"Landmarks of Seneca County," wriiten and photographed by Edith Delavan, published by Cayuga Press, 2004. "Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife," written by Lisa Saunders, published by Heritage Books, 2004

Individual stories and particular places make history compelling. Two recently published books bring a personal perspective to the past. Photographer-turned-historian Edith Delavan leads viewers through a personalized tour of historical and beautiful 19th-century buildings in Landmarks of Seneca County. In her book Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, author Lisa Saunders reveals the lives and relationships embodied in such buildings through an unusually complete set of civil war letters between Private Charles McDowell and his wife Nancy.

      In his introduction to Landmarks of Seneca County, Nelson Delavan shares one of the lesser-known Walt Whitman quotes: "All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it." This is the perspective of photographer Edith Delavan. Landmarks is a glossy book of 250 timeless black-and-white photographs depicting rural buildings between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, from Lodi to north of Waterloo and Seneca Falls. The book is part local history and part guide book. It is an art book filled with personal recollections and perspectives.

      Nelson Delavan's personal memoir sets the tone for this collection of his wife's images. Edith Delavan turns her camera to the architecture of 19th-century Central New York: cobblestone and wood framed houses, barns, churches, farms, and landscapes. The photographs manage to capture the soft light of spring and fall, the stark brilliance of summer, and the brisk feel of snow-draped winter. The final image in the book, which includes children, symbolizes the promise of the future.

      Landmarks is also being presented as a photo exhibit at the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry (89 Fall Street in Seneca Falls). From now through Labor Day weekend, 75 images will be on view throughout the museum. Future exhibits throughout the region are planned, including a lecture/book signing and exhibit at the Lodi Historical Society on Sept. 23.

      For information about future exhibits and obtaining copies of the book, contact the Delavans at (315) 549-8883 or write to edelavan@rochester.rr.com.

* * * *

The letters written back and forth by Private Charles McDowell and his wife Nancy during the long years of the Civil War ended with the words, "Your ever true and affectionate..." These letters, compiled in the book Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, shine as a testimonial to the care and support of spouses for each other at times of war and separation.

      Chronicling the activities of the New York Ninth Artillery (based in Auburn, NY), they tell a poignant story of love and devotion to family and country. The McDowells' sacrifice is made all the more extraordinary since the Union was an adopted country for Charles, who had emigrated from Ontario, Canada to Wayne County.

      Author Lisa Saunders is a Cornell University graduate who has published previous children's novels and a book about her daughter, who was born with severe disabilities. The process of researching and writing Ever True began with Saunders' discovery of a collection of letters in her mother's attic. She then embarked on a 10-year research adventure, exploring the story they told. She visited overgrown forts and battlefields and uncovered her ancestor's secrets in rare out-of-print books and papers in the National Archives.

      Saunders writes, "I felt myself leaving the present and entering his past. I traveled back 130 years and joined Charles in heart and mind. I felt his loneliness, his boredom, his fear. I laughed when he found a reason to laugh. I hurt over his deep longing for his wife and home, and for the life and family he left behind in Canada."

      Charles and his brother David had immigrated from Ontario to the rich farm lands and pretty farm girls of Wayne County, New York. Ever True opens with a letter from his father, saying, "Charles, I want you to see David and tell him not to join the army. If there is any danger he had better come home. Tell him I said so. Don't go in the war."

      This parental caution was already too late. Both brothers had been unable to resist the call to war. For a time, Nancy joined Charles in camp providing support for her husband and apple pies for the soldiers. Detailed letters give a behind-the-scenes look at fort life, hangings and desertions, encounters with Lincoln, and even prostitution, theft, and murder among the Union Troops. The story of how the marriage between Charles and Nancy survives separation, disease, the threat of death, and malicious gossip is compelling.

      Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife is available at the Cornell University Store, through Amazon.com, or by calling 800-876-6103.      

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

This is a space for civil feedback and conversation. A few guidelines: 1. be kind and courteous. 2. no hate speech or bullying. 3. no promotions or spam. If necessary, we will ban members who do not abide by these standards.

Recommended for you