Grant helps archives move forward in Washington County

Gary B. Gray • Mar 26, 2013 at 9:30 PM

About one year ago, Washington County’s first archivist, Ned Irwin, sat in his modest and sparsely furnished office calmly describing in simple terms what actually has been a monumental task.

On Tuesday — still in the middle of using volunteers to pull county records out of tractor trailers and into the renovated jail annex — he got word that the Tennessee State Library and Archives will be sending him a $4,000 grant to help with archival-grade boxes and folders in which to place the records.

It’s been a long road.

“Everything always seems to take longer than you think,” he said. “The grant is good news. We always appreciate the help we get from them. This will probably go toward supplies. We got a $5,000 grant from them last year, and that went toward shelving in the former jail annex.”

Renovation of two floors in the former jail annex is complete, and Irwin, county volunteers and inmates have been supplying the muscle to place county records in their new home. There’s still one more shipment of shelving that should be arriving soon, and he said the annex should be filled with county records in a month or so.

The patient Irwin has been working out of his office in the old county office building near the courthouse, which will be turned into the Washington County Archives Building once renovations are done inside the courthouse. That will mean various departments and officials now making their home in the humid building will move to new offices within the courthouse.

“Up to now we’ve pretty much been focused on the old jail space,” he said. “We will now start to shift our focus to this building and how to renovate it. Tony Street has a basic design for this building, but the construction design probably won’t come about until next spring. We’re making slow but steady progress.”

State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, announced the grant early this week.

“I am grateful to the Tennessee State Library and Archives for choosing Washington County to receive this important grant,” Hill said in a news release. “Local archives are important to every community in Tennessee, and this grant will help preserve the heritage and historical identity of Washington County.”

Irwin, who actually wears two hats and carries two titles, archivist and records manager, will keep his office in the old county office building, where plans still are to turn the building into an historical preservation area where the public can visit and view items dating back some 230 years. No funding has been identified for that project, which will include a brand-new HVAC system.

“Beeson Lusk & Street designed renovations for the jail annex, and they have drawn up preliminary plans to renovate the old office building,” said Willie Shrewsbury, the county’s purchasing agent. “There are several alternatives. But if the both the first and second floors were completed, the cost is an estimated $800,000.”

The area in the former jail annex is now known simply as “records.” The renovated office building will be called the Washington County Archives Building. The entire building will be used for the preservation of historical documents, with the first floor serving as an area where the public will have an opportunity to view the documents.

About $10,000 to $12,000 a month is deposited in a reserve fund for the county’s archives operations. The money comes from additional fees on vehicle registration and court fines, according to Shrewsbury.

“There’s a lot of labor, time and technical expense,” Irwin added. “You’re talking about millions of pieces of paper. The immediate goal is to get those records into a new space. You can’t put a price on some historic records and documents. The state’s history began here.”

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