Student’s Altoona history book to be published in May

Alex Payne holds a copy of his new book, which will be published May 19, 2013.

Alex Payne holds a copy of his new book, which will be published May 19, 2013.

An Ankeny DMACC student is preparing to publish his first book this May. The book will be focused on the history of Altoona, which was founded in 1868.

It was first surveyed in 1847, put it up for sale by the US government in 1848, and was not sold until 1854 when Gilbert T. Taylor bought the 160 acres of land.

The growing community has now become known across the state as the “‘Entertainment Capital of Iowa.”

Alex Payne, 19, of Altoona and editor-in-chief of the Campus Chronicle, first got interested in Altoona history in 3rd grade.

“In Kathy Turner’s third grade class, we learned about Southeast Polk history, mostly about Altoona because Altoona is one of the biggest cities in the Polk county area,”Payne said. “I just fell in love with it, and have been obsessed with history since.”

That was the first time he ever went to the historical museum, but at the time it was a fabric store. “I loved it, I love the ladders because they roll, and since third grade I have wanted to jump on those ladders and ride them,” Payne said.

Now, as he is vice president of the Historical Society, he can go and jump on those ladders and roll across them anytime he wants. They are 100-year-old ladders, the building also houses a 100-year-old hand operated Otis service elevator he calls, “just amazing.”

“I’ve always wanted to operate that elevator, and now I am one of the only people who can operate an Otis elevator and knows how to do it. The early 1900s is such an amazing piece of artwork, and it’s so amazing how things used to work back then,” Payne said.

Payne received an email that was sent to the Historical Society asking if there would be anyone interested in doing a book about the history of Altoona. The email said that Altoona was kind of a target market and that they were looking to creating a book and that’s why he did it.

“When they asked me, I was like ‘Sure I will do it!’ but it was a lot of work; more work than I thought. I spent hours and hours and hours on it, I can’t even explain how many hours I spent on this book,” Payne said.

Payne describes it as “difficult getting through it,” being a full-time student, working a couple of part-time jobs, and being editor of the newspaper besides the volunteer work he does.

“Doing my own research in this building was really so much fun,” Payne said. One of the great things about the book is the people he met. “I met a 90-year-old person that had grown up in Altoona since a child,” Payne said.

People who knew Altoona in the 1920s, 30s and 40s who told Payne things they remembered going on at this time. It put a whole new perspective on things from when he grew up and hearing about how these people grew up in the same community, but 70 years prior.

“It is amazing to hear their stories and joke around with them, and also learn from them. One thing I love about being a journalist is to hear people’s stories,” Payne said.

Even as a historian he loved that, as well as an author.

“That’s why I do the things I do, I love to tell their stories as well as learn about them,” Payne said.

“It’s just amazing how this 82-year-old woman, Jane Buck, who always tells me I am pure gold. Her telling me her story about riding the electric stairs in the Yonkers building, which later burned in a fire,” Payne said.

Buck has been a really important person in making this book a reality. She grew up in Altoona in the 1930’s and lives in Urbandale now.

The book, “Images of America:  Altoona” will be on sale for $21.99, and Payne will be purchasing copies as well. So people may also buy them from him, and all profits collected buying straight from him, will go to the Historical Society in Altoona.

If it’s bought from another store, he will be getting royalties from that and the proceeds will be going to the Historical Society as well. This is really a fundraiser for the Historical Society and trying to preserve Altoona’s history with better ways to preserve things and the materials to do so.

Altoona Area Historical Society moved into the Historical Museum building in 2006 and it probably won’t be until 2016 before they can actually have a museum renovated to where they want it to be.

2016 might be a challenge because the funding has been difficult, so they are always taking donations to the museum, monetary donations, volunteers, people who have supplies for museums; display cases, things like that. Items like photographs or artifacts that belong in a museum.

“This has just been an amazing journey writing this book, which comes out May 19 and I am super excited. I’m excited to share this history with the Altoona and all of Iowa,” Payne said.

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