Fort Valley residents release book on city’s history

Sun News correspondentFebruary 20, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- Walking through the Thomas Public Library, Fort Valley native James Khoury began noticing shelves dedicated to Georgia authors and realized he’d soon be one.

Monday, a book by Khoury and Gilda Stanbery titled “Fort Valley” was released by Arcadia Publishing as the latest in its “Images of America” series.

Arcadia calls the series a chronicle of the “history of small towns and downtowns” across the USA.

“About two years ago, Arcadia approached Gilda, and she came to me with the idea of co-authoring the book,” Khoury said. “I’ve lived in Fort Valley all my life and know a bit about this town and its history. I’m sort of an amateur writer and historian and have written blogs about the people and places of the past. I’ve also collected a lot of pictures. I’m still a novice at history, but I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed helping put the book together.”

Stanbery said the book is “local history with heavy pictorial content.” She said it contained more than 200 photographs.

Khoury said he paid many visits to the library -- passing by those Georgia author shelves -- for meetings with Stanbery, who worked there for 25 years and served as Peach County’s director of libraries until last year.

“I think we made a good team,” Khoury said. “I feel we both contributed equally with me having a lot of stories and firsthand knowledge of history and access to pictures. She handled a lot of the detail work and did most of the finished writing.”

Khoury is a 1966 graduate of Fort Valley High School and began his business career working in stores his parents, William and Fefie Khoury Sr., owned. He and his brother, William Khoury Jr., own and operate Khoury’s Men’s Wear on Main Street in downtown Fort Valley.

Along the way, Khoury has served his community in a variety of roles, including as a Peach County commissioner for 12 years, with eight of them as chairman.

All of which lend credence to his view of Fort Valley history.

“Through the writing and the blogs, like at kommish.net, I guess I became known as sort of an expert, which I’m really not,” he said. “I just like telling the stories about the town I grew up in and love. Plus I have a lot of old pictures and knew who had more.”

The stories include ones about favorite hangouts in the 1950s and 1960s like the Candy Kitchen, about old schools and summer work in peach packing sheds and about the likes of two Greek businessmen who ran separate businesses with one specializing in hot dogs and the other in hamburgers.

“I think the earliest photo we have in the book is from 1887,” Khoury said. “We found it in the library almost by accident, and it’s a picture of the 15-piece Fort Valley concert band with all these strange looking instruments. The latest picture is actually from 2012 from our modern-day Peach Festival. There’s a lot on the Peach Festival through the years.”

Khoury said he and Stanbery already have received several copies of the book but are expecting a larger supply this week. On Thursday, Khoury said he will speak to the Fort Valley Kiwanis Club about the city’s history featuring the new book.

“It’s kind of a legacy thing for me,” he said. “One thing Gilda and I really purposed to do was make it inclusive. There have been white histories and black histories of Fort Valley, but we made an effort to at least try to bring the two together. Fort Valley is a unique and wonderful community, and I’m proud to be able to tell its story and help preserve its history.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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