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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

What local history is lost?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 01, 2015

Recently, my brother and I donated the oil portrait of our Revolutionary War ancestor to the Noble County Historical Society in Caldwell, as he lived there for much of his 104 year lifespan.

 

I had the portrait photographed prior to the donation, so that family members would have documentation of the portrait, which was commissioned by my mother in 1976.

 

As a librarian, I am aware of the importance of preserving history, particularly local history, for future generations; and have witnessed what can happen when people don’t “think ahead” when considering what will happen to photos, documents, and portraits that they own in the future when they are gone.

 

I had the portrait of John Gray, my ancestor who was the last Revolutionary War veteran to die (in 1868 at age 104) and while my descendants were interested, it seemed that the oil portrait itself should be preserved in Noble County.

 

In addition, the artist who did the portrait also painted the four murals that adorn the walls of the Noble County Courthouse.

 

I am also assembling the research that my mother performed about John Gray, so it can become part of the collection of appropriate research libraries.

 

We all need to look at unique items in our homes related to local history, and think about what will happen to them “someday.”

 

As a librarian in another city over 40 years ago, an elderly gentleman came in the library and asked me to look at a 2 vol. “Howe’s History of Ohio” that he owned and loved.  It needed some minor repairs, which I performed, and I gave him the history of Henry Howe’s famous Ohio work.

 

He invited me to his home, to see other books and four boxes of “family history” that he had assembled, one box wrapped in yellow paper.  He said that box was his special papers --- letters written by ancestors and one signed by George Washington.

 

Only a month later, I was told that the man had died, and my attempt to contact family members was unsuccessful.  A week later, a man came by the library and identified himself as his son, and wanted to thank me for fixing the Ohio history books.

 

He said that his father had told him about me.  The son then proudly told him that he had sold the 2 vol. set to a Cincinnati Book Dealer for “a lot of money.”

 

He proceeded to tell me that it was “sure a mess cleaning out dad’s house,” and that he had hauled boxes of junk and papers to his farm and burned them.

 

My heart dropped, and I saw no reason to explain what he had destroyed, as he didn’t seem to understand or care.

 

In Steubenville, we have the story of the 1905 demolition of Bazaleel Wells’ Mansion, The Grove, which was being demolished for the construction of the Pope Tin Mill, later the Weirton Steel Steubenville Works.

 

The workers describe the books and papers that fell from the attic of the house during demolition and were gathered up for a bonfire to warm their lunches.  Whatever the founder of Steubenville had gathered in a century was gone.

 

The home of Edwin M. Stanton stood for years after his 1869 death, and efforts to make it into a Museum or save it never materialized.  The contents of the home that remained were slowly stolen, until the house was demolished for the new Thoroughfare, now SR 7.

 

There have certainly been successes, things that now fill local historic sites.  The Library receives tid-bits of local history from time to time.

 

A lady in North Carolina shipped a Doyle’s History to us.  She confessed that it was in terrible condition, but thought we could use the photos from it.  Another Doyle’s was donated from a county resident and it was repaired for use in our collections.

 

A couple in Florida sent three photos of the area, because they were sure “their children would just throw them away when they died.”

 

A box of class reunion information appeared at our door for the Local History Room, not to mention all of the school yearbooks from county schools that are now in our collection.

 

Now is the time to look at what you have tucked away in closets and drawers.  Will anyone care about it years from now, or would it be better in a library or historical society collection?