Sorting out history

The last three weeks I’ve been bogged down in history. Not just any history, but the 11 volumes of newspaper clippings detailing the 20 years of the Union County Historical Society.

Why would I do that? Well, I confess it wasn’t because I thought it would be more fun than reading a magazine or watching a movie. In fact, I didn’t think it would be much fun at all.
It all started a year ago when my wife and I joined the historical society. At the annual lunch meeting, I noticed the society was observing its 19th anniversary. I dutifully marked the 20th anniversary date on my calendar because I thought we should do a story about the 20 years of the historical society.
Well, one thing turned into another, and what started out being a story turned into a 10-page special section. Our news staff had several story ideas for the section, and I suggested that we needed a timeline tracing the 20 years of the society and the Union County Heritage Museum. I even volunteered to put the timeline together.
The problem, of course, was that I really didn’t know anything about the museum’s history. I asked Jill Smith, museum director, if she had anything that would help me out. When she piled up 11 big, three-ring binders crammed full of newspaper articles, letters, and memorabilia for me to take home, I was a little taken aback.
Well, 4,500 words and 14 typewritten pages later, we had a timeline. And I have gotten an education about the society from its earliest days as a committee of only a few people interested in preserving our history and our connection to William Faulkner.
Much of the early credit goes to Betsy Hamilton, and the committee that included Paul Broussard, Rodney Shands, Jim Dickerson, Henry Knox, Barbara Creekmore, Hilda Hill and the Gazette’s Maxine Morz.
The society was organized and a year later purchased the old Catholic Church on Cleveland Street. As time moved along, the society decided to build a larger building next to the church to expand the museum. It opened in 2000, and Smith became the museum director that year.
Over the years, Smith has been instrumental in starting Museum Moments, Museum Madness, Pioneer Days, the Down from the Hills Festival and Fiddling Competition and a variety of other programs.
I came away wondering how she and her small staff of mostly volunteers do it all. It made me tired just reading about it; I can’t imagine having to actually do it.
It also gave me a sense of how important and educational the museum’s programs are to the children of our community and those who come to visit from other towns and counties.
Despite all my grumbling (as Jenny will tell you) about searching through the 11 volumes to help with the Gazette’s special section, it gave me a greater appreciation for our museum and its work. I wasn’t just doing my civic duty, which was how it started. I’m on a mission to get out the word about a Union County treasure. If you haven’t been there lately, go. And if you’ve never been there, go even sooner.
And while you’re there, become a member and support the good work that the historical society does. It doesn’t cost much to become an important part of your county’s history.

T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by e-mail at publisher@newalbanygazette.com.
 

About Chris Elkins

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