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Madison County Historical Society student intern Reahn Richards uses one of the organization’s two flatbed scanners to scan images.
A photograph album is displayed at the Madison County Historical Archival Library on a book scanner, which uses two cameras for digitization. The MCHS also has a portable photo studio light box for photographing small and medium-sized objects.
Current or former residents of Madison County will have a chance to share their family’s history.
The Madison County Historical Society is holding a “History Harvest” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the MCHS Archival Library at 801 N. Main St. in Edwardsville.
The focus of the event is to collect information for a future museum exhibit about immigration and migration to Madison County. The MCHS is asking people who have items that tell that story to bring those items to Saturday’s event so they can be photographed or scanned and entered into the historical society’s digital collections.
The future exhibit is a collaborative effort of MCHS staff and volunteers with students and faculty from SIUE’s IRIS (Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship) Center and Department of History. It is supported by a SHARP grant from the American Historical Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“It’s a grant-supported project and we’re developing some exhibits for the museum when it reopens,” said Mary Rose, archival librarian for the Madison County Historical Society. “One of the big stories that we’re going to tell is of people who immigrated or migrated to Madison County, whether they came from other countries or from other places in the United States.
“What we’re looking for is for people to bring in any kind of photograph, document or object that contributes to that story. It doesn’t have to be directly related to the journey to Madison County, but it could be something a family member brought with them from their previous location and was passed down throughout the years.
“It could be photographs of their first home in Madison County or photographs of where they came from. It can be anything that relates to the fact that they were beginning their lives in a new place.”
Rose stressed that participants will keep the items that they bring, and the historical society will scan or photograph the items. Participants will be given a USB drive with high-quality digital images of their items.
The IRIS Center and Department of History at SIUE are bringing additional scanning equipment.
Rose also requested that people limit their donations to one or two items that they find the most interesting and relevant to the theme or migration and immigration. Objects can be anything of a size that can be easily photographed in the library.
“We will digitize the item one way or another and provide the images to the person who is sharing the item with us,” Rose said. “We’ll be asking questions of each person to get more information about the document, image or object, its connection to Madison County and who it belonged to.
“If people can think about the item and their family history before they come, they can share information with us. If they happen to know birth or death dates or addresses or where they came from, for family members related to the item, that’s the kind of information we would like to include.”
Rose noted that the museum is seeking items related to immigration or migration to Madison County, whether it was 200 years ago or 20 years ago.
“If they came yesterday, we’re interested in that,” Rose said. “People sometimes think that history is only about a long time ago, but today will be history tomorrow.
“Madison County is such a rich location for history and our people make the county what it is. There are so many different experiences, and we want to document and preserve the stories of everyone.”
Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are recommended. Call 618-656-7569 to make an appointment. Appointments should take 20 to 30 minutes.
One of the primary sources for the information for the upcoming exhibit is census records, but MCHS also wants to learn personal stories and make copies of the documentation that tells that story.
Photographs of immigrant ancestors, naturalization papers or an item brought from the “old country” would all be appropriate items to bring. Those items will be scanned or photographed for the MCHS digital collection.
MCHS is also interested in migrations to Madison County. The Society is already aware of a large migration of people from the area surrounding Dover, Tennessee, to Granite City a century ago, but is looking for documentation.
There were also many Italian immigrants who first went to northern Wisconsin or Colorado before hearing of the coal mines in Madison County. Many Black families arrived from the South at the beginning of the last century. The Society wants to learn more and collect documentation for all of these events.
“We thought one of the most important things in a museum about Madison County is to tell the story of where people came from, and it doesn’t matter when they came,” local historian and MCHS board member Cindy Reinhardt said. “In addition to foreign immigrants, we’ve got migration patterns from other places in the United States, and we’d like to get those stories too.
“Census records tell us a lot, but they won’t tell us about migration, only immigration. In Granite City, I run into people all the time that have ancestors from Dover, Tennessee. One of our board members and my-brother-in-law have connections to Dover and you don’t have to go far to find somebody in Granite City who came from that area.”
The Weir House museum building, located next to the Madison County Archival Library, had to be closed suddenly in 2016 due to a leaking roof. At that time, an architectural assessment had just been completed, but fundraising for the renovation had not yet begun. The building was given a new roof within months, but it continued to leak, and still leaks today.
However, after numerous repairs and adjustments proved inadequate, a structural engineering firm was brought in to assess the problem. After removing interior plaster on the third floor, they found that the rafters were twisted, which means they were not providing a stable base for the roof. If there is movement, there will be leaks.
Under the supervision of Pfund Construction, a completely new roof, including rafters, will be installed in the spring. Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the work needs to be approved through the state.
“As for fundraising, we had just put our toe in the water when COVID hit, followed by a loss of county funding for the museum. However, we’ve been doing pretty well,” Reinhardt said. “We’ve applied for and received several grants, plus membership is growing and there have been some generous donations, but we need more to finish the work.
“Our goal is to have some exhibits open in the museumbuilding by July of next year. We currently have museum exhibits in the library building, but it’s a much smaller footprint.”
In addition to the roof repair, other work is underway at the museum. The Society has installed an all-new HVAC system and most of the windows have been restored thanks to individuals who “adopted a window,” Reinhardt said.
“Old House Restoration just took out the last of the front windows to be restored,” Reinhardt added. “Very soon, Ned Giberson (owner of Engelhardt Art in Glen Carbon) is going to start work on the front door, which is the art piece of the building. It’s a beautiful doorway with side lights and it will be beautiful when restored.
“The Society was recently awarded a matching grant (for restoration of the museum). We’re going to be asking for donations to help with that. We also hope to increase membership in the Society which brings in additional income, but also demonstrates a local interest in preserving our history that is valuable when applying for grants.”
For more information, visit https://madcohistory.org/, go to Madison County Historical Society on Facebook or call the Society at 618-656-1294.
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