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Another glimpse into the past: Atkinson's newest photo book shows more of city's history

Another glimpse into the past: Atkinson's newest photo book shows more of city's history

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From photos of its churches, homes and residents to the county fair and famous visitors to the city, Dr. Gene Atkinson’s newest book gives a further glimpse into Orangeburg’s past.

The Orangeburg dentist, historian and photographer has previously published books on his city of residence, but “Orangeburg: The Garden City” collects newly culled images gathered from many sources.

“It’s my fourth book on the history of Orangeburg, and it’s my third book of old pictures from Orangeburg’s past,” Atkinson said.

He said he’s been working on the pictorial history of Orangeburg for the past few years, and it contains more than 260 photographs dating from the 1890s to the 1960s.

“It’s just a lot of old pictures I’ve collected ... of various events in Orangeburg through the years,” he said.

The first of the book’s 10 chapters covers general scenes around Orangeburg, “from how downtown used to look to dance recitals, people.”

There’s a chapter devoted to schools and education – the public schools and the colleges.

“It’s just interesting to see how the school buildings looked years ago and changes now ... and how people dressed back then. Changes have occurred through the years,” he said.

Subsequent chapters showcase churches, old homes, the fire department, businesses, the Hawthorne School of Aeronautics, the hospital and The Methodist Home, now known as The Oaks.

There are even a few photos of famous visitors, such as civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, later a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

“It was a pleasure working on it, and I’m just glad to share all this with Orangeburg so everybody can reminisce about how Orangeburg was back in the past and how we’ve progressed to the future,” he said.

As far as gathering the images, he said, “You have to ask, and ask, and ask.”

His interest in collecting old photos began in the late 1980s, he said. After the death of his mother, he was cleaning out some of her possessions and came across a cardboard box of old photographs.

“And some of these dated way back to the early 1900s, and I was very intrigued by these pictures. It just sort of got me in a hobby of collecting old pictures,” he said.

“And I started asking people if they had any old pictures -- and this was back before the days of computer scanning – and I would just make slides of them,” he said.

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Word got out and people would call him up, offering old photographs, he said.

“It just progressed from there, and now I have probably well over 2,000 old images of Orangeburg in my collection,” he said.

Each of his books has different photos, he said – no images are repeated.

“And this is just further collections that I’ve gotten over the last 10 or 15 years,” he said.

The idea of collecting the images into books came to him around 1999.

“I had a patient who came to me, and he was a historian at South Carolina State University, and they had just published one of the Arcadia series books on the history of South Carolina State,” he said.

“I said, ‘I would love to put out a book, but I just don’t have the wherewithal on how to go about getting it printed and getting it all lined up and so forth.’”

The patient told him that Arcadia Publishing in Charleston would take care of most of that part of the process as well as marketing and sales.

So Atkinson contacted the company and they approved his application, publishing his first book of photos in 2002.

Another photo book followed in 2004, and in 2010, he put together a book of 157 short biographies of notable figures from Orangeburg’s past, he said.

“Arcadia had been after me for a number of years to put out another book, and I kept telling them I was busy with other projects and I’d get to it in a couple of years,” he said.

“And finally I did, and this is the result of that.”

Reaction to his books “has been tremendous. People come by my office, especially when a new book comes out ... to purchase copies. And it’s amazing the traffic we get – people wanting to look and see how Orangeburg is,” he said.

Some people even bought multiple copies to give as Christmas gifts, he said. He originally hoped this newest book would come out by Christmas of 2018, he said, but as it worked out, it was released Feb. 25 as part of Arcadia’s “Images of America” series.

Putting the books together is “a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of research to get your captions,” he said. “You have to go and ask around.”

The book can be purchased at his business office as well as the Orangeburg City Hall’s finance department, Grove Park Pharmacy, the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce, Chestnut Grill, Swift Books, the Regional Medical Center’s gift shop, Palmetto Office Supply, the Orangeburg County Historical Society and Piggly Wiggly on Columbia Road.

Atkinson will be signing books from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at the Orangeburg County Historical Society, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Swift Books.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5543.


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