The Georgia Archives, which became part of the University System of Georgia in 2013, have increased their staffing, would welcome more visitors and now feature in movies and TV shows, Bulloch County Historical Society members heard at their 44th annual meeting.
State Archivist Christopher M. Davidson was keynote speaker for the banquet Monday evening in the Pittman Park United Methodist Church social hall. About 80 people attended from the Historical Society, which has more than 250 individual and corporate members.
Davidson has been the state archivist since May of 2012, the last year the archives operated under the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office before being reassigned to the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents. The move followed a crisis after “numerous years of budget cuts,” he noted.
“We’ve been very fortunate to be with the University System,” Davidson said. “It’s perhaps the best thing that’s ever happened to the Georgia Archives.”
From five staff members at the beginning of 2013, the archives program has expanded to 21 employees in its main building, in addition to five at the State Records Center. One new staff member in a restored position, starting next week with the new fiscal year, is an education coordinator.
Besides storing and organizing state records, the archives program assists local governments with records maintenance. It also makes public documents available for anyone to see, to save to a drive or print from digitized versions, even to photograph without a flash.
The website, www.georgiaarchives.org, includes a “Virtual Vault” search feature and information on the archives’ outreach programs and how to visit. The archive is exhibiting Georgia’s recorded copy of the Declaration of Independence this Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
21st century archives
Completed in 2003, the Georgia Archives building, in Morrow south of the Atlanta perimeter, won awards for its architecture. This is the fourth building that has housed the archives since their 1918 establishment inside the state Capitol. The state archives’ first purpose-built home, the Fortson Building completed in Atlanta in 1965, was demolished in March, making way for a judicial complex.
Incidentally, drone video of the Fortson Building’s implosion is one of the more recent additions to the archives.
The oldest document is a 1733 copy of the charter for the colony of Georgia, Davidson said. Seven of the 10 Georgia Constitutions in the state’s history are in the collection, as are acts of the General Assembly from 1754 to the present, and governors’ records including a 1783 letter from George Washington.
Other archived items include maps, court decisions and copies of documents originally recorded at county courthouses, such as birth and death certificates.
“These records protect your rights,” Davidson said. “That’s one of the reasons that we should be important to you. If you never visit the Georgia Archives, you should still know that we’re protecting your rights, whether it’s the boundaries of the state, the boundaries of the counties, your birth certificate. … That proves you exist.”
In 1918, the archives took up just 115 cubic feet of space. Today, they have expanded to more than 84,000 cubic feet, and include upwards of 260 million documents, 33,000 reels of microfilm and 20,000 library books, Davidson reported.
Yet the archives do not use one floor of the building’s four floors of vaults. Instead, that floor is leased to other agencies, a revenue source for the archive program, which will have the space available when needed, he said.
About $70,000 the state received last year from the use of the archives building as a setting for movies and TV shows indicates another innovative revenue stream, Davidson reported.
Three episodes of the new “MacGyver” series that began airing on CBS in 2016 were filmed partly at the Georgia Archives, including a fight scene. He mentioned other upcoming productions shot in the building, and that a movie studio is being built across the street.
Bulloch good and bad
Owing largely to a collection effort in the 1960s, the archive also holds some historic community photographs from around Georgia. Davidson included three Bulloch County items in his slideshow.
The earliest was a photo of a South Side Grocery delivery wagon, with horse attached, from Statesboro prior to 1900. The second picture was taken in Savannah in 1935, but showed members of a baseball team from South Georgia Teacher’s College, one of Georgia Southern University’s earlier incarnations, posing with Babe Ruth.
The third item was a composite of portraits of five members of the Hodges family, murdered in their rural Bulloch County home in 1904, beside photos of Paul Reed and Will Cato. Reed and Cato, black men accused of the Hodges murders, were convicted by an all-white jury but then lynched, burned to death, by a mob.
“We have a lot of the evil, bad stories of the state’s history as well,” Davidson observed.
The Bulloch County Historical Society is preparing a book about the Hodges murders and the Reed and Cato lynching for release this fall. An update on earlier research by Dr. Charlton Moseley with newly collected material including photographs and maps, the book is being edited by Jenny Starling Foss, editor of Statesboro Magazine. Friday is the deadline to add information, she said.
Bill Waters honored
Bulloch County Historical Society President Joe McGlamery presented the society’s Smith Callaway Banks Volunteerism Award to Bill Waters. In addition to being the society’s membership chair, Waters plays a leading role in its program to erect historical markers and has helped with the fall Tales from the Tomb project, cemetery cleanup efforts and a project to recognize downtown historical buildings, among others.
“When a job needs doing, even without him being asked, this dedicated member starts to work,” McGlamery said. “He supervised the installation of virtually all of the 20 historical markers. … He’s done this without ever once digging into a power line or a telephone line or a cable line. I can tell you that none of his historical markers lean, either.”
Like several of the Historical Society’s other efforts, the historical markers program is funded by the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation.
“It’s been an outstanding year for the Bulloch County Historical Society, and of course, we must thank the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation for funding so many of our projects,” said Virginia Anne Franklin Waters, the society’s executive director. “We pursue, in accordance with our agreement with them, three areas of need in our county: preservation, education and publication.”
As membership chair, Bill Waters reported that the Historical Society now has 128 regular, dues-paying members, plus 32 corporate members and 94 life and honorable memberships, for a total of membership of 254.
The Bulloch County Historical Society holds its monthly meetings at lunchtime, also at Pittman Park United Methodist Church. The next is scheduled for July 24.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.