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I just finished reading Lesterville Community: The Early Years, an oversized, 413-page book that I can guarantee will never be a best-seller. And that’s fine! Because what’s important about this book, and the many books like it, is that it exists in the first place.

The authors, John Jamison (now deceased), Paul Adams, and Wade Hill, all longtime Lesterville residents and graduates of Lesterville High School in the 1950s, have collected documents, stories, photographs, and memories of all things Lesterville-related up to the mid-20th Century, producing a comprehensive portrait of the community’s early settlers, schools, businesses, churches, and pretty much everything else. If you want to know when the first public school was established in Lesterville or who built the garage on Old Highway 21, this book will tell you.

Local historians – and every community, every county, has them, the stalwarts of the local historical society and the keepers of the obscure artifacts – don’t always get much respect from their professional counterparts, who see them as dabblers or region-specific obsessives, who fail to see bigger trends in their determination to record every name on every plat map and census record. But those local historians serve a valuable purpose. They excel at giving a deep feeling for a place, its essential characteristics and its essential people, and the good ones know how to tell a compelling story.

Local historians preserve the collective memory of a place, in an era when memory seems to be in dangerously short supply. And sometimes they discover important but overlooked stories that escaped mainstream attention for some reason. So celebrate your local historian, and contribute to your local historical society! (And if you’d like to buy a copy of Lesterville Community, contact me and I’ll hook you up.)

TaumSaukReservoir_underconstruction

Taum Sauk reservoir north of Lesterville, under reconstruction in 2009 after its disastrous breach. Photo by KTrimble at English Wikipedia and used under Creative Commons license.

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