Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Letter from the director

By David Ware, director and state historian

Part of archival work consists of systematic collection of records, usually public ones: things that, it has been decided, must be preserved for documentary or evidentiary reasons. Another part consists of looking for materials and courting their owners to leave them to posterity.

And, sometimes, fortune smiles: Someone will find or recognize something that needs to be saved for the long view, for Arkansawyers yet to come - and will consign that thing or those things (books, papers, other documents, photographs) to the State Archives for care and preservation.

Several of the Arkansas State Archives’ core collections came to us in this way.  One is the L.C. Gulley collection, a key collection of territorial and early statehood documents, salvaged by a gifted amateur as he cleared scrap paper from the basement of the State HouseAnother such is the C.G. “Crip” Hall scrapbook collection: scrapbooks kept by the longtime Arkansas Secretary of State, intended for his daughter. These provide a vital chronicle of activities in and around the state Capitol from the mid-1930s through nearly the end of Hall’s long service in 1961. Hall’s daughter, Nancy Hall Bailey, presented the collection to the State Archives, hoping that it would be valuable to researchers and would help preserve the memory of her remarkable father; it has.

Dr. David Ware, ASA director and state historian, visits the
Hot Springs Army & Navy Hospital. 
Over the past few weeks, another windfall has come our way: Let me tell you a little about it.
The Hot Springs Army & Navy Hospital is complex of structures which began its existence as the nation’s first combined general hospital for both U.S. Army and Navy patients. The hospital opened in January 1887; the present central hospital was built in the early 1930s. The Hot Springs hospital was the military’s center for dealing with arthritis and became the nation’s largest treatment center for adults afflicted with polio. Between 1887 and World War II, the hospital treated more than 100,000 patients.

In 1960, the facility was turned over to the state of Arkansas. It provided both medical care and vocational training, but over time, the medical aspect was phased out. In 2009, the Rehab Center was renamed the Arkansas Career Training Institute, then the Arkansas Career Development Center; 10 years later, the center closed. The property would be handed back to the Federal government in July 2020. Before this, however, state property would be moved out, some going to other state agencies, others to the state surplus warehouse.

Site Director Lily Kersh contacted the Garland County Historical Society about saving documentation from the training institute and the programs that had occupied the site before it.  There was a catch, however: the materials were state property and could not be transferred to a non-government agency.  Liz Robbins, director of the GCHS, contacted the Arkansas State Archives, asking if we might be interested in a few plans and other documents.  We certainly were; contacts proceeded from that point.

Those few plans and other documents necessitated, ultimately, three trips by archives staff. An initial trip retrieved more than 1,700 sheets of plotter-drawn and digitally printed sheets, blueprints, bluelines, drawings and prints on acetate film, photostats and a number of original drawings, done in India ink on waxed linen.  Most of the sheets were held in a 20-drawer map case and an adjoining five-drawer case, with others being piled atop the cases.  Most of the drawings were of the existing structures, built by the Army Quartermaster’s Corps in the 1930s through the 1950s, but sharp-eyed ACDC staff spotted and set aside some rare treasures: sections of waxed linen drawings of details of the original 1884 hospital buildings.

Stephanie Carter, archivist, and Hunter Foster,
archival assistant, examine items collected.
A second trip allowed us to salvage the 20-drawer map case tower that had contained many of the drawings.  The case probably dated from the 1930s or 1940s and was of heavier construction than equivalents available today.  It broke down into four five-drawer sections and so was movable—just.  In spite of bruised knuckles, back pains and a dented truck box (caused by Yours Truly misjudging the clearance of an unmarked low overhang on the center’s grounds) the trip was worth it: Body work and sticky plasters allowed us to acquire high quality storage furniture that could cost over $10,000 new.

After the case-retrieval expedition, we thought that we might be through with the old Army & Navy hospital, but Kersh called again.  She had learned of another place where there might be some additional plans and wondered whether we would be interested. Of course we were, so our intrepid curator Julienne Crawford and I headed down Interstate 30 in a minivan and my old Jeep, not sure of what we would find.  What awaited us, through a room full of plumbing parts in bins and up a flight of stairs into a spacious attic replete with timbers, a nameplate router, a handful of friendly wasps and several new-in-box commodes and urinals, were three legal-size filing cabinets that yielded an additional 18 boxes “and change”–we haven’t made an item count yet--of folded plans, manuals signage and other documents, most in very good condition.

We will highlight selections from this massive collection in the future, as we ensure that they will be ready for consultation by whatever agency or group or individual decides to take on the challenge of redeveloping the one-time Army and Navy Hospital. 

For now, though, I simply want to give thanks: to my able and efficient colleagues at the ASA, who performed prodigies of efficiency and care in retrieving the Army & Navy Hospital collection; to Liz Robbins of the Garland County Historical Society, who was a superb “matchmaker,” and to Lily Kersh, assistant director of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, and her colleagues Chuck Champagne and John Sparks. Like L.C. Gulley and Nancy Hall Bailey before them, they recognized things that needed to be saved, for the long view and for Arkansawyers yet to come.