August 05, 2009 Edition

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Plans for new archives facility
presented at workshop



Dr. Wendy Richter (left), director of the Arkansas History Commission, and Vesta Smith, tour guide at Powhatan Historic State Park, look at plans for the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives facility, which should open by the fall of 2010. The building will be located next to the historic Powhatan Academy and behind the Powhatan Post Office.
TD Photo ~ Frank M. Witowski Jr.
Frank M. Witowski
Staff Writer

It's all about finding better ways to preserve the past and make historical research easier.

Many Northeast Arkansans attended a workshop at the Powhatan Courthouse Saturday to hear about plans for a new archives facility and learn how history is preserved by the Arkansas History Commission, which was established by the State Legislature in 1905.

Dr. Wendy Richter, director of the Arkansas History Commission and state historian, shared plans for the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives facility.

The new archives building will be located behind the Powhatan Post Office next to the historic Powhatan Academy. Currently, Lawrence County archive documents are stored at Arkansas State University, but they will be moved to the new site once it opens.

Richter said the state legislature has approved funding for two staff members at the NEARA facility for the fiscal year 2011 Arkansas History Commission budget. Although a groundbreaking has not taken place yet, Richter said the new facility will be open sometime next year.

"I believe we're waiting on the architect's final plans to begin bids," she said. "I hope we'll be open by the summer or fall of 2010."

She said the new facility will bring researchers into the area and compared the new facility to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives building at historic Washington State Park, which attracts 1,000 researchers a year.

Many precautions are being set in place in the architectural plans of the new facility to ensure that archives will not be damaged in any way.

Lawrence County Historical Society member Darlene Moore has a special interest in the new archives facility and in historic Powhatan. Moore's great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Matthews, settled in Powhatan back in 1840.

Moore's grandmother worked at the old Powhatan Post Office, and her mother, Evelyn Flippo, worked at the Powhatan Courthouse for more than two decades after it was restored in 1973. Moore is convinced the new archives facility will bring more people to Northeast Arkansas.

"We've got to build up this area, and tourism is the key," Moore said. "We have the treasures here. I appreciate the Lawrence County Historical Society working with Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas History Commission to extend the treasure of this area as a key to promoting this part of the state and county through tourism."

Several workshops were presented during the event as well. African American History Coordinator Linda McDowell informed the audience in her session entitled "Finding Your Ancestor's Unknown Burial Site," and Archival Manager Lynn Eubank spoke on "Creating a Genealogical Goldmine."

Archival microphotographer supervisor Ronnie Watts gave a lecture about how the past is preserved through microfilm.

"It's not perfect but is a reliable way of preservation," he said. "Archival technicians are modern day scribes of written and published Arkansas history. They don't use pen and paper, but camera and film."

Watts said besides taking up less space, microfilming helps keep historical documents intact as paper can become worn through time. Watts said the Arkansas Historic Commission currently has 52,614 rolls of microfilm. Approximately one third of these rolls contain articles from more than 850 newspaper titles.

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