Vivian Robertson is passionate about history. For that, she credits her dad, who took her [actually, “dragged” is the term she uses] to the historical sites in our region from Appomattox to Mt. Vernon, from Gettysburg to Monticello. From that beginning she discovered how fascinating it is to find out about history that has a face—whether that face is hers, those of her family members, or of people who live in our region.
That desire to know about what has happened in the past led her to be involved in two books about Pittsylvania County history; the official titles are Pittsylvania County, Virginia, Heritage 1767-2004, and Pittsylvania County, Virginia, Heritage 1767-2006, Volume 2. We at the library just call them “the heritage books” and we view them as nothing less than local treasure.
Vivian would tell you quite quickly that a committee produced these books, and that’s true—in the first volume a photo shows twenty-two people who guided the process, and Roger and Anna Dodson served as the committee chairpersons. Vivian said that most people who worked on the first book came back for the second. It’s clear that these folks have made for the rest of us something of which they can justifiably be proud. It’s a true labor of love.
When the books were done, the committee had some funding left and, as good stewards of the county’s history, they realized that there was a particular interest in some of the artifacts that represent Gretna’s past. They approached us at the library about placing a display case that would showcase these types of items in our branch in Gretna. The result is a beautiful cabinet, hand crafted by Fowler’s Pride Woodworking of Blairs, which contains bits of the history of the Gretna area. The cabinet is lighted and locked, glass-fronted and secure, something that will last for many years and bring happiness to people in the same way the heritage books do.
Looking for memorabilia of retailers who live in your memory, if not on the streets of Gretna? Peer into the display case, and there you will see photos of them, and the little items they gave away to their customers. How about the railroad? There’s a telegraph key from the Gretna train station. Remember the old telephones that had a trumpet-looking handset? Or the old flatirons that were heated on the stove? If you want to show your children or grandchildren what those looked like, a trip to the Gretna library should be on your itinerary.
When Vivian talks about these items, though, the depth of her interest in them shines through. She knows these objects—if she is too young to have seen them used, then nevertheless, she has a knowledge of them received through study and through conversations with other county residents.
What Vivian Robertson has done for Pittsylvania County, and particularly for Gretna, is simple, and yet profound. She’s found a way to preserve and display the heritage written about in books so that all of us, young and old alike, can look, learn, and remember. In her recent This Book is Overdue!, Marilyn Johnson says, “We are all living history, and it’s hard to say now what will be important in the future. One thing’s certain, though: if we throw it away, it’s gone.” If it’s up to Vivian Robertson, that’s not going to happen.