The Clark County Public Library is a lot more than books.
In the nearly 11 years since Andy Gary has been working in the reference department, the library also has become a place for local historical research, genealogy and cultural preservation.
“It’s a big deal. I get excited about it,” Gary said.
Thanks to a recent donation from Clark County native Lou Ray King, the library has enough photos, documents and records to keep librarians busy for years to come.
King’s collection of family heirlooms was almost lost to history. A relative was going to throw them out, but called and asked King’s mother, Mattie Lindsay King, if she would be interested in a portrait collection and other memorabilia.
“Her own mother, Mattie Price Hunt, died in 1909, four weeks after mother was born, so mother grew up crazy about family,” King said.
In addition to portraits, the collection included snapshots and other pieces of family memorabilia. The elder King loved the portraits so much, she decided to add to the collection by having more portraits made of her immediate family members.
“They were portraits of her favorite relatives,” Gary said of the collection.
Recently, King, who now lives in Arizona, decided to let the library have her artifacts because she wanted to share them with the public. After moving into a smaller home, she had nowhere to display the portraits herself, and chose not to distribute them to family members so the collection would stay intact.
It was important to King that the public be able to see the portraits and access the historical documents, which is useful not only to family members, but also people interested in local history.
“As heartbreaking as it was to me to leave them, I knew they would be on display,” King said.
Portraits include King, 72, and her brother, Joe Lindsay King, as children, as well as their great-great-grandfather, Asa Carrington Barrow, 1816-1899.
“It’s a very well-connected family,” Gary said, citing relatives such as well-known Confederate soldier John Hunt Morgan.
King will be on hand to discuss the portraits at a public reception April 15 at the library. The event is free and light refreshments will be served.
All portraits are people from Clark County, or parts of Bourbon and Fayette counties that would eventually become Clark County. Respected local photographers William Ogden and A.J. Earp took several of the photographs, and King recalled having her own portrait taken by Ogden.
“I was essentially the last one in my family to know about the portraits. I gradually knew about them because they were in our house,” King said.
In addition to the portraits, which King is excited to see on display, Gary is looking forward to processing the snapshots in the collection, and seeing how they might benefit historians. For example, a picture of family member John Daniel Duvall riding a McCormick bluegrass seed stripper, circa 1905, is useful not only to people researching the family, but also people interested in the history of the bluegrass region.
McCorrmick seed strippers were developed at Winchester’s McCormick Machine Shop and used by seed companies shipping bluegrass seed all over the world.
“I’m protecting these people’s culture,” Gary said.
The reference librarians see themselves as stewards, protecