Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Photos through time

Local author publishes ‘Images of America’ novel about Granbury

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Melinda Jo Ray, one of Hood County’s most prolific historian authors, has now released her fourth book “Images of America: Granbury and Hood County,” detailing the rich history surrounding Granbury — otherwise known as the town “where Texas history lives.”

The Images of America series is a product of Arcadia Publishing and celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the distinctive stories from the past that shape the character of the community today.

As a Hood County historical novelist, a retired Granbury ISD librarian and the previous owner of Books on the Square and The Nutt Hotel, Ray accepted the task to serve as the author for the “Images of America: Granbury and Hood County” volume.

“Arcadia Publishing has been trying for years to get somebody to do one of their ‘Images of America’ books for Granbury and Hood County,” she explained. “They had approached some people with the museum group, and they had approached Brandi (Herr) who does the Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tour. Brandi decided not to do it because she didn't feel like she had access to enough pictures. So, I thought, ‘Well, I'm volunteering at the Hood County Museum, and at the Bridge Street History Center, so I really should have access to enough to get this done.”

As Ray already knew the story she wanted to tell, she said all she had to do was find the right contacts to get enough Hood County photos to fill in the pages.

For the past few years, Ray spent time working with the Hood County Historical and Genealogical Society and later, a descendant of Jesse Nutt, Mark Dabney, to help her find photos for the book.

Finally, on March 4, the book was published. It contains 128 pages and 181 photos depicting the major highlights of history that Granbury and Hood County have to offer.

Ray’s book, “Images of America: Granbury and Hood County,” takes readers on a historical journey. From prehistory to communities to local legends and lores, Ray has weaved a timeline of Hood County’s most notable events.

According to the book’s summary, Granbury and Hood County’s history is both an “American pioneer saga” and a 20th century “rags to riches” story.

“In the 17th century, Spanish explorers and the Comanche were vying to control the land carved across Texas by the mighty Brazos River,” the summary states. “By the mid-19th century, white settlers came, led by visionaries like fiery preacher ‘Fighting’ Joe Robinson in Acton, lawyer and legislator Abel Landers, the Nutt brothers, and Quaker-raised farmer Amon Bond in Granbury as well as education-minded Campbellite Pleasant Thorp in Thorp Spring and the Sears family in Lipan.”

"The only known picture of Abel Landers, the first county judge, I've got that picture in there,” Ray told the Hood County News. “It was just before he died, and he has a bandage on his head, so I did a Photoshop version of the picture so people will see what he really looked like. They're side by side. I was honest. I didn't just put the doctored picture in there.”

Ray explained that Landers was responsible for the layout of the Granbury square. He also served as a state legislator in Missouri for three terms in the House and one term in the Senate.

"This was the fourth county that he was in charge of setting up, so it wasn't his first rodeo,” Ray said. “We owe a lot to that man for the vision that he had. We owe the fact that we have a town, which has stood the test of time, to him — and not just to him alone. He had a group of people that he recruited to help him with the process that were all visionary-type people that really made a difference in what we ended up with. All of it is a story that needs to be told, and that we need to be proud of.”

According to the book summary, “once the Civil War passed and Hood County was formed in 1866, Granbury and other towns across the county became thriving centers of commerce fed by nearby farms and ranches. The 20th century brought hard times, but the creation of Lake Granbury in 1969 opened a new era of possibilities. Newcomers joined founders' descendants to create a multifaceted renewal inspired by echoes of the past.”

“I'm excited about it, and I hope that a lot of people will take the opportunity to buy the book, just simply in order to realize for themselves that, number one: the lake wasn't always here, and that the downtown area was a work in progress for a long time,” Ray said. “And that there are other little communities in Hood County besides Granbury, and I think it's important for those stories to be known and told also.”

As Ray started to find pictures of Granbury and Hood County’s history for the “Images of America” book, she said the task was not an easy feat because many of the photos were severely damaged.

"They do have a high standard for what they will take, but there were some stories I was determined would be told.  For example, I really wanted to include The Colony, but had an awful time finding pictures they would accept.  Finally, I was able to find one picture from The Colony of Barney Hightower, who was Simon Hightower’s grandson,” she said.

The Colony was a community of Black residents living off their own lands located north of Granbury. The community was started by free and former slave families like Simon Hightower and Doc Foster. All that remains now is the old cemetery, lovingly cared for even today.

“I really wanted to tell the story of The Colony in the book, because I wanted people to understand that they weren't pushed out of town,” Ray said. “They bought four sections of land themselves and formed a community out there. They had their own church, they had their own school, but it was by choice; it wasn't because they were forced to do it, so I wanted to tell that story."

Some stories, Ray said, were actually rumors that she was glad to be able to put to rest in her book — like the rumor that there were no pictures of the first bridge across the Brazos River that was built in 1878.

“It was built with donated money from local businessmen, including the Nutt brothers, E. A. ‘Doc’ Hannaford, P.H. Thrash and others. Some folks had gotten the impression that there were no pictures,” Ray said. “There were three pictures of it in that book, though. They were right there in the Hood County Museum all along!”

She said she had a blast finding pictures of Hood County history, but she still discovered a brand-new piece of information just the other day during a book signing.

"Thank God, I didn't put it in the caption in the book, but I had always visualized that the ‘first’ First Baptist Church was on Houston Street," Ray said. “But this woman came up and she said, ‘I remember that building’ and I said, ‘Oh, really? I've never seen a picture of it till I found this picture in a friend of mines’ family pictures.' She said, ‘Well, you know where that church was don't you?’ I said, ‘Wasn't it up north of the square on Houston?’ She said, ‘No, everybody thinks that. That building was on the corner of Crockett and Rucker and the door faced that corner.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I had never visualized that church facing that direction and now I have to readjust my whole mental picture.’”

“But that's the kind of thing — until you talk to somebody who was there, you can have a total misconception of what something was like, so having those encounters with those people gave me at least a glimpse into that world that is just invaluable to me as a writer,” Ray explained.

Ray said her goal with “Images of America: Granbury and Hood County,” is to help people realize that the county hasn’t always been exactly like it is now, but that there are still places around Granbury that reflect the stories and the values of the people who founded it.

"More than anything else, I want to have people realize — especially those people who never saw Granbury before the lake — to realize what a tremendous influence the river has had on the life of the community,” she said. "It was fun to do, and I was able to see some things brought to life that I want to include in the storyline in my next novel, so it really all kind of played together."

Ray is also the author of “The Nutt/Landers Family Chronicles” trilogy, in which she tells the story of two of Granbury’s founding families: Jesse Nutt and Elizabeth Landers.

The first book, “Safe in the Arms of God,” was published in 2020, while the second book, “A Legacy Cast in Limestone,” was published in 2021. Ray said the third book, “A Tale of Three Brothers,” is currently still in progress.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Ray also worked on writing a coffee table book called “Limestone Legacies: A Collection of Articles on Granbury and Hood County History.” Limestone Legacies is a collection of articles and photos on the local history of the town of Granbury and the surrounding Hood County in north central Texas from the 1840s to the present day, according to the Amazon summary.

Ray added she is grateful to everyone who contributed photos, but she would like to especially thank her “dear friend” Karen Nace at the Hood County Museum for “always coming through with something wonderful.”

“Without fail, she would always find something we could use,” she added. “This book could not have happened without her help!”

Ray’s new “Images of America: Granbury and Hood County” novel can be purchased at the Hood County Museum and Amazon, along with her other books. Other local retailers may also decide to carry the book as well. Royalties from the book go directly to the Hood County Historical and Genealogical Society.