Last year, the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives celebrated its 110th birthday. Founded in 1905, the History Commission was the brainchild of J.H. Reynolds, a history professor who taught at both the University of Arkansas and Hendrix College during his career in education.
Some of the collective history of the agency’s earliest years, including Reynolds involvement, is held in the archives’ vault. Recently, however, a collection of previously unknown correspondence connected to J.H. Reynolds’ and the agency’s earliest years was discovered.
On Jan. 6, Doyle Walker donated two folders of material directly related to the founding of the History Commission. Walker had recently purchased a house in Conway. After buying the home and exploring its attic, he discovered numerous boxes, pieces of furniture and even two antique gumball machines. Amongst the boxes were loose folders containing what looked like old correspondence.
After reading through them, Mr. Walker quickly realized the folders’ value. “The material is clearly connected to J.H. Reynolds and the History Commission,” he said.
How the material ended up in the attic of the house in Conway isn’t known, but the home had originally been owned by Grover and Georgia Hulen, both of whom had worked at Hendrix, like J.H. Reynolds. In fact, Georgia had been a longtime and very beloved dietician on campus.
“I’m not sure what the connection is between J.H. Reynolds and Hulen,” Mr. Walker shared. “The house was built in 1953, but I think Mrs. Hulen had been with Hendrix long before then. There’s even a building on campus named for her.”
Regardless of how the material ended up in the Hulen house, the History Commission is thrilled with the donation.
“It’s not every day that someone walks in with hundred-year old records documenting the very earliest work of your organization,” said Director Lisa K. Speer. “This donation not only contains letters from John Hugh Reynolds, but from some of the early major players in creating and growing the state archives, including first Director Dallas Herndon and long-time commissioner Clara B. Eno.” Among the most interesting letters in the donation is Herndon’s original letter dated Aug. 26, 1911, accepting the position as director, and a Nov. 11, 1910 letter from Thomas M. Owen, the first archivist of the State of Alabama, advising John Hugh Reynolds on how to set up a properly functioning state archives for Arkansas.
Mr. Walker says he hasn’t gone through the rest of the boxes yet, but is looking forward to see what else he finds. “It will be interesting to see what else is up there.”