The Washington County archives started storing its first documents on Thursday.
Rows and rows of books documenting the minutes from Criminal, Circuit and Juvenile courts were placed on 20 units of archival shelves. The shelves were recently delivered to the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough, and were paid for with a $5,000 grant from the secretary of state’s office and the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
“Today we’re getting the records up off the floor and onto those shelves,” County Archivist Ned Irwin said. “This is really the first tangible step toward developing the archive annex.”
Two floors of the old county jail that adjoins the courthouse have been undergoing a transformation over the last few months. Eight cell blocks spread over two floors are being slowly converted from rooms that held people to rooms that will store books.
Workers have cut away steel bars from cell blocks, and Irwin and some volunteers cleaned and painted the space inmates used to call home. The cell blocks will be an overflow and storage space not open to the public.
The archive will be accessed by Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn for various reasons. Before the archive, when Guinn wanted to access older files, she might have had to drive to Johnson City or Jonesborough for certain documents. The archive will put all those files in a central place.
Guinn and some volunteers were assisting Irwin with putting the books on the shelves. She was overseeing the order in which the books were placed and arranging them by court.
“We are trying to get it all in order,” she said. “We are very thankful we have an archivist who will be looking out for this. We’re glad we’ve got someone who will oversee it.”
The shelves will provide 300 feet of storage space for records. The 20 shelves are the first of many shelves that will occupy the former cell blocks. Irwin has plans to bring in as many as 200 more shelves by the end of the fiscal year.
Those shelves will probably fill up rather quickly. The minutes from certain courts can never be thrown away, and there are four tractor trailers full of documents sitting outside of the new George Jaynes Justice Center.
The minutes books cost $92 apiece. Because of the cost, the minutes have started to become digitized with clerks entering minutes on a computer into the same format the books were in, Guinn said.
The books have not completely disappeared because anything a judge signs still needs to be placed inside a minutes book and stored.
There will also be a reception, or help desk, created from what used to be the inmate processing area. There are also plans for a work area that will be converted from a kitchen and some offices that will be converted from old cells.
The cell blocks will be eventually outfitted with climate control to keep the books in pristine condition. The floors also will be reinforced to be able to handle the extra weight.
Some of the archives will be open to the public. The public archives will be located in what is presently the county office building in downtown Jonesborough. Staff members at the county office building will move over to the old courthouse, and Irwin will have that building renovated for the public and his office will also be located there.
Guinn is happy to have a central archive.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s wonderful because Jonesborough being the oldest town, they needed all those old documents stored.”