Writing a book about “Lost Hickory” was a natural for Leslie Keller. She was born and grew up in Catawba County, loves history and holds several degrees in history.
Keller serves as education coordinator/curator of collections for the Hickory Landmarks Society at Maple Grove Historical Museum in Hickory.
In fact, “Lost Hickory: A Compendium of Vanished Landmarks” has its origins in an earlier publication of the Hickory Landmarks Society.
In 2004, Keller helped prepare the manuscript for “From Tavern to Town, Revisited,” which was written by Albert Keiser Jr. and Angela May Lambert.“That work documents the local structures of historic and architectural significance that still stand,” Keller said. “I began to think about a book on the lost buildings.
“We tend to hear so much about the folks that financed Hickory and not the ones whose hard work built the town,” she added. “I tried to include the people that built [the lost buildings].”
Keller shared another reason for writing her book.
“I wanted to dedicate a book to my great-great-grandfather who came to Hickory in 1868,” she said.
Samuel Y. May helped construct some of the vanished landmarks. He was a furniture worker by trade and appears in a 1913 photograph of the Martin Furniture Company crew, which is in “Lost Hickory.”
Thus, a book is born.
HLS Executive Director Patrick Daily suggested they collect images and information toward the goal of publishing Hickory's lost buildings.
Keller worked diligently to collect information and put it into manuscript form. She spent countless hours of research, documentation and detective work. “The information began to grow quickly,” she said.
Keller frequented the local history room of Patrick Beaver Memorial Library and spent numerous hours poring over old maps with the help of genealogical librarian Janey Deal.
“Janey helped so much, and the library has a wonderful collection of maps,” Keller said.
Sandborn Maps, created by Fire Insurance Company, are detailed drawings of structures and include the material used to build the structure and the fire risk. “The maps indicated whether the structure was lighted by kerosene and heated by wood or not,” she said.
Keller admitted to a few surprises while researching the book.
“I knew there was a Lutheran seminary in the Green Park neighborhood, but I did not know it had been a Catholic convent,” she said. “The Sisters of Mercy were only there for a few years.”
Keller was also surprised by the sheer number of hotels torn down, as well as other structures — all for urban renewal.
The photographs and images came from a wide variety of places, but most are from private collections.
Keller can’t count the number of hours she spent on the work. “Hours? It pretty much took up a year,” she smiled.
More About Leslie Keller
Skillfully presented by author and local historian Leslie Keller, “Lost Hickory: A Compendium of Vanished Landmarks” is certain to become the definitive reference for the built environment of Hickory’s past.
Regardless of fire, neglect or urban renewal readers can appreciate the value of historic preservation by reflecting on the loss of these treasures. More than 150 photographic images are included from the Hickory Landmarks Society’s archives and private collections.
Keller is a native of Catawba County. She received her B.A. in history from Lenoir-Rhyne College, graduating summa cum laude.
Keller continued her post graduate education, earning an master’s. in history/historic preservation from Wake Forest University and an M.A. in public history/museum studies from Middle Tennessee State University.
Her professional experience includes service as curator at Traveler’s Rest Museum in Nashville, collections manager/historian at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, and education coordinator/curator of collections for the Hickory Landmarks Society.
Keller has extensive research and publications experience, including administrative support for the popular HLS publication, “From Tavern To Town, Revisited.”
She currently serves as president of the Catawba County Genealogical Society.