Looking forward to looking back

Ned Irwin is overseeing the move. Photos by Scott Robertson

Ned Irwin is overseeing the move. Photos by Scott Robertson

By Scott Robertson

In the scale of time from the founding of Washington County to the present, a few months is not a terribly long wait. But geneaologists and historians are still having a hard time containing their eagerness for the opening of the new Washington County Archives in Jonesborough. “Since July we have had inquiries from 27 states,” Ned Irwin, county records manager and archivist said last week. “Either they come in or they call or email with inquiries – and we’re not even open yet.”

By early spring 2017, the new archives at 103 W. Main St. will open, replete with records that predate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. “We have a number of records dating back to 1771, back to the beginning of the county,” Irwin said. “Being the oldest county in the state, we have the oldest records.”

The county is fortunate Irwin said, because its records are virtually intact. “Over the years, many counties have had some kind of problems with fires or flooding that have damaged their records. In Blountville, for instance, there was a Union raid during the Civil War and a lot of records were lost. In Washington County we don’t have gaps in the record.”

This 1785 court bond shows Washington County as being part of the State of Franklin.

This 1785 court bond shows Washington County as being part of the State of Franklin.

That good fortune is even more impressive when one considers the circuitous route many of the records have taken to their new home. Some had been housed in the Archives of Appalachia at ETSU. Others had been in the Downtown Centre. When the county sold its interest in that building, the records that had been stored there were packed into four tractor-trailers that were then parked outside the county courthouse. There was no climate control or security for those documents until they were moved into old jail cells in the courthouse.

When courthouse renovations allowed the county to move its executive offices out of the space at 103 W. Main St., the archives finally found their safe, climate-controlled home. Irwin, Archive Assistant Donna Briggs, volunteers and work crews from the sheriff’s department have all been moving the oldest and most important documents from the jail to the new archive for much of the last two years.

We’re operating right now on a by-appointment-only basis,” Irwin said. “We’ll probably have to do that until sometime in January. At that time, we’ll start to try to keep regular hours, but we won’t make a big deal about it. We’ll do a sort of ‘soft open’ until whenever we have an official opening ceremony, probably in the spring when the weather gets better.”

Irwin said the archives owe a debt of gratitude to those in the community who have offered support. “The people saw the need for it, got behind it, talked to their commissioners and officials and got them on board with it,” Irwin said. “This has been years in the making.”

Two-hundred-forty-five years, that is.


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