Historical Society seeking help in preserving local history

Published 10:54 am Monday, April 25, 2022

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By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Columnist

The Chilton County Historical Society has begun a new project to restore the county’s historical newspapers through digital preservation. The newspapers, which range from 1875 to present, are currently stored at Chilton-Clanton Public Library.

The Historical Society is fundraising to cover the cost of shipping microfilm and, in some cases, bound editions to a company to convert them to PDF and asking the community to make a tax-deductible donation to the 501(c)(3) organization to fund the preservation of each document, which would be posted online with free access to the public.  (The majority of the Union-Banner archives are already digitally available through 1963 a subscription to an online newspaper database, but many other local newspapers are not available.) An exact cost of the project is uncertain without counting each news page, but Chilton County Historical Society has a ballpark idea of an average cost.

“Most of the reels of microfilm (that have already been copied) have about three years of newspaper editions on them,” said Derric Scott, Chilton County Historical Society president. “With the added cost of shipping — it costs about $80 to have three years copied. However, on the printed newspaper issues (that have never been copied and are the only known copy in existence), they are much heavier that microfilm, so the cost of shipping is more. Newspapers also started to print more pages during the 1930’s and ‘40s, so the newspapers are bigger. The average cost to have the printed newspapers copied for three years is $360.”

Scott is hopeful that community churches, businesses and families will sponsor some of the years since the historical newspapers are invaluable to local history.

“There is the genealogical aspect of why this project is important,” said Scott. “Many times, people who are seeking information about their ancestors, such as births, deaths, marriages, court cases are only able to find that information in old newspapers.  There is also the historical aspect of local history. These old newspapers document what happened at churches, when buildings were built, who ran for political office, the history of peach festivals, when the city put sidewalks in. They are the only source detailing Chilton’s history”

The newspapers were originally housed in the courthouse, but when a new court house was built during the 1960’s they were moved to the armory and forgotten. After a few decades, they were transferred to the Chilton-Clanton Public Library. However, many of the newspapers were completely destroyed from water damage at the armory and had to be thrown away. Some editions were scanned and put on microfilm during the 1980’s, but many newspapers are only available via the printed copy. Presently, the condition of many of the old newspapers, some nearly 150 years old, are brittle and easily fall apart —an alarming fact to historians.

“The older papers are in terrible condition,” said Scott. “Some of them only have one more ‘look through’ before they turn to dust, then history will be lost. There is not another source for the information. This is the only copy. Copying them will preserve the content and will be more convenient to people needing the information. If someone is in New York, they can look it up on Archive.org.”

Donations may be sent to the Chilton Historical Society through their website, www.ChiltonCountyHistoricalSociety.org, by mail at Chilton County Historical Society, P. O. Box 644, Clanton, AL 35046-0644. Donors’ names will be listed on the Historical Society’s social media page unless otherwise requested.

For more information contact Scott at 205-531-5590, president@ChiltonCountyHistoricalSociety.org or Facebook at Chilton County Historical Society.