Concord historian needs old photos

Carrying box after box from his home office to the dining room, Michael Eury heaved each box to the table and opened them, revealing hundreds of black and white photos.

Parades. Church groups. Sports teams. Bustling downtown Concord streets in their heyday.

"We probably won't be able to eat on the dining room table for a while," said Eury.

Eury, executive director of the Historic Cabarrus Association and curator of the Concord Museum, is gathering photos for a book that will tell Concord's history through snapshots of local people, places and events.

Representatives from Arcadia Publishing approached Eury about compiling the book earlier this year.

The South Carolina-based publishing company produces the "Images of America" series, books focused on communities, featuring historical photos. Since the series began in 1993, Arcadia Publishing has released books on hundreds of towns and counties nationwide. Eury, who has written and co-written nine books on popular culture history, will be the author.

He's been gathering and sorting through photographs for the past two months. He's acquired about 600 photos, some organized in scrapbooks and others tossed haphazardly in forgotten boxes.

Working under the pressure of a Sept. 1 deadline, Eury must narrow his photo selection to 200 for the book.

"Now it's a giant puzzle," he said. "There's a lot of detective work to do."

Eury recently discovered 10 boxes stashed away at the Concord Public Library. Each was full of discarded photos from a local newspaper archive. He's also borrowing photos from the Concord Museum's archive, others' personal collections, local police departments, Barber Scotia College and the Boys and Girls Club of Cabarrus County. The work involves getting permissions and sorting through any copyright issues as well as choosing photos.

The photos will be divided into chapters about local events, schools, churches, businesses and more. The book will focus on Concord in the 20th century, but Eury said he has a few Civil War era photographs and photos of social events from the late 1800s that he plans to include.

"Concord has always been a city in transition," said Eury, who grew up in Concord and graduated from Concord High School in 1975.

Eury said he hopes to capture the city's transitions over the decades, which were often marked by the industries that found a home in Concord.

First there was gold mining, then cotton planting and then textiles. Now the city focuses on motorsports.

But to complete the book, Eury is appealing to locals to share their photo collections.

He's looking for images of city celebrations and parades, the county fair, 1950s Halloween festivals, Concord textile mills and racing at local drag strips and speedways in the 1960s and 1970s.

"People who have their roots in Concord will remember these things," he said.

He's hoping to find photos of celebrities who have visited the city throughout the years. Actor Jeff Bridges was in town in 1973 to film "The Last America Hero." And Eury heard that Roy Rogers once visited Concord in the early 1950s.

Eury is also searching for photos of events that shook the city, including the 1971 race riot that resulted in the N.C. National Guard being called to Concord and a 1946 tornado that hit rural Concord.

He also hopes that people will share photos of some local oddities, including something he remembers from his childhood: the world's largest moonshine still.

After a 1968 bust, a moonshine still rumored to be the largest in the world became a roadside attraction on U.S. 29.

"When I was a kid, I begged my mom to visit the moonshine still," said Eury. "She thought that wasn't such a good idea for her son."

He also hopes to find photos of the Buffalo Ranch, a petting zoo and ranch with more than 150 animals that was once off N.C. 49. The ranch closed and the animals were sold after a 1993 fire destroyed a store on the ranch.

The photos must be either originals or copies made from a negative. Low-resolution images such as Internet downloads, newspaper clippings or photocopies of photographs cannot be used. People who would like to contribute their images but don't want to temporarily part with the photographs might be able to scan the photo, said Eury.

Eury needs the photos by July 30. The book could be published as early as December.

"I'm determined to keep this history alive so people can discover how great of a town we live in," said Eury. "Our good fortune came from the hard work of the people who came before us."