“Pictures of America: Glen Allen” Illustrated History of the Writer of Rapidan’s Youth Town | Books

A prolific fiction writer residing in Rapidan will publish his first nonfiction book on July 4, a 128-page illustrated history of the country town of Henrico County, Va., where the author grew up in the 1960s.

“Images of America: Glen Allen,” by Cary Holladay, tells the story in photographs of the suburban Richmond founded in the 1830s that remained rural well into the 20th century.

Holladay is a recently retired creative writing professor from the University of Memphis who has written eight fiction books. She lives with her husband John Bensko, an award-winning poet on the Orange County side of the hamlet named for the Rapidan River. His father, George Holladay (1919-2006), grew up in Rapidan and ran the factory with his father.

Virginia’s history and culture inspire much of her work, said Holladay, who lived in Glen Allen for 10 years, until 1969, with her family, her mother, Richmond native Catharine, and her sisters. Julie and Hilary, also writers.

Cary Holladay has written several collections of short stories, including “Horse People: Stories, set in Rapidan”, inspired by his land and its people; and “The Deer in the Mirror”, partly in Culpeper. “The Quick-Change Artist” is a collection of stories set in Glen Allen.

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The author grew up in Glen Allen in the 1960s and it was wonderful, Holladay told the Star-Exponent.

“Glen Allen was rural then, really ‘country’, and pretty much the same for 100 years,” she said. “People raised horses and chickens. There were many small farms and abundant wildlife, including nightjars and bobwhite quail. You wouldn’t have known Richmond was only minutes away.

Inevitably, the area has since been developed, and there’s a lot more traffic and population density, Holladay said. Henrico County has done an admirable job of preserving many ancient landmarks and turning them into cultural attractions, she said.

Holladay began her latest book, an illustrated history of her childhood town, at the start of the pandemic, after Arcadia Publishing approached her to do the project, and she agreed.

The work took two years, in preparation for an Independence Day release.

The author returned frequently to Glen Allen and Richmond to collect documents and for meetings. She held a community digitization day last summer and people brought in photos, treasure troves of vintage albums, Holladay said.

“It was so much fun meeting people, hearing their stories and writing the narrative,” she said.

It was also difficult to compile a book during a pandemic, as many museums, libraries and archives were closed or understaffed, the author said. Fortunately, some documents were available online.

Holladay has also reached out to numerous individuals, families and organizations directly and issued a Facebook appeal.

“Sometimes a photo would just show up in my mailbox or in my email. Images had to be originals or high resolution scans. I collected a wealth of images, way more than I could use. Contributors are the stars of this project,” she said.

Glen Allen had earlier names (Mountain Road Crossing, Allen’s Station), but it was “Glen Allen” in 1862. Mountain Road, the main artery, is an old Indian road.

The rail connection and proximity to Richmond has accelerated the community’s growth, the author said. During the Civil War, there were battles and skirmishes throughout the region. Yellow Tavern, where Confederate General Jeb Stuart was mortally wounded, is about three miles away.

Glen Allen mainly had two notable characters, very different from each other, whose influence continues to shape the place; the book has a chapter on each. They are English adventurer John Cussons and visionary African-American educator Virginia Randolph.

“To my knowledge, the book offers the most information that has yet been written about John Cussons, the founder of Glen Allen, who built a magnificent hotel that was the main landmark for over 100 years; and Virginia Randolph, a pioneering teacher during segregation,” the author said.

Cussons (1838-1912), a native of England who emigrated to the United States, lived with the Sioux and fought for the Confederacy, although he later wrote that “the full measure of the greatness of America could only be reached under one flag”.

Cussons built an enormous Victorian-style hotel, Forest Lodge, in the 1880s. It stood for over 100 years. He also built houses, established a successful printing press, wrote books and publicized the community, according to Holladay.

His grand hotel in a 1,000-acre park was demolished in the early 1990s, despite efforts to save it. It was Forest Lodge that sparked Holladay’s interest in history and it’s a cherished memory for many Glen Allen residents, she said.

“It was right next to the train tracks and passengers were amazed to see this 100-room hotel emerging from the pine forests,” Holladay said.

Virginia Randolph (1880-1958) was a pioneering black teacher who established an elementary school in Glen Allen during segregation, when many black young people had little chance of going to high school, but had to compete for jobs with white students better educated, Holladay said.

“She knew the realities of a job market in a segregated society,” the author said. “Randolph’s program was practical. This included professional training as well as university studies, so that its students had the opportunity to be self-reliant.

Black schools were severely underfunded. Randolph was undeterred. She raised money for supplies, and the students themselves repaired the building, Holladay said.

Eventually, Randolph also added secondary education and educated adults. This happened during the flourishing night school movement of the 1919s, when the state of Virginia was working to abolish adult illiteracy.

Randolph’s combination of industrial arts education combined with academics became known as the Henrico Plan, Holladay said. It has been implemented throughout the South and in several overseas countries. Randolph is now historically considered one of the nation’s finest educators.

Another chapter of the new book, “Village Life”, is a community scrapbook with photos of people across the decades – snapshots of moments in their lives.

“The best part of this project was meeting people and learning their stories. I did a lot of research to verify names, dates and other data. Contributors were the best source of information. I hope people enjoy the book,” Holladay said. See caryholladay.net.

From the Author: Cary Holladay writes short stories, novels and essays. Her work has won an O. Henry Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Images for the book have been collected from museums, libraries, Henrico County files, and private collections and include rare photographs from Forest Lodge and Virginia Randolph Training School.

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