counselor in the DeKalb country school system.
Conger stumbled across this project early last year.
“My duties at school include serving as sponsor of the Junior Beta Club,” Bill says. “One of our student’s aunts and another lady had put together a pictorial history on DeKalb County and offered to let the club sell it as a fundraiser.
“I contacted the company that published the book, Arcadia Publishing, to see if they had a book on Mt. Juliet in their Images of America series. They didn’t, but had been trying to persuade Diane Weathers and Donna Graves Ferrell with the West Wilson Historical Society to do the project,” he says. “[Diane and Donna] were booked, but were gracious enough to help me navigate the research area with the information and pictures.”
Some of the photos in the book came from Diane and Donna’s collection, but former mayor N.C. Hibbett also had a large collection of photographs he had donated to the Mt. Juliet library
Although it was an arduous process, Bill says he is glad was able to complete the book and to make a contribution to Wilson County history.
“A graveyard sits in the middle of the common area at Willoughby Station where hundreds of modern homes stand,” Bill says. “That always intrigued me, and I had wondered about the history behind it. It seemed to me that as I drove through this area, very little physical history of this place remained. Modern civilization was taking over, but where were the rich roots of history that started the town? Much of it is gone, so the photos are one way to preserve part of our past.”
Bill lives in Mt. Juliet with his wife Alyssa and 9-year-old son Gavin. His daughter Autumn is a student at The University of Kentucky.
Images of America: Mount Juliet is available to purchase at Books A Million, Greek Cuisine Grill, Courtney’s, Houston’s, Moss’s, and the Wilson County Clerk’s office.
Kim Jackson Parks and Images of America: Lebanon
Parks has been up to her elbows in Lebanon history for some time. After all, she’s been with Historic Lebanon almost since its inception in 2007, and acted as Executive Director to the nonprofit since 2012. She knows where all the archives are, where all the old collections are, and knows the story arc of this historic city very well.
So when Arcadia Publishing approached her for the Lebanon project, she immediately accepted the challenge.
“I think Arcadia likes to work with local historical societies or nonprofits—so I think we were the logical choice,” says Parks.
The project took about two months of solid writing and research. She had a deadline of May 1, 2014.
“I had been gathering photos all along, because I just like to do that personally, so I had an idea where to start,” said Parks. “And then I started seriously writing. I already had a good deal of background, but it takes a while to identify your sources, and I tried to make sure I had two or three sources in each case.”
She used photos from the Cumberland Stockton Archives, City of Lebanon Museum and History Center, Castle Heights Military Academy Alumni Association, Wilson County Archives, Cracker Barrel, Inc., and the collections of private individuals.
Through the Stockton Archives and private collections, she had access to quite a few photos taken by one man: I.W.P Buchanan, professor, founder of Castle Heights Academy and photography hobbyist. Many of these simply depict everyday life in Lebanon in the early 20th century.
“Those are great,” says Parks, “and most towns you don’t have that, so we felt really fortunate.”
She points out one of her favorites: the cover image of the book, depicting a happy clump of society women perched atop a horse-drawn buggy.
“I liked it,” she says, “because a lot of these pictures, you don’t get a lot of women in them, so this was really special.”
The book is divided into chapters by era, or by specific significant events. There is even a chapter dedicated to the early development of that behemoth restaurant chain that began in Lebanon: Cracker Barrel.
“A lot of material didn’t make it in here, because you’re bound by the 126 pages. So there’s 222 photographs in here, but I gathered over 500. So you have to cull, and then you have to make sure they meet the quality standards for printing.”
Parks says that even though the majority of the text in the book is essentially captions for its over 200 photos, she arranged the content so that there was one unified story being told.
“I tried to tell a story so it flows. I identify what’s in the picture, but I also try to carry it along.”
A lifelong resident of Wilson County, Ms. Parks has three children and is married to Tracey Parks.
Images of America: Lebanon is available at the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds benefit Historic Lebanon.