Historians lament destruction of Franklin County records
Posted December 18, 2013
Louisburg, N.C. — Thousands of documents and records dating to the 1840s that were stored in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse were destroyed this month after a significant number were damaged by mold, officials said.
Now, some residents are upset about the loss of a part of local history they say was destroyed along with the papers, photographs and other items that were discovered only recently.
“For any historian or genealogist or anyone who wants to preserve the past, any piece of paper or photograph you come across is a treasure,” said Diane Taylor Torrent, with the Heritage Society of Franklin County, a preservation group.
She said the documents included property and court records that predated the Civil War and photographs from the 1920s.
“Immediately when I found these pictures, the first thing I did was scan them,” Torrent said.
Patricia Burnette Chastain helped find the records shortly after taking office as clerk of Franklin County Superior Court.
“I was extremely disappointed to see that these particular records had not been cared for,” she said.
A leaky pipe was to blame for the mold that damaged some of the records.
“It was circulating throughout our courthouse, and people’s health could very easily be affected,” Chastain said.
Months after Chastain and the Heritage Society started working to preserve the documents, the county decided on Dec. 6 to burn the records. The state recommended the decision.
“A lot of these records that they saw were of very short-term value to the state or (were) like check stubs or confidential records that are not to be seen unauthorized,” said Sarah Koonts, director of the North Carolina Division of Archives and Records.
She said the documents had been inspected in 1964 by the state and were ordered destroyed back then.
But Torrent said she wishes the records were simply relocated so the basement could have been cleaned to address the air quality problem. Among the items lost was a copy of a bill introduced in the legislature in the 1870s that required North Carolina farmers to fence their cattle and a letter written from a soldier serving in France during World War I.
“It breaks my heart because these are the records that are gone forever now,” she said.