It is a book lover’s eternal dilemma: office and bedroom bookshelves crowded to the edges, the bedside stack of books teetering toward collapse, desktop piles that elbow papers and coffee cups for space.
For some, it is a question of clutter tolerance. For others, it is a love that dares not speak farewell to acquisitions.
Old books may be retired or removed, but new ones always seem to come and fill their places. Readers with a crowded Waco history bookshelf likely have their solution: It is time for a bigger bookshelf.
The opening decades of the 21st century have seen about a dozen books on some aspect of Waco history, deepening and broadening the work done in past histories.
Those books have focused on subjects including Cameron Park, Waco’s historical homes, Waco’s World War II hero Doris Miller, the Reservation district of legal prostitution and the 1916 public lynching of Jesse Washington, all with some details that past Wacoans might wish had been kept quiet.
Baylor University history professor T. Michael Parrish, who co-wrote the Doris Miller book and whose students penned some more recent Waco books, said newer histories are more likely to present stories warts and all.
“Real history is very often history that’s challenging and shakes you up,” Parrish said. “It compels you to look at history and more current events in a more critical way, a more reflective way.”
Sean Sutcliffe, reference librarian for the Waco-McLennan County Central Library, fields many of the Waco history calls to the reference desk. Behind that desk is the library’s Local History Room, formerly the Schumacher Room, where materials on Waco and McLennan County history are kept.
Sutcliffe ticks off what have been the go-to books over the years to answer many of those questions:
Roger Conger’s 1964 “A Pictorial History of Waco.” 2000’s “A Pictorial History of Waco Volume II: Photographs from the Collection of James F. Jasek,” edited by Robert Davis and Barbara Walker. Patricia Ward Wallace’s histories “Waco: A Sesquicentennial History” (1999), “A Spirit So Rare: A History of the Women of Waco” (1984) and “Waco: Texas Crossroads” (1983). “The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas,” edited by Dayton Kelley (1972).
There is also Mark Firmin’s “William Cameron Park: A Centennial History, 1910-2010” and Garry Radford’s 2000 book “African-American Heritage in Waco, Texas.” The latter, Sutcliffe noted, points to what is largely missing on the Waco history bookshelf despite a growing local interest: histories of Waco’s black and Hispanic communities.
The Local History Room at the library also contains Waco city directories; local church, college and business histories; back issues of the Historic Waco Foundation’s Waco History and Heritage magazine; and local high school yearbooks.
While recent history books have added much to those past histories, online resources and audio-visual materials have expanded coverage, too, Sutcliffe said.
“The reality is we can’t overlook some very important websites,” he said.
There is also wacohistoryproject.org, which has its own “Must Have” list of Waco histories, and the library’s Local History Room has several Waco City Cable Channel documentaries on subjects including the 1953 Waco tornado, Elvis Presley’s visits to Waco, the Padgett Company, Sandtown, the Cotton Belt Railroad, Homestead Heritage and more.
Other online resources include folders of images in the Flickr account of Baylor University’s Texas Collection and the Facebook group ”Waco, Texas History in Pictures,” which numbers almost 22,200 members.
There is a whole bookcase and shelf of Waco history and related books in the bookstore in the Historic Waco Foundation’s offices at 810 S. Fourth St. They are for sale to the public, unlike the foundation’s reference library that fills shelves of volumes kept behind glass in larger wall bookcases, foundation director Jill Barrow said.
The Historic Waco Foundation offers some of the “Must Have” histories as well as Lavonia Jenkins Barnes’ 1970 “Early Homes of Waco,” a reflection of her deep interest in historic preservation, which led to the foundation; biographies of Waco leaders Madison Cooper, Roger Conger and Hallie Earle; a collection of Claire Masters’ columns on Waco history and culture; and DVDs of Chris Scott’s four-part 2017 documentary series “What About Waco.”
Waco’s newest bookstore, Fabled Bookshop & Cafe at 215 S. Fourth St., offers a Texas history section but no particular space devoted to Waco history. Elizabeth Barnhill, the store’s book buyer, said that may change over time as the store and its customers grow to know each other.
“I’m scouring everything to find good quality literature,” Barnhill said.
She said her early searches of books on Waco invariably turned up plenty of titles on the Branch Davidian siege and fire. The Central Library’s Local History Room, in fact, has a bookshelf’s worth of Branch Davidian content.
Waco’s most recent book to make the New York Times Bestseller List? No histories, but Joanna Gaines’ cookbook “Magnolia Table.”
For many Waco history buffs and researchers, the mother lode resides in the photos, books and papers archived in Baylor’s Texas Collection, though only for research use. Among the material frequently used by local researchers are cemetery and county death records; biographical histories; newspapers; county records; and Aimee Harris-Johnson’s 1990 master’s thesis about prostitution in Waco at the turn of the 20th century, said Amie Oliver, the collection’s associate director and curator of print materials.
Brad Turner, author and compiler of “Lust, Violence, Religion: Life In Historic Waco,” said the Texas Collection is the true Waco history essential.
“It’s pretty much the foundation of every Waco history book written in the last 30 years,” Turner said. “It’s definitely Waco’s archive. It’s where everybody starts.”
Here are some 21st century books to add to the Waco history bookshelf:
“Historic Homes of Waco, Texas,” Ken Hafertepe, Texas A&M University Press, 2019.
“Train Crash At Crush, Texas: America’s Deadliest Publicity Stunt,” Mike Cox, The History Press, 2019.
“Gildersleeve: Waco’s Photographer,” Geoff Hunt, John Wilson, editors, 1845 Books, 2018.
“Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement,” Thomas W. Cutrer and T. Michael Parrish, Texas A&M University Press, 2017.
“The Oldest Profession In Texas: Waco’s Legal Red Light District,” Sherri Knight and James Pylant, Jacobus Books, 2011.
“William Cameron Park: A Centennial History, 1910-2010,” Mark Firmin, Big Bear Books, 2010.
“Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco,” Bradley T. Turner, TSTC Publishing, 2010.
“Waco (Images of America),” Eric Ames, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
“The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP,” Patricia Bernstein, Texas A&M University Press, 2005.
“The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836-1916,” William Carrigan, University of Illinois Press, 2004.