State archives fling set Oct. 8

Published 4:18 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2005

By Staff
Several years ago I attended a special day at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Members of the legislature acted as guides and rooms were opened that are normally closed to the public. It was very interesting, not for genealogical purposes, but for the historical significance of the items shown.
If I am remembering correctly, one of the reasons for focusing on the department was to raise money to add a new wing, which was badly needed. On the tours I took that day I saw some items that I would not have seen otherwise, some of them not so pleasant. Being that I work in a newspaper office, I found it very disturbing to see the facilities that held old newspapers. It was located in the basement and was very damp. It was clear to see that new space was needed to preserve items that were going to be lost forever.
The department has a most unique history. It was the first state department of archives and history to be created in the United States. Founded in 1901, the Alabama Department of Archives and History became a model for other states.
The movement to create the department came about for three reasons. A progressive movement sweeping the nation showed an interest in giving better information to the public. The second reason was to preserve the material documenting the state during the Civil War and to honor those who served. The third reason was to preserve the materials that make us understand our history.
Thomas McAdory Owen, the founder and first director of the archives, was the driving force behind the opening of the archives. He served as director for 20 years and was followed by his wife, Marie Bankhead Owen. For many years the archives served as an example of what such a department should be, but dwindling funds have made it hard to continue to stay even or ahead of other states.
The tour I went on was one of the ways the department had of letting the public know just how much their help was needed. In the years since they have been able to add a new wing to the department and this Oct. 8, there will be a grand unveiling of the wing that has been added. "The West Wing Fling" will begin at 9 a.m. with a ribbon cutting by First Lady Patsy Riley and an Alabama fourth grader, which will be chosen from all fourth graders submitting an entry.
Activities will continue throughout the day and will include music and lectures. Children will be able to churn butter, make a Mardi Gras masks and Indian pots and necklaces, write a letter with a quill pen or become a Huntsville astronaut. There will be storytellers and living history encampments on the front lawn. There will also be tours of the new west wing where you will be able to see rare documents, quilts from the Archives collection and other items that are not usually on display.
Join me and plan to go to Montgomery on Oct. 8, 2005. You should see what your state archives is all about and this will be the perfect time.

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