By Erika Steele, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – A new book, written by renowned local historian, Michael Perna Jr., is due for publication this fall.? Entitled “Shrewsbury Through Time,” the book is part of the “America Through Time” series and will feature vintage black and white photographs alongside a contemporary counterpart, allowing readers to engage in a “then and now” of the Worcester county town.? Captions written by Perna accompany the images, providing meaning that he hopes will transcend across multiple generations.
“What I'se discovered doing all this is that older people appreciate it because it reminds them of days gone by,” he said. “And with the younger generations, they don's always realize what this town was like years ago.? I want to show that Shrewsbury offers a whole lot of history.”
The lifelong Shrewsbury resident, who has a few popular books in circulation, works by day as the Director of the Military Records branch in Milford, having previously served 36 years in the Massachusetts Air National Guard.? It was not until 1998 that Perna's personal hobby was unearthed into something more public.
“I had written a couple of small newspaper articles here and there and then a friend suggested I write something about history,” he recalled, admitting he was hesitant at first to explore possible publication. “I walked into Tatnuk [Bookseller] in Worcester with my arms full of materials, old photos, postcards, this and that, and the owner of the place took a look at it and said, “go write a book.””
What resulted was just that, Perna's first book: “Remembering Lake Quinsigamond – from Steamboats to White City.”? His topic was inspired by his strong interest in history, something that started 30 years ago when he came across a postcard of the Shrewsbury Town Hall circa 1910.
“From that one postcard my interest grew and grew and grew,” he said. “It was a passion, not a job.? And when I finished my first book and saw all the media attention and people that came out, it was quite a feeling of accomplishment unexpected and gratifying.”
Four hundred people showed up to Tatnuck for Perna's book release.? Up until that point, it was the largest crowd the bookstore had ever had. ??He hopes to replicate the interest for his new book without losing the underlying message.
“The format of “Shrewsbury Through Time” allows current residents, many of whom are too young or new to the town to remember the “old days,” to see what the town looked like many years ago, before a small farming village with virtually no industry was transformed into the modern, vibrant community it has become today,” he said.
With another book added to his repertoire, Perna's collection of history continues to expand.? He finds photos online, at flea markets, antique shops, and in personal collections, never knowing when he will fall upon a gold mine of historic items.? Though he has no plans for another book, he admits that if he collects enough new information, he would not count the idea out.
“Shrewsbury Through Time” is anticipated to be available in October or November.
Perna lives with his wife of 33 years, Sandy, in Shrewsbury. ?His other books include “Images of America: Shrewsbury” (2001), and “Lake Quinsigamond and White City Park” (2004).? He has also served as past president of the Shrewsbury Historical Society, a member of Shrewsbury Historical Commission, and for many years as a member of the town's Historic District Commission.