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Coralville: Story of a Book

The below text was written by Tim Walch on how he began writing the book Images of America: Coralville,what he learned during the research process, and the people who supported and helped him on the way to publication. He also discusses the importance of continuing the work of preserving Coralville's history as we move forward into the future.

As with many projects, the book on Coralville was a combination of circumstances. I was approached by Arcadia Publishing asking if I would be interested in compiling a photo history for Arcadia’s “Images of America” Series. Books in this series focus on local communities that have not received appropriate attention by historians. I responded positively and nominated Coralville as a community that was worthy of such a book. I submitted a brief proposal and Arcadia sent me a contract.

I must say that I was naïve about the book. I assumed that I would not have any trouble locating hundreds – perhaps thousands – of photographs documenting the lives of Coralvillians from the 1870s to the present. I was quickly proven wrong. 

Coralville was founded in the 1860s by a hardy band of millers and farmers who had little time for documenting their lives on the river and the land. There were a few photos of the mills and the floods, but only a handful of images of the founders and their families. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the population of Coralville was modest until the years after World War II.

Although Coralville was incorporated as a “city” in 1873, it was more of a village until 1950. Fewer residents meant that the potential pool was smaller than expected. At an early stage I was not sure that I could locate the minimum number of photos on a variety of aspects of Coralville life, to complete the book.

I was blessed by the good fortune of having partners. First was the support of the Johnson County Historical Society. Over the years the JCHS had collected images of Johnson county life in general and Coralville life in particular. JCHS director Alex Drehman provided access to the JCHS collections and went above and beyond in transporting boxes of images to the Coralville Public Library for digitization.

My second partner was the Coralville Public Library. CPL director Alison Ames Galstad was enthusiastic about the project and provided space, equipment, and technical support to allow me to digitize the JCHS images. In addition, the CPL reached out to Coralville citizens in general and library patrons in particular to bring their family photos in to a “scanning day” at the library. We were blessed with offers of a number of special images that we included in the book.

My third partner was local realtor and life-time Coralvillian, Rex Brandstatter. Rex is known as Coralville’s “official unofficial historian.” Without question, Rex knows more about the history and the life of this community than any other individual I know. Rex agreed to support the project and was the host for the CPL scanning day and also promoted the project on his weekly radio program. Most important, Rex reviewed the captions for errors and answered any and all questions that I had about how Coralville grew over nearly 150 years.

And the support of these three partners did not end with locating photos and correcting captions. The Library hosted several programs that featured the book and agreed to serve an easy place for citizens to purchase it. Rex was my “color commentator” at various power point programs and added background and anecdotes to the images that we showed in the program. I can say without qualification that the book would not have been anywhere near as good as it is without the substantive support of these three partners. In fact, that is why I chose to dedicate the book to Alex, Alison, and Rex. It took a village to produce this book!

Once the book was finished it became clear that the visual history of Coralville was an evolutionary enterprise. As part of the gathering and digitization for the book, I accumulated a database of nearly 400 images. About half of those photos made it in to the book, but the others still had value. It was clear that we needed a way to offer some or all of the images to Coralville and the world-wide research community for a variety of uses. Of equal important was to build on the momentum of locating additional images held by current and past residents and conducting surveys of city departments to locate images of municipal services. Also missing and of value is a proactive initiative to take photos of present-day Coralville to insure that we have a good record of this dynamic community – both past and present.

It seemed to all of the partners that the most efficient way to move forward with the spirit of the project was a digital archives. Thanks to the hard work of the CPL staff led by Assistant Director, Ellen Hampe Alexander and the financial generosity of the CPL Foundation, the Friends of the Coralville Public Library, and Historical Society Incorporated, the Coralville Digital Archives has been established to insure that our community has preserved the past for use in the future.

Coralville will celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of its legal establishment as a city in 2023. It will be a year of celebration and commemoration and the Coralville Digital Archives will be a vital resource for those events.