Our Opinion: Showcasing Wilson’s history and heritage along with the news

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Wilson County history was a labor of love for Hugh Johnston Jr.

The Atlantic Christian College professor pored over dusty deeds, moth-eaten marriage licenses and all manner of vital records to compile the history and genealogy of Wilson County.

Over the course of more than 15 years, Johnston wrote roughly 2,000 articles detailing his research. Many appeared in The Wilson Daily Times. Johnston compiled his historical summaries into a nine-volume collection, “Looking Backward,” that encompassed 5,000 pages and 1 ½ million words.

Since newspapers are the first draft of history, and since earlier generations of Times readers learned more about their community and its prominent families through Johnston’s research, we’re proud to feature Johnston’s work in our pages once again.

Johnston’s “Looking Backward” column premiered in last Saturday’s edition of the Times and will appear each Saturday until we’ve exhausted the source material available from the Wilson County Public Library.

Check this weekend’s paper for a history of John T. Dew’s family and records of land transfers for two Wilson County churches. One church property was purchased for the princely sum of $8 back in March 1879.

If that sounds low, look back to last week’s “Looking Backward” column — in August 1892, an acre of land in the Old Fields Township was sold for $1.50. The property was bought to house the Healthy Plains Church and the deed stipulated the land would be “used exclusively by the Primitive Baptist as a place for worshipping God in such manner as may seem right and proper to them.”

Each column is lengthy, coming in at roughly 1,600 to 1,700 words. And some of the genealogies may seem dry at first glance — not unlike the “begats” in the Old Testament — but readers with deep roots in Wilson County may recognize the names of their ancestors and learn new insights about their family tree.

Native Wilsonians will spot a who’s who of local patriarchs and matriarchs, and newcomers will learn more about the place they now call home, including the histories of some of its founding families.


Hugh Johnston’s column offers us another opportunity to hearken back to Wilson’s past while maintaining the Times’ primary focus on our community’s present and its future. The demand for historical features emerged in early 2016 as part of our response to a strategic market study of the newspaper’s readership and circulation area.

The scientific survey of 500 subscribers, occasional readers and non-readers brought a nostalgic yearning to light. We obliged in July 2016 with “Remember When?” historical photos published in the Times each day.

For a year and a half, “Remember When?” has been a popular feature and a bright spot for many readers. We routinely field compliments for the black-and-white photographs, many depicting tobacco market and tobacco festival celebrations and showcasing historic architecture.

It’s been a success and point of pride for the Times, but it’s also become a challenge to find fresh material for the daily look back at yesteryear. We envisioned “Remember When?” as a community collaboration where readers would share their historical images through our pages. Some folks have answered the call, but submissions are few and far between.

We’ve printed every image from “The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market,” a book the Wilson Times Co. published, and most recent historical photos have come from the Wilson County Public Library’s online digital collection or from Facebook groups dedicated to Wilson history.

To keep “Remember When?” fresh and diverse, we need more participation from readers like you.

Historical photos can be brought to Lori Parrish at our customer care desk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays or emailed to lori@wilsontimes.com. Please include your name and as much caption information as possible so we can identify the people, places and events depicted.

With our readers’ help, we can continue showcasing Wilson County’s rich history as we chronicle the daily happenings that are history in the making.