State's history is worthy of new library and archives

State's history is worthy of new library and archives

August 21st, 2015 in Opinion Times

Charles A. Sherrill, State Librarian and Archivist for the Tennessee State Library and Archives shows historic bills.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Tennessee as the state we know today has a rich history, dating deep back to the 1700s as settlers began wandering down the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains from North Carolina and Virginia. Many floated down the Holston and French Broad rivers to what Native Americans then called the Tanasi. Our interpretation later made it the Tennessee River.

Today, much of this history — in its evolving written form through letters, diaries, maps and drawings — is kept in a 60-year-old basement we call the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville.

The stock of that history grows every year. By law, and despite today's digital copying capability, original documents must be archived and maintained and held for safekeeping in the State Library and Archives.

Original bill from 1839 to establish Chattanooga. By law, documents such as these must be maintained in the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Original bill from 1839 to establish Chattanooga. By...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Original bill from 1839 to establish Chattanooga, from TN State Library and Archives.

Original bill from 1839 to establish Chattanooga, from...

Think of it as a museum of paper and words. Think of it as a place for thought research, rather than a show-and-tell museum like its cousin, the Tennessee State Museum.

The trouble is, however, our State Library and Archives is out of room. When Gov. Haslam leaves office, there will be nowhere to put the hundreds of boxes of material that his office has generated.

A proposed $102 million state-of-the-art archival building has been designed, and its future site is just north of the state Capitol next to the Bicentennial Mall — near where the future $160 million new museum also will be located.

In the proposed library and archives building, State Librarian and Archivist Charles A. Sherrill will be able to fulfill the statutory responsibility of storing the materials from every bill filed in the Volunteer State to the notes of our governors — past and future. And the materials will all be in one place — not in storage buildings across town.

That's not just smart from the standpoint of ensuring the safety of those papers. It's also smart and convenient for Tennesseans and others who travel there by the 100s each month to research an ancestor — perhaps like first Tennessee Gov. John Sevier or his contemporary John Tipton, another founder of our state, as well as learn about the era that these two long-time enemies and eventual Tennessee lawmakers lived in when they were battling through and shaping Tennessee's turbulent beginnings.

Sevier had tried to form a state earlier that he named Franklin. Tipton opposed Franklin, believing the settlers were not ready to govern themselves at the time and should remain part of North Carolina. Sevier actually at one point attacked Tipton's home while Tipton was away fighting Indians. But Sevier and his men were rousted, leading to the collapse of the state of Franklin movement. Tipton would later support the formation of Tennessee (with a more liberal constitution than that of the earlier effort in Franklin) as a separate state, and he served in Tennessee's General Assembly.

Another treasure in the archives is the nearly 176-year-old actual hand-written bill to establish the town of Chattanooga — dated 1839.

A digital copy is nice, but not the same.

The question, of course, is money to actually build this new library and archives building. The need is real, but so is the cost. The land acquisition was $10 million and is complete. Work on the architectural plans began in the late 1990s and, through different studies and plans, is also complete for $2.5 million. Nashville has committed to spend $500,000 for a parking garage. What remains unfunded is the $89.5 million in construction — and the longer we wait, the higher that estimate will climb.

The library and archives' cousin museum is mostly funded already. Gov. Haslam included the $120 million in state appropriations in the budget approved this spring by state lawmakers, and Haslam will be leading the planned $40 million private fundraising campaign to finish out funding for the Tennessee State Museum.

Yes, the combined costs are high, and Haslam just in recent weeks has asked state department heads to find ways to cut their budgets by 3 percent.

But we think preserving history is worthy of a place in Tennessee spending. And we look forward to researching our state past and future in the new Tennessee State Library and Archives.

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