Books Capture ‘A Way of Life That Has Sadly Disappeared’
Billie Morris remembers staring for hours at a display case in the Lauderdale County Library when it was housed in the old Sugar Hill mansion. She was fascinated with the display’s collection of pictures and artifacts of the Durhamville community near Henning.
Inspired by the display, Morris realized her own collection of historical pictures could fill a book. She started work on “The Pictorial History of Lauderdale County, Volume I.” It was published in 2009 and sold out in three months. She donated $52,000 from the sale of the first book to the Friends of the Library.
Over the last 12 years, Morris has written 10 volumes of pictorial histories of her home county. Her next book will be published in October 2020.
Her books, she said, “are a collection of the way we lived, the way we worshipped, worked and played. They capture a way of life that has sadly disappeared, buildings that are no longer standing, people long gone.”
Morris, who started collecting pictures about 20 years ago, now has 26,000 pictures that cover two centuries – plenty for more books.
Each book requires a lot of research and interviews, she said, as she works to make the books as accurate as possible. For example, she’ll pull a picture if she can’t confirm important details.
Her process starts by researching the pictures she wants to put in the next book and then writing captions for the pictures. Next, she concentrates on writing her text. Finally, the book starts coming together as she places her pictures into the text. She dedicates each volume to a different person.
Besides the pictorial history series, Morris has published several other books, including one featuring her favorite pictures and another about the “Barns and Farms of Lauderdale County.”
Several of the books have sold out, but the volumes still available are for sale at Accents Gift Shop in downtown Ripley.
Morris has spent nearly all of her life in Lauderdale County. She worked for 30 years in local industries, including 25 years at Todd Uniform where she managed plants in Maury City, Ripley and Henning.
Over the years, she’s been actively involved in community projects, including the renovation of the “Little Theater” at Ripley High School, the restoration of the Sugar Hill mansion that now houses the Lauderdale County Chamber of Commerce and fundraising activities for the county library.
She’s the county historian, a longtime Rotarian, past president of Friends of the Library and the chamber’s 2001 “Citizen of the Year.” She and her late husband, Joe, have two daughters and two granddaughters.
It was her love of old pictures and a desire to document the past that convinced her to publish the pictorial histories that many people now cherish. After the first book, Morris said, “I realized I was on to something that people enjoy.”
The Next Book
Billie Morris’ next book, “A Pictorial History of Lauderdale County, Tennessee, Volume 7,” will be published in October 2020. Like the first six volumes in this series, the 8.5- by 11-inch coffee table book will be filled with stories and pictures of the county’s past, up until the 1980s. Cost will be about $40. Copies will be available at Accents Gift Shop and through Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org.