Daily Archives: January 14, 2014

Yikes in Yancey

Brrrrr! Call it a Polar Vortex, an Arctic Blast, or Ice Ice Baby, last week’s frigid weather caused a great deal of problems across the western region of the state.  Below freezing temperatures caused pipes to freeze and rupture flooding homes and buildings including county offices and public libraries.  Yancey County had a series of flooding emergencies from the county jail to town square.  While those managed to avoid damaging documents, the leak at the county library rained down on several sections sending the staff and friends of the library into salvage and recovery mode.


Air drying takes a great deal of time, space, and labor.

A pipe in the attic space froze and expanded, separating at a joint.  When it began to thaw, water came pouring into the drywall ceiling, eventually causing it to collapse. The water then continued to the first floor raining down on the bookshelves in the children, juvenile, history, and reference areas.

On Thursday (January 9th) Regional Director, Dan Barron, put out a call to the State Library for assistance.  They contacted the newly created Cultural Resources Emergency Salvage Team, CREST and within two hours of the initial request for help, DCR staff members from our Western Office and Archives were mobilized and on the scene to offer technical advice and assistance.  [for more information on the CREST Project see http://www.ncdcr.gov/c2c/Prepare/CRESTProject.aspx]

Western Office Supervisor Jeff Futch, Archivist Heather South and Savannah Murray, intern with the Western Regional Archives, got right to work assessing the damage, helping to set up triage areas and instructing the librarians and Friends of the Library volunteers how to air dry and begin salvaging wet and damp books.

Luckily the archives area of the building was unaffected and the quick thinking of the library staff and extra hands of the friends group meant that less than 100 volumes will be lost from their holdings.  However, it will take months to recover and for the historic building to reopen.  As South reported, “While we were there, many community members came by and were devastated that something had happened to their library.  In a small town, libraries become the heart of the community and I think the fact responders were there helping save their precious library meant more to them then we’ll ever know.  The have a long road ahead but are in good spirits and have a great team of staff members and regular volunteers who are working hard to recover and reopen.”

While it might have been Yikes in Yancey this time, disasters can happen anywhere and anytime.  This incident serves as a reminder that we need to have plans in place for our cultural resources, know who to call in the case of an emergency, and how to tackle salvage efforts.  The DCR Western Office was glad to be part of the CREST program and able to help.  For more information and images from the recovery efforts in Yancey County, check out the WRA facebook page

Savannah working to change out paper towels used to help wick away moisture.

Savannah working to change out paper towels used to help wick away moisture.


New Wine From Old Bottles

Among the many pleasures of being an archivist is the pleasure of seeing the Archives used by an historian in an interesting and exceptional manner.  In my former job as Correspondence Archivist I was fortunate enough to have my finger on the pulse of history, as it were.  In assisting historians, I formed many connections and, in some cases, friendships.  On occasion those historians have shared with me articles based on their research at the State Archives of North Carolina – it is an unlooked-for surprise when such an item finds its way to my inbox, as recently happened.

Dr. Alan Watson at UNC Wilmington is one of these friends.  In fact, Dr. Watson has been a friend of the Department of Cultural Resources far longer than I have been with the Archives but it is my good fortune to have assisted him with various projects over my time at the Archives.  A colonial historian of note, Dr. Watson has a vast knowledge and keen interest in North Carolina history.  His interest has turned in recent years to, among many subjects, pewter.

Thus it was that I received a wonderful article in the mail from Dr. Watson on the topic of pewter in colonial North Carolina.  Beyond being a well-crafted article, it also takes everyday items from the Archives’ collections and scrutinizes the items in a new way.  Dr. Watson uses the various archival record series of wills, estates, and inventories of wills and estates to examine pewter in colonial North Carolina.

Granted identifying a particular item such as pewter ware is, perhaps, not exciting but it is an interesting concept.  Other items come to mind that are also interesting to find in probate records – guns and books, for example.  My personal favorite is when you find a testator who being angry (one presumes) with their legal heirs leaves those heirs only “a personality.”  It is not that Dr. Watson combed records for mention of pewter ware that is exciting but rather how he placed pewter in the context of colonial North Carolina.

Examining the penetration of pewter into colonial North Carolina by checking records from counties of three regions (upper [Edgecombe County] and lower [New Hanover] coastal and what was then western [Orange County]) Dr. Watson exposed colonial North Carolina’s ties to the Atlantic World diaspora and trade.  He mentioned routes of both water-born and land trade.  Dr. Watson then layered the British mercantile system over the Atlantic World connections, examining how pewter represented the economic engine that made the colonies a raw goods supplier of Britain as well as a market for British finished goods. You can see then how such an article caught my attention.  Dr. Watson, however, was not finished.  Using a thesis of historian Timothy H. Breen, Watson relates how such an economic system built a shared experience among the British colonies and gave the colonists a foundation of common experience that would eventually unite them in protest of such policies. Suddenly we are shifted from finding pewter in probate records to discussing British colonial policy and Revolutionary era American colonial motivations! What a pleasure to see a record series examined in such an interesting way.

Alan Watson, “The Prevalence of Pewter as Tableware in North Carolina before the American Revolution,” The Pewter Collectors’ Club of America Inc., the Bulletin, Winter 2012, Vol. 14, No. 8