Early in my newspaper career, then Brownwood Bulletin editor Norman Fisher initiated a photo feature he called “As We Were” as part of our publication’s bicentennial celebration of the United States.
For those challenged by history, that was back in 1976.
Bulletin readers were invited to submit historic photographs for publication, and if memory serves, the series was so popular that it spilled over into the following year.
For me and many others, those images from the past were photos we had never seen. For many who had lived here for decades, they served as reminders of how places that were once so familiar had changed over the passage of time.
It’s odd, but it seems the things we remember least are the things around us that were once so common. It’s been 42 years since 1976, and Brown County has witnessed enough change since then that pictures taken that year would qualify for “As We Were” status today. For those challenged by math, in 1976 we were 42 years removed from 1934.
Changes in a community tend to evolve, so when you’re watching them happen every day, the cumulative effect doesn’t feel very significant. But ask anyone who lived here decades ago and hasn’t visited for decades about change, and they are amazed. The former Dairy Queen on West Commerce is now the entrance to Walmart, and the old motel on East Commerce is now being developed into a center for restaurants and shops, just to name two examples.
With the advantage of 20-20 hindsight, I often wish I had gone around town over the years and taken photos of different buildings and neighborhoods. Such photos would not have been suitable for publication at the time because they were hardly newsworthy. But years later, they would be valuable as fascinating documentation of a moment in history in our community. Comparisons could be drawn by having a photographer (perhaps even me) try to stand in the same place years later and duplicate the scene with a new picture. It is feasible that a “then and now” panel of photos would be worthy of publication.
Over the Christmas break, several social media outlets have posted several historic photos. Chief among the contributors, at least from my point of view, has been the Facebook page maintained by the Pecan Valley Genealogical Society. If you like seeing this sort of nostalgia, I suggest that you go online and “like” that page as soon as you’ve finished reading this issue of the Bulletin.
Such images — supplemented by our own fading memories of how things had been, assuming we have memories — are the closest thing we have to time travel.
If time travel were possible, I’ve occasionally thought I would enjoy standing in a particular place and be transported back a century or two to see what existed at that spot back then. I’d be less excited about a trip forward in time to experience what will be happening a century from now. The unknowns are too daunting. But if I had reasonable assurances about successfully completing the round trip, perhaps it would be worth the risk.
At the start of a new year, it’s good to reflect on how things do change — in life as well as with the places around us — and to use where we’ve been to improve where we’re going. We’ll be there before we know it.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.