Dust off those old family photos and church records. The city of Brookhaven is compiling information on the community’s history.

“Our history is too important for us not to document and share it and explore it,” Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said.

So Williams is spending $3,500 of her discretionary city funds to hire a local historian to gather and compile Brookhaven history. Once the material is collected, Williams said, it could be used for anything from launching a local historical society to decorating the walls of a future City Hall.

“The goal is to gather up all the various pieces of history we know are out there and to try to put them together in a central place,” Williams said.

Writer Valerie Biggerstaff of Sandy Springs, author of a history of the city of Dunwoody issued by Arcadia Publishing as part of its “Images of America” series and a regular history columnist for a local newspaper, will staff the research project.

“She’s been collecting history in this area for a long time,” Williams said.

Biggerstaff said that for the project she will pull together information on Brookhaven’s parks, neighborhoods, churches, cemeteries, local institutions such as Oglethorpe University, and the area’s role in major historical events, such as the Civil War.

“I think I know the right places to look,” she said. “One of the things that would be nice would be to find some people who have lived here a long time.”

Biggerstaff, a former banker who teaches pre-school, said she likes learning about local history.

“Part of it also goes to my family,” she said. “My mom is from DeKalb County originally. There’s a lot of DeKalb County history in my family.”

Williams said she hopes the project and the collection it will create eventually will lead to something bigger.

“My goal is to kickstart a historical or preservation society,” she said. “With a little seed money we can pull it all together. I hope from that will grow a Brookhaven historical society, because we don’t have that right now.”

During a recent Georgia Municipal Association conference, she attended a panel discussion on how small towns use their history to attract tourists. “People don’t just want the same old [things]. They want to make connections,” she said.

But there are less tangible reasons communities should know their history, she said.

“I think people generally understand you’ve got to understand where you come from to understand where you’re going,” Williams said.

“We want to know our history. We want to celebrate it. We want to build on it. We want to tell our story.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.