Archiving the School Room

“Archiving the School Room” – a report from the Marshall County Historical Museum (text as printed in The South Reporter on December 5, 2013)

For the last month, the quiet of the Marshall County Historical Museum’s third floor has given way to the sound of shuffling paper. The scratch of a pen often follows it, and stops. Then starts again.

Down the hallway where the typewriter collection sits, there’s a room with thousands of books and periodicals. They wrap around the walls, and more are piled onto desks, just below a chalkboard. Two large portrait paintings of Holly Springs’ school officials hang with authority over a small row of empty benches. This is the School Room, and Martha Fitch is at work, leaning over her notebook.

An homage to old fashioned, single-room schools, the “School Room” isn’t an exact replica of an old schoolroom. However, with three desks, it is arranged to embody the spirit of one. The room houses the bulk of the Museum’s education-related items, including law books, encyclopedias, and vintage classroom photographs.

If you find the theme a bit strange, in the context of the Marshall County Historical Museum, it makes perfect sense. Each room of the Museum displays a different theme, from the Medical Room, to the Kitchen, and yes, even a “Bathroom” (note, not the actual bathroom, that’s downstairs), where visitors can view what’s said to be the first ever bathtub installed in Marshall County.

As one of the Museum’s docents, Fitch knows a bit about everything, and does a bit of everything at the Museum from giving tours, to the basic caretaking of the facility. Today, and for the last four months, she’s been up to her nose in artifacts. The School Room is her project, and she’s documenting every book, magazine, and scrap of paper there.

“I’ve been through three notebooks, so far,” says Fitch. But that’s not at all a complaint. “I’ve always loved history. I love doing this. I told Chelius (Chelius Carter, the director of the Marshall County Historical Museum) that I’ve found my calling.”

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The scholarly environment of the School Room somehow suits her. Though not a school teacher per se, Fitch has been an active member of her church for many years, teaching a range of activities including Bible School and choir. She’s also been a devoted mother, a proud grandmother, and more recently, a great-grandmother.

Like others working to preserve Marshall County History, Martha Fitch’s commitment to the project is coupled with concern for future generations. There’s a growing anxiety among devoted locals in Holly Springs that our youth isn’t catching the history-bug.

In fact, it’s become a recurring topic in the feedback received for the Museum Report. With many of our community leaders well into their golden years, the concern is that we could face a great loss if the inheriting generation doesn’t take an interest in their heritage soon.

While this concern is mainly for the born-and-raised, who anticipate raising their own children in Marshall County, the future preservationists at Rust College, many of whom have moved here for a short time to study, have taken an interest in our community. The Museum is proud to say we have two new volunteers from Rust: Mario Robinson and Kandace Pearson.

Still, an eye on the future is the driving force behind the last four months of the Museum’s inventory work. The Museum is looking forward to having a detailed record that may easily be passed down and researched. This means filing the artifacts one-by-one in the Museum’s new computer, recently purchased by Marshall County Board of Supervisors, and drafting spreadsheets with details about the artifacts, including names of previous owners, dates, and item descriptions.

Jennifer Bone, who has been with the Museum for ten years, stated that when she transcribed the items in the Wedding Room, the data occupied a 28 page spreadsheet. She expects the page count to be more for the School Room.

She doesn’t yet have an estimate of how many items the Museum may have in total.

So, Martha Fitch keeps digging.

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Items that date back the furthest in the School Room go back to 1840, with the latest being surprisingly modern. There are a handful of 1990s Mississippi Magazines, for example. Among the items Fitch has personally discovered is a portfolio of Kate Freeman Clark’s original drawings and etchings.

“I just think it’s a wonderful asset to the town,” says Fitch. “For a while, I’d be here and look up, and see something I’ve never seen before. It’s hard to take in because it’s all up the walls. You can’t see it all in one visit.”

She continues, “I’m really enjoying working here, I really am.”

The strangest thing she’s found so far is a 1930s scrapbook filled with gum wrappers. But other interesting items have surfaced. A Cornell football program from Nov. 1894, complete with photos and biographies of each player, a box of WWI United States War Bond certificates, and a children’s cloth scrapbook, have been interesting finds as well.

Fitch loves this process of discovery. “When you just go through the museum, you can look in, but you’re not supposed to touch,” she says. “Because we’re doing inventory, we get to touch everything and look at it, find out whose it was, and the date on it. I’ve seen so many wonderful things.”

When asked if her perspective of possessions has changed through this process, she laughs. “It really has in that I think everything that you have, you probably need to put your name in it, and need to put a date on it,” she says. “Where, later, if someone is looking at it they won’t have so much trouble trying to figure out what it is.”

The Museum plans to finish with the inventory process before the New Year.

Meanwhile, you can visit the Museum anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturdays are by special arrangement, but you can call 662.252.3669 for details.

https://www.facebook.com/mchistoricalmuseum

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Megan Wolfe
About the Author:
I'm a San Francisco photographer and writer currently based in the South. My work is inspired by weathered history, interviews with locals, and wanderlust.


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