Nobody knows more Greene County history than James H. Andrew of Jefferson, who was recently recognized by the Board of Supervisors as our “Mr. History.”
But what makes the 91-year-old Andrew unusual among many authorities on history is that he knows how to present it.
“History has to be fun if you want people to pay much attention to it,” he says.
I’d realized that about Andrew over the years, when I’ve called him to check historical background for stories I was writing. He always came up with colorful insights. This past summer, realizing that neither of us is getting any younger, I proposed a project to him. The two of us would sit for some extended conversations about Greene County history, with our chats being videotaped. Neither of us wanted any money for this, but I persuaded Jim Daubendiek of Jefferson Telecom to sponsor the project and pay for the work of Sean Sebourn of Sebourn Video Services.
We’ve now completed the conversations, more than eight hours of them. They are being edited down to four chronological documentaries to be aired on local cable television in coming weeks. Then they will be available at both the Greene County Historical Museum and Jefferson Public Library.
I divided county history into four periods for our interviews — pre-settlement to 1890, 1890 through World War I, the 1920s through World War II and the 1950s to current times.
Andrew described the county, before settlement, as a land of prairie grasses and marshes, with wooded greenbelts along the streams. Prairie grasses?
“Taller than a man on a horse,” he said.
Any one moment or event most important in county history?
“Probably the establishment of the drainage districts and the drainage tile pipes that were put down between about 1910 and 1919,” he said. “You don’t see them now, so not very many people think about them. But without that system, three-fourths of the land we’re farming today would still be wetlands.”
There are about 3,000 miles of those drainage pipes buried in the county, generally three to four feet deep, ranging from 5 inches to 30 inches in diameter.
“Put them all end to end, and they’d stretch from Los Angeles to New York City,” Andrew said.
We covered the arrival of the railroads, the spread of electrification and telephones, the collapse of all five Jefferson banks in 1926, what it was like being a teenager in the Great Depression in the 1930s, the impact of wars, the development of our most notable businesses, Andrew’s list of the five most important Greene Countians, and so much more. Must-see TV.Information provided by Chuck Offenburger, board member, Greene County Historical Society, chuck@Offenburger.com.