William Faulkner once wrote that "the past is never dead." In fact, it continues to thrive in places like the new Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center.
"This is one of those facilities that is going to be forever alive," said former Cumberland County Mayor Brock Hill.
As Hill pointed out to the large crowd gathered for the archives facility's grand opening on Sunday, Aug. 29, history is constantly being made throughout the community. However, there was never one place where all its records could be preserved until now.
"The purpose of the Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center is to preserve the county records (and) preserve the family histories," said Ivan Hawn. "That's the main purpose. So this is for everybody, not just for genealogy groups…"
As the facility's part-time archivist, Hawn has been working diligently with a group of volunteers (most of whom are from the Upper Cumberland Genealogical Support Group and Kinseekers at Fairfield Glade) to prepare for the arrival of the records, which are scattered throughout governmental buildings in the county. The facility, which is taking up residence in the former First Baptist Church at 98 E. First St., will house records mainly from 1950 and earlier, he noted.
"The idea is it will be a depository for the active and inactive records generated by local county offices…hopefully from as early as 1905 when the courthouse opened to 1950 and have them properly stored and organized."
He added, "If they don't want us to house them permanently, we can get them copied and digitalized and they can have them back. Then there will be more than one copy in case something happened to the original."
Currently, only a fragment of those records are in the process of becoming available to the pubic. This includes loose documents from a few governmental departments, original historical and genealogical records from families, thousands of community and family photographs, historical maps, census records from 1850 to 1930 and various church records.
"I don't anticipate (all of the records being brought in) until we can be a full-time facility," said Sandra Purcell, member of the Library Board of Trustees.
Purcell, who gave tours of the facility during the grand opening, estimated that could take months or even a year. If that is the case, however, Hawn and his crew of volunteers will still have plenty to do to keep them busy.
"There are some records in the basement of the Milo Lemert Building that we can begin accessing right away," Purcell stated. "There's probably a year's worth of processing over there. So by that time, we can begin getting some of the other records from some of the other offices."
She explained to those getting a behind-the-scenes look of the Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center that all of the old records and books that enter the facility must be "cleaned or processed" before it becomes a permanent fixture in its collection. The steps include:
• removing damaging material, such as newspapers and metal fasteners, and cleaning materials as needed;
• identifying people, locations and events in photos;
• placing papers and related items in archival-certified folders and boxes and labeling them;
• scanning and cataloging the entire collection into the computer;
• creating a report on the material, giving its history, its area of importance and a listing of the boxes in which it is stored.
• printing surname location cards to guide researchers to the specific box a photo or article or interest is in; and
• putting the collection boxes and surname cards in their designated areas in one of the former Sunday school rooms closed off from the public.
"It'll be a long process," said Purcell.
Other materials will find their way to the "cages" on the bottom level of the building, she stated.
"State law mandates that certain records have to be kept for a certain period of time. A lot is not public access records that have any cultural value so that is what these cages are for," Purcell explained.
Though the Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center's reading room is fully decorated with display cases and shelving filled with donated artifacts, books and paintings, remodeling work still needs to be done to other portions of the facility.
"The center is a work in progress," Purcell said, pointing out that there is plenty of room for growth.
Hawn hopes future plans will include hosting genealogical seminars and oral history presentations where the church pulpit once stood as well as a establishing partnerships with local schools as a source for students to do their research.
"We want to make this place full of community pride," he said.
The Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center is open during the week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. As more interest is shown in the archives and more volunteers become available to operate the facility, Hawn expects the hours to expand to match those of the Art Circle Public Library.