Preserving the past, embracing the future

Lynn Nickell always loved history. He always enjoyed talking to people and hearing their stories, and he especially loved old, black-and-white photographs.

Lynn Nickell sits at his desk, where he now uses Mountain’s high-speed Internet to research for his history pictorials.

Lynn Nickell sits at his desk, where he now uses Mountain’s high-speed Internet to research for his history pictorials.

Nickell put that passion to work and has written 22 books about Morgan County and its people. They are pictorials mostly, each with about 700 photos over 250 pages with captions identifying the people and describing the circumstances of the image.

“I’ve accumulated thousands of pictures over the years,” he says. “I just love those old photographs.”

Special delivery

Nickell grew up in a slower time, when people talked to one another and sent handwritten letters through the U.S. Postal Service. Both of those things served him well.

It was 1951 when Nickell became the first rural letter carrier in Morgan County. It was a job that allowed him to do what he truly enjoyed — talk with the people along his route, many of whom couldn’t read or write. He would often read their letters to them or write a reply. But mostly he loved hearing their stories.

But times have changed. The most common things delivered by mail today are bills and advertisements. And most people would rather send an electronic message than have a conversation.

Nickell’s process of researching the subjects of his photos and compiling the information for his books has changed, too. He used to spend countless hours researching and gathering information, poring through old books and records to identify people in photographs or looking up old pictures on microfiche. But the Internet and broadband technology from Mountain Telephone has made that task much easier.

“It used to take a lot of research for the caption for a single photograph,” Nickell says. “Now I am on the Internet five to six hours a day, and I love it.”

Researching the photos was always Nickell’s favorite part of putting his books together. Now that task is quick and easy — thanks to Mountain’s fiber optic technology.

Once the research is done, it’s easier to protect than paper documents and printed photos. Nickell learned the hard way in 2012 when he lost his office and many of his photographs during the March 2 tornado. He now has them all stored digitally. A high-speed connection allows photographers like Nickell to back up photos and other data off-site to ensure they don’t lose any files in the event of a disaster like the tornadoes.

“A computer is a wonderful thing — you’ve got the world at your fingertips,” he says. “And I never could spell, so Spell Check is a wonderful tool.”