Q&A with Luke N. Peters
To date, Arcadia has sold about 1,900 copies of Sistersville and Tyler County, a book by Luke Peters, son of Eric and Cindy Peters of Davenport.
Locations in Sistersville that sold out of his publication include Floral Expressions, the Wells Inn, the Farmers’ Harvest, and King’s Corner. Peters said he plans on supplying copies to those places and more in the near future. His book can also be found at the Sistersville Public Library and Tyler County Public Library in Middlebourne. Those wishing to purchase Sistersville and Tyler County can also order it from arcadiapublishing.com.
Raised and educated in Tyler County, Luke Peters graduated from Concord University with a degree in Public Administration and later gained a Master’s of Public Administration from Ohio University. He currently enjoys working for the West Virginia Development Office in Charleston as a Community Development Specialist. He resides in Parkersburg, W.Va., with his wife Heather and son Griffin.
Interview with Luke Peters:
STAR NEWS: Your book depicts many aspects of Tyler County history: floods, boats, soldiers, public buildings, sporting events, social gatherings, the oil industry, trains and trolley cars. What historic categories stood out most to you while you were composing the book, and why do you think that is?
PETERS: The biggest historic event that seemed to tie most everything together was the oil boom. That influx of population and money and energy is what made a lot of the other aspects you see in the book possible. The fine homes and nice public buildings built then and what you saw as far as river and rail traffic and the trolley cars and the communities that were able to spring up in the central and western parts of the county were due to the oil and gas industry. I think Tyler County would have been much slower to develop if we hadn’t had that big change around the turn of the century.
STAR NEWS: Given that preserved photo collections (Walter McCoy and Roy Thistle) and detailed information helped you to compile Sistersville and Tyler County, what do you have to say about the importance of preserving history?
PETERS: I feel the preservation is really valuable to future generations and it can take an entire community to really piece together history, especially one that’s made up of private mementos, photos, newspapers, and letters. In that way, those responsible may not even feel like they are doing work, just keeping little pieces of their lives. I hope that those who inherit scrapbooks and collections of family photos do them the honor of saving what they can and passing it further down. Putting together the photos and information for my book wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of people before and their interest in preserving history. History is repeating itself in a way with the shale development activity, and I hear that many workers are interested in the oil boom history around here since many aren’t from the area.
STAR NEWS: What is the one thing you would like people from Tyler County to take away from your book?
PETERS: A renewed interest and appreciation of local history. To see the wealth of things that we’ve had here before lead to a growing interest in preserving history and taking action to protect, enjoy and share the special parts of Tyler County is great for me. Just the special nature of history around here has drawn in a lot of people from outside the area that want to retire here and enjoy the quality of life.
STAR NEWS: In Sistersville and Tyler County’s dedication to your grandfather George Shaheen Peters, you reveal that his early life inspired your first published work, The Peddler, which you wrote in third grade. How has family and history continued to inspire you?
PETERS: As it is with a lot of immigrant families, I have done some ancestry research but not been able to go back very far on my grandfather’s side of the family. I did find out on my Grandmother Alta Peters’ (Webber) side that we had ancestors here that settled in Tyler County when it was still Virginia. I didn’t know I had roots here that went back to the 1700s. It’s interesting to know that my family had a presence here in Tyler County a lot longer than before I thought they did. That’s made me feel an even greater tie to the area, knowing I’ve had family travel here from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut that were farmers and early settlers in the community.
STAR NEWS: In your introduction, you stated that the 1891 discovery of “black gold” beneath Sistersville made it “the oil capital of the world” at the time. How do you think the current increase of oil and gas activity is similar? How do you think it is different?
