Historical Records and Water-Not a Good Combination

I was saddened  to see this article in today’s paper…

http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/News/article.php?ID=79762

Losing history: The scramble is on to save thousands of records damaged in water leak at Downtown Centre

By Heather Richardson
Press Staff Writer
hrichardson@johnsoncitypress.com

Archives pulled from the soggy storage room of the Downtown Centre are being sent to Nashville in hopes of being salvaged though some are feared to be beyond repair.

Thousands of court records, some centuries old, were soaked when a water line ruptured over the weekend, filling the former courthouse with three inches of water.

Chancery Court Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd, who worked alongside several county officials into Sunday night and the early morning hours of Monday trying to save what they could, said the documents will be sent to Nashville for a freeze-dry restoration process.

Sneyd said her damaged files were few in comparison to Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn’s, who will be travelling with the documents to Nashville.

Sneyd said she fears a part of the history of Tennessee’s oldest county will be lost if some of the archives cannot be restored.

“This means they are lost forever and there is nothing we can do,” Sneyd said.

The documents were stored in cardboard boxes on shelves in a storage room on the ground level of the Downtown Centre. There are also chancery and circuit court files stored at the Justice Center and the Jonesborough Courthouse — something Sneyd said is testament to Washington County’s need for an archive building.

“When they built the Justice Center they told us we were going to have archive building adjacent to the Justice Center,” Sneyd said. “Our vaults here (at the Justice Center) aren’t big enough.”

Sneyd said she has been concerned for some time that the county’s archives were not in a safe place.

She said she ran into a similar situation some time ago with probate court files. When the documents came into her possession there had been some water damage and had begun to mold.

“We lost a lot because they were allowed to sit for a year. I don’t want that to happen to these.”

Sneyd said she has also looked into transferring the archives to an electronic file. The obstacle she has continuously faced however, is lack of funding. The last time she looked into the option she learned the equipment alone would cost around $14,000, not to mention the additional personnel that would be necessary to scan the documents.

“I don’t think archives have been a priority for the commission,” Sneyd said. “I think they need to be because once they are gone they are gone and they are part of history.”

Sneyd said she hopes to be able to move the remaining files out of the Downtown Centre in case there are further problems.

“I’ve got to get them out but I don’t know, at this point, where to put them.”


Karen Guinn and other Downtown Center employees continued Monday to check and pack records that were damaged during the water leak over the weekend. The records will be temporarily stored then shipped in a refrigerated truck to Nashville Tuesday.
(Lee Talbert / Johnson City Press)

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