'Stories in Stone' a worthwhile wait
I met Tom Weber in the early 1990s at one of the initial Umstead Festivals. I was writing a piece on the event for The News & Observer, an article that would be read and forgotten in a day or two. Tom was on a more long-term mission: He was in the process of interviewing one-time residents of what is now Umstead State Park. His plan was to compile their stories into a book. He even had a title: “Stories in Stone.”
As a frequent visitor to Umstead I was fascinated by Tom’s project. Before it became a state park in 1937, Umstead was home initially to the country’s first residents, later to the Europeans who began infiltrating the area in the late 1700s. Until the mid-1930s — when the government began buying up depleted farmland — folks managed to eek out a living from the 5,700 or so acres of what’s now the Triangle’s favorite playground. Tom would be telling the story of what life was like pre-park at Umstead.
In the intervening years, I’d periodically touch base with Tom to see how the book was coming. “It was coming,” he would say in not-so-few words. Then I heard that Tom’s heart had been stolen and taken to Florida. But he was still working away on the book. I used to wonder what was taking him so long.
It turns out Tom was a perfectionist. Dale Tiska at REI’s North Hills store gave me a peek at her hot-off-the-press copy Tuesday night. “Stories in Stone” reflects years of diligent research, of patient interviews, of an effort to not sell short the story of Umstead’s human past. It’s a fascinating read that, sadly, comes to us after Tom’s death earlier this year.
Sunday, “Stories in Stone: Memories from a Bygone Farming Community in North Carolina” has it’s official debut at the Visitor Center at William B. Umstead State Park. A presentation will include highlights from the book as well as stories about the park from members of the E.D. Flowers family. The book focuses on the period between 1870 and 1942. The event begins at 2 p.m. The Umstead Visitors Center is on the park’s east side, accessible off U.S. 70 between Ebenezer Church Road and I-540 in Raleigh.
If you can’t make it Sunday, “Stories in Stone” — $20, 303 pages with 414 photos and illustrations, proceeds benefit the Umstead Coalition — will be available at the Umstead Visitor Center, Great Outdoor Provision Company (both at the Cameron Village and Chapel Hill stores), The Regulator Bookshop in Durham and at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh.
We explore so many areas where little is known of past. Thanks to Tom Weber, Umstead is no longer one of them.