Local News

Historians lament destruction of Franklin County records

Posted December 18, 2013

— 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.

9 Comments

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  • ncrelics Dec 19, 5:59 p.m.

    The records of any value were copied many years ago and are in the state archives. The records that are required to be in the courthouse are safe. Those now-destroyed records were in that basement, in musty condition, over 30 years ago and were recommended to be destroyed 50 years ago. They were not destroyed because there was a dry place to store them. There is no air handler or anything that distributes mold throughout the building from that room so that is not an issue. What made it an issue is that someone finally looked at that room and there was mold, which is not surprising because I know I saw those records in 1979 and they were musty then. You just cannot save everything, and these should have been destroyed when archives recommended it 50 years ago after they copied anything important. There is history, and there is junk!

  • sunshine1040 Dec 19, 4:01 p.m.

    Give us the names that ordered the destruction of these historic documents so we can make sure they do not ever hold any job or position in government again please

  • pappy1 Dec 19, 2:09 p.m.

    "A leaky pipe" was to blame? No, poor oversight by the leaders and management of Franklin County are at fault. The "leaky pipe" is just a result of the negligence prevalent in government at all levels.

  • ripetomatoes Dec 19, 1:07 p.m.

    Just more proof that the government knows what is best for everyone...

  • beastie510 Dec 19, 12:25 p.m.

    As someone with forebears from Franklin County I am appalled at the decision by someone at State Archives to destroy these records because of mold. Genealogists and historians can glean a lot from check stubs and old documents. Sure thing I won't be giving any of my family records to Archives after this. One more example of out-of-touch bureaucrats who don't realize or appreciate state and local history.

  • waccoraleigh Dec 19, 11:38 a.m.

    What is it with mold these days. I agree that it is not pleasant to be around, but the way folks are acting, you would think these books were radioactive! How did any of us live through the days where mold was merely an inconvenience?

  • lwe1967 Dec 19, 8:54 a.m.

    Go to court and get an injunction against the state. The documents could still be saved and would be of great asset to the Historical Society. I despair of bureaucrats!

  • hussie42000 Dec 19, 8:36 a.m.

    “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.

    what can be considered "confidential" after minimal 50 years? sounds like a chance was lost to me. I would think the archives would be interested in saving anything that has the chance of being of interest to someone.

  • The Anti Hans Dec 19, 8:04 a.m.

    Not the NC Archive's finest moment.

    Determining what historical records are important and what historical records aren't is a touchy subject. It's also an irreversible decision; once the records are destroyed, they can never be recreated.