Monday, October 21, 2019

Archival Research through the Lens of the Docent

Archival Research through the Lens of the Docent
By Nancy Ruth Peterson

“So, do you have any more information about the house’s history?”   “Who were the people  who lived here and what were they like? “  “What is the history of this house?"

Visitors to the McConnell Mansion often asked these questions when I am the docent.  My curiosity was aroused, and it became my quest to answer those questions in the form of a tri-fold pamphlet that we could hand out when people expressed an interest in knowing more than the docent’s talk and their time-limited visits could give.

After diving into the archives at the Centennial Annex, followed by time on the computers doing more research, looking through Legacies of the past, and finally, going to the University of Idaho and spending afternoons with Dr. Church by reading his diaries, much more than a tri-fold came to be.

Reading letters to and from the residents of the McConnell house, looking at photos of the families at work and at play, seeing the news articles, and even some legal documents made the people of the house come alive.

While Mrs. McConnell had “at homes” and teas in the formal parlor for the ladies of Moscow, “Poker Bill” McConnell had card parties in there too.  Margery Adair sang recitals for her family and others in this room.   Weddings were held there. The grill work in the two parlors was created by J.J. Anthony to compensate for the red velvet which wasn't quite long enough to cover the windows adequately.  And one of the sections of grill work is installed upside down!

The McConnell Mansion, 1890. LCHS Image # 01-05-027.

The cedar shutters throughout the house are custom made and numbered, as are the windows frames so that the correct shutter is with the correct window.  They don't open and close correctly if they are on the wrong windows!

Stories and stories and stories.  They are available in the archive boxes, on the computers, in the old editions of the Latah Legacy, on tapes of oral histories, in files of many places to spend an hour, a day, a month researching and learning.

The LCHS archives are open for all of us Tuesday through Friday from 8am-4pm.  Join me in finding about the past—Latah County's, the pioneers of our area, and your own!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The LCHS Archives - Our Very Own Time Machine

The LCHS Archives
“Our Very Own Time Machine”

By Barbara Coyner

As the editor of Preservation Moscow, the annual newsletter for the Moscow Historic Preservation Commission, I certainly know the value of the archives at the Latah County Historical Society. After the Commission members select a local historical theme as its focus,  I get to do the research for the annual newspaper insert released each fall. Automatically the quest for photos and content leads me to the LCHS collection, with curator Zach Wnek often serving as the tour guide. Knowledge of the collection is paramount, because LCHS houses a huge array of personal journals, oral histories, photos and other pieces of the area’s history. It is easy to get side-tracked while delving into one particular theme.

A view of Princeton, Idaho in 1912. 13-01-001.

Just to illustrate the value of the LCHS collections, award-winning New York Times author Timothy Egan dug up a lot of his information for his book The Big Burn from the very same archives I use. His blockbuster best seller on the famous 1910 fire mined much background information from local oral histories and journals. A favorite topic in Egan’s book was the riveting story of Ione “Pinkie” Adair, the spunky young woman who homesteaded near Avery and barely escaped the raging fire. Adair and her family once lived in the McConnell Mansion. Other writers, authors and researchers, not to mention dozens of family historians, also comb LCHS resources for their own treasures. And school kids routinely get field trips to learn more about the history of Latah County.

Living in Latah County for 34 years, I’ve learned the unique history of the company town of Potlatch, and the huge array of country western greats like Johnny Cash, George Jones and Dolly Parton who performed at the area dance hall known as Riverside. Serving for years on the Latah County Historic Preservation Commission and writing community news introduced me to history from other outlying towns, as well. The infamous bank robbery at Troy, the rich mining history of the HooDoos, the English royalty that settled Bovill, the wild and woolly times in Potlatch Lumber Company’s logging camps, the castle at Juliaetta...the list is endless. Such snippets of history are documented at the LCHS archives through newspaper articles, photos and journals.

The country seat of Moscow has its share of good stories. Known in its early days as Paradise and Hog Heaven, Moscow saw the footprints of area tribes, miners, ambitious business people and politicians, along with university founders. If you ever read Caddy Woodlawn to your children, then maybe you knew that author Carol Ryrie Brink was from Moscow. Her tragic background is chronicled in the archives, as well as Moscow’s curious mail order religion known as Psychiana. These are just a few of the treasures that I find at the LCHS archives.

Because the collection at LCHS always adds new chapters to its holdings, this place will remain a destination and prime source for my research and writing. The ride through the decades in the well-cared-for “time machine” is never dull!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Welcome to Archives Month 2019

October 1st marked the beginning of Archives Month, a month-long celebration of archives! The Latah County Historical Society is celebrating by sharing our collections with the world via our social media outlets: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To see as much of the collection as possible, be sure to follow along all month long.

To begin archives month, I thought it would be helpful to write about what we hold at the Latah County Historical Society (LCHS) archives. LCHS preserves three main types of collections: documents, photographs, and objects. Let’s dive into each category a bit more in-depth.

Documents. This is the category that is traditionally considered ‘Archives.’ Although this category only gets a one-word name, it is incredibly diverse. In this category, LCHS collects the written history of Latah County. This category contains diaries, journals, business records, maps, deeds, menus, church directories, correspondence, and much more. These documents tell the story of Latah County’s residents primarily through their pens. It is incredible to dive through these records to tell the story of Latah County through this lens.

The Latah County Historical Society Document Archives in the Centennial Annex. Notice the rolling shelving!

Objects. When you think about going to a museum (like the McConnell Mansion), most likely, you think of the objects on display in a particular exhibition. Objects (three-dimensional material culture) are the most memorable part of the Latah County Historical Society collection. Objects allow us to take the description in a journal and give it a bit of life. Let’s say that we have an excellent history of early logging techniques using crosscut saws. A written historical description will allow people to understand the theory of using a crosscut saw. However, it can be extremely beneficial to have an example of such a saw on display right next to this description. Our object collection is vast and encompasses the basement of our archives facility.

Object storage in the LCHS collections.
Photographs. This is by far the most used category in the LCHS collections. The LCHS photograph archive is used nearly daily by researchers and staff alike. The old adage goes that ‘a photograph is worth 1,000 words.’ The photograph archive allows users to understand the differences in how people lived over time quickly. Since these records get used a lot, LCHS has undertaken steps to make sure that these records can be seen and used by a much wider audience through digitization.

Part of the city of Moscow Photograph Collection storage.
Photograph collection including communities - Harvard, Halmer, Juliaetta, Kendrick, Onaway are part of Potlatch. These records are currently away being digitized. :)
In 2016 the Latah County Historical Society became a partner with Google Arts & Culture. As a partner in this project, LCHS can have all of our scanned material available online through this portal for free. This is an exhilarating opportunity to share our collections. In 2019 the Latah County Historical Society applied for and received a grant from the Idaho State Historical Records Advisory Board. This grant provides matching funds for LCHS to digitize over 3,400 images in the LCHS photograph collection. These images were transported to our scanning partner in Boise and will return soon. Upon their return, they will be preserved digitally in our digital archive, posted on the Google Arts & Culture site, and shared with the community.

In conclusion, we are incredibly proud of our collections that tell the history of Latah County. We work hard to maintain these collections for future generations to learn about the rich history of Latah County, Idaho.

One final reminder to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so that you don't miss anything.

Also, keep an eye on our online collections at Google Arts & Culture to see our growing database of online research tools.