PETERS: I think it’s similar in a way because many workers in the industry are coming here from other states that have supported a more long term petro chemical industry. And the companies that are attracted here are prospecting for the best sources. The way they’re buying up oil rights affects a lot of people in the community. It’s affecting a lot of families. The first time, a lot of people were able to open up businesses to serve those involved in the industry. The increase in oil and gas activity now is visibly different. It hasn’t caused the influx of population or the major growth in the housing and business districts. But it is bringing money and jobs into the region. One thing we need to ensure is different is to work on attracting financial investment and industrial growth that is more permanent, to benefit Tyler County with jobs and taxes into the future.
STAR NEWS: What are you looking forward to most about Tyler County’s Bicentennial Celebration(s)?
PETERS: It will be nice to see some features on Tyler County history and renewed exposure of its early history, and the sense of pride it should bring to the area. The State Sesquicentennial just occurred in June, so naturally people will realize Tyler County has an importance that predates statehood. The special events planned here will be a homecoming of sorts for people who will return to celebrate, so I hope to join in that. I will be interested to see the county seal and the contributions from many people to make this a memorable year for Tyler County.
STAR NEWS: As of now, do you have any plans for future publications?
PETERS: I don’t have any concrete plans for anything new. One thing I’d like to get involved in is writing articles for in-state publications that feature local history or business news and put Tyler County stories in the public view more. Also, from where I work, for the State Development Office, I’d like to help encourage entrepreneurship and homegrown talent to stay in state. I’ve played with the idea of writing a novel or short story, and I’ve thought of setting it here.
STAR NEWS: Tyler County is still home to descendants of families present during its birth. What do you think has kept them here from one generation to the next?
PETERS: I think it’s a sense of home and appreciation for community, and the desire to continue to foster and acknowledge the mark their families have had on things. They may want to preserve their family homes and keep a connection to their ancestors. Many have family land or farms that are returned to annually for hunting, or fishing, or family reunions. We are really blessed with some beautiful countryside, so it’s only natural to want to enjoy it from one generation to the next. Sometimes local family ties and connections have new importance after a family has left and then returned. When my grandma’s family had moved west to Oklahoma but were forced to leave there during the Dust Bowl, they returned to Tyler County to escape those hardships. It was easier to come back here because of the stability and rich farmland.
STAR NEWS: Many buildings in Sistersville and Tyler County are designated as historic landmarks. Which of these stand out the most to you?
PETERS: The County Courthouse, the Wells Inn, the Sistersville City Building, and the Russell Building (by the ferry landing in Sistersville). There are a lot of beautiful churches around the community. I was lucky enough to be in Sistersville High School and Tyler County High School while they were still public schools.
STAR NEWS: During your research for the book, are there any facts you discovered about Tyler County that you find particularly interesting and would like to convey to the public?
PETERS: I think everybody from here that reads the book will apply some family history to the pictures and stories. They’ll have a different outlook on maybe what a certain house or business meant to their family. That’s one thing I learned about: there were a lot of immigrant families who owned businesses. There was a cultural diversity people wouldn’t have imagined. Part of that was a pretty good sized Lebanese community that included my grandfather. Much of the merchant class of the city (Sistersville) were not only new to the area, but new to the United States.
STAR NEWS: Given that you grew up in Tyler County, what are some of your favorite memories here?
PETERS: Enjoying the outdoors as a kid. Being able to swim, ski, and fish on the river. Hiking and just enjoying the natural surroundings. The nice feeling of seeming to know just about every family in the area and them knowing me. I was in the first freshman class at the new high school, and it was nice to mix into the combined population and make friends from all around the county. Playing high school sports, going to the Oil and Gas Festival, the Tyler County Fair, and trick-or-treating around Halloween are nice lasting memories.
STAR NEWS: When did you first begin to ponder writing the book Sistersville and Tyler County?
PETERS: I saw the reality of doing a book like this as soon as I saw an Arcadia, Images of America book and knew there wasn’t one already for Sistersville and Tyler County. It seemed like a great fit to be able to display the pictures I knew existed. I’m really appreciative of the response I’ve gotten locally and in email and letters from around the country since it was first printed in 2007.