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Hidden History

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Archive Center an 'underused resource' for community

By John Overby

John Overby
publisher@cknj.com

Just past Walmart heading toward Hodgenville on Ky. 210 sits a relatively nondescript 1,800 square-foot building. 

Despite having its name — Taylor Regional Archive Center — emblazoned on its side, passers-by may not know that inside contains “one of the largest collections” of researched local history in the entire state, according to historian Betty Jane Gorin-Smith.

The building has contained an impressive research collection since it opened its doors nearly two years ago, merging files from Gorin-Smith and fellow historian Barbara J. Wright in one convenient location.

Virginia Graves, a volunteer at the Archive Center, credited these two as being “champions of our county history.”

Prior to the opening of this facility, though, they were both concerned with what would happen to their hard-earned, “lifetime” of research files after they were gone.

Wright tried finding venues to store her research, but according to Graves, the library had no extra room, Campbellsville University wasn’t interested and she did not want to split up her archives.

Then, approximately two years ago, an anonymous donor offered up “a sum of money” as seed money to help build a center to solve this problem and preserve these research collections.

Graves noted that this sum wasn’t enough to build a facility by itself, but after a fundraising campaign to close the gap in funds, enough money was raised to build the $150,000 facility that sits there today. 

The Taylor Regional Archive Center officially opened November 14, 2017, and finally, there was a central location that both Gorin-Smith and Wright’s collections could be merged.

“The Archive Center was a way to make sure nothing happened to all that work they had done,” Graves said.

Since that time, more and more research files have come to the facility, and all of the documents have been sorted in an easy-to-find manner in the year-and-a-half the center has been opened.

“We’re so much more organized than when we first opened our doors,” Graves said. “We’ve moved a lot to notebooks, and everything’s easier to find.”

These files consist of an impressive collection, including information from over 80 counties in Kentucky and even other states that many Taylor County descendants hailed from, including Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. 

There are files on more than 4,000 area surnames — not counting spelling variations of these surnames — and a wide variety of photo files for people to browse.

“If you’re researching a particular family, I’ve got a feeling that we’ve already got something on that file,” Graves said. “You can go back into our county files here, and we even have books by county from the state of Virginia, since we have many settlers that came from Virginia.”

“It is an amazing collection of data in that building,” Gorin-Smith added.

And while the staff is 100% volunteer-based, the rotating crew includes well-respected genealogists and historians from Taylor County and surrounding areas that will be able to help anyone looking for specific information.

“We have genealogists at the center, and they may even know the family you’re looking for,” Graves said. “There are also a lot of us that have access to ancestry.com.”

While Graves said the center has a steady base of people using the facility — including many people from out of state — she thinks it could be an even greater asset to the Taylor County community if more people were aware of the facility and what it has to offer.

“We’ve got a very, very nice facility that hasn’t gotten the publicity that we would like to have and has really been an underused resource,” Graves said. “We’ve got the parking, all of this good stuff. We have plenty of space, and we want to just get people into our facility.”

In addition to what it already has to offer, Graves noted that one big draw to the center is just on the horizon, as Jeremy Johnson and Gorin-Smith are in the final steps of publishing “Campbellsville, Taylor County: A History,” a two-volume, nearly 1,000-page book they are hoping will be available for purchase in the next couple of weeks.

“We want the Archive Center to be the primary source for people to buy that,” Graves said, noting they have brought in extra shelving in order to carry many copies of the book. “It’s this amazing labor of love, a history book that covers from early settlement of this area all the way up to our last mayoral election … Taylor County may have the most-researched history in the United States.”

The Taylor Regional Archive Center is a non-profit organization and, as Graves noted, is under the umbrella of the Hiestand House — which the facility sits next to — and has the same board of directors.

The building is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

The center sells yearly memberships that includes unlimited access during business hours, with memberships ranging from $20-$40 for seniors, other individuals and family memberships. Students can use the facility at no charge, and non-members pay $10 per day to use the facility.

For more information, contact the Archive Center through its Facebook page, at 270-789-4343, by emailing info@taylorregionalarchivecenter.com or by stopping by 1075 Campbellsville Bypass during hours of operation.

“We just want people to come use this facility,” Gorin-Smith said. “We’d like for people to come make use of it.”