Monday, October 15, 2018

Another Scrapbook Moves On

In 1924 my grandaunt Velma Davis was just 16 and heading to the Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University - Go Dukes), about 20 miles from her home in Shenandoah, Virginia. Like many girls of the time, she delighted in taking pictures of her friends to glue into a black paper scrapbook. Close friendships, dorm life, silly antics, snow, and school activities are documented forever in those pages, pages now dusty and brittle, chipping away.

I am not sure why I was elected to be the caretaker of Velma’s scrapbook, but what a gift it has been. The tattered scrapbook has worked overtime providing me with lots of material to write about. Nearly every photo has been featured in my blog at least once, some multiple times. No wonder faithful readers have come to know Velma on a first name basis.

Wellington Hall 1924 Harrisonburg Teachers College James Madison University
But it was the photos of Velma’s dorm Wellington Hall that caught the eye of Dr. Philip Herrington, Assistant Professor of History at JMU. An ongoing project in his Historic Preservation course is documenting the area that was demolished and redeveloped as the Forbes Center across the street from the Quad.

A simple Google search brought him to my blog. According to Dr. Herrington, surprisingly very little information about the houses and buildings is available despite the fact that they were in use as late as 2006. He remarked that Velma’s scrapbook contains the largest collection of historically significant photos of the area. To me that is both sad and funny considering the poor quality and condition of some of the photos.

Velma Davis 1924 with Wellington Hall and other buildings across the street where Forbes Center is now
BEFORE: Velma 1925 with buildings demolished to make way
for the Forbes Center

Forbes Center James Madison University
AFTER: Forbes Center on Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA
Across the street from the Quad of JMU
NOTE: tunnel UNDER the street
One email led to another. When Dr. Herrington asked if I would allow the Special Collections department of the library to scan the photos, I realized it was easier for me to finish scanning what I wanted and just give them the scrapbook.

So on Friday, October 12, 2018, Velma’s scrapbook returned to its first home, the college campus. It will reside in an archival box in Special Collections on the second floor of the Carrier Library, a building that did not even exist when Velma was a student.

I must admit that I have an even greater appreciation for Velma’s photos after meeting with Dr. Herrington and Tiffany Cole, Special Collections Archivist. Both were eager to see the photos. It was fun to watch their faces as they looked for architectural clues, saw for the first time the outdoor pool which no longer exists, and spied the old hockey field now filled by a science building. While some photos are purely nostalgic, others will help Dr. Herrington’s students in their effort to develop an architectural history of the college. Without a doubt Velma and her sister Violetta would be thrilled to know the scrapbook is of interest nearly 100 years later. 

Three years ago, my sister and I proudly gave our father’s album recounting his time in the Coast Guard to the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Like Velma, Daddy was just a teenager killing time taking pictures with no thought of lasting influence. Inheriting such personal items as a scrapbook can be a burden when contemplating what will become of them when you’re gone. Donating them to a school, a museum, or a society that will preserve them feels good.

That good feeling never gets old.

© 2018, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. How great to have contributed to a historic archive. I never got into scrapbooks as a young person, but certainly like saving (scanning) old photos into a hard drive, then sharing on line...and knowing there's somewhere (the cloud?) a place they will continue to exist. Maybe not, as some of my old blogs have disappeared somehow.

  2. So glad that that the album has gone back to where it began and to where it will be preserved and appreciated (and that burden is off of your shoulders, but you still have the scanned photos to keep using!) Best of both!

  3. This is so cool Wendy! Velma would be so pleased and probably amazed to realize the value of the scrapbook she made. I love how because of your blog, others have been able to benefit from these scrapbooks and your generosity in donating them.

  4. I greatly enjoyed your post! What a thrill it must have been for you to know how much others value Velma's scrapbook.

  5. This is very cool! Your grand aunt’s photos will be used by students and valued by the college for many, many years. And, you’ve given me ideas. My Dad made scrapbooks. Hmmm....

  6. That is fantastic, I bet Velma would be chuffed to bits!

  7. I know I'm a sap but I actually had tears as I read your post. What an amazing gift! As you know, I have a gazillion historical scrapbooks (did everyone scrapbook 100 years ago?) of my grandfather's that I plan to donate one day to the historical society. I will remember your post when I do and watch the eyes as someone looks through them.

  8. How fabulous Wendy!! None of my ancestors made scrapbooks or photo albums, dang! What a great way to honour your relatives!

  9. What a great gift Wendy! Glad you have the digital copies to keep in the family as well. Win-win.

  10. This is wonderful Wendy! It is so great that many others will be able to view her scrapbook.

  11. Love this article. My grandmother left me several scrapbooks.

  12. Oh Wendy, I'm so sentimental and love to hang on to things! I am trying to embrace the generosity of not clinging. I think it is wonderful that Velma's scrapbook is "home" again and is valued by someone other than family. I know I've enjoyed several of Velma's photos and stories.

  13. Hi Wendy! What a neat thing for you guys to do, to donate the scrapbook to the school. I just wanted to stop by and wish you a Happy New Year! ~ Kathy M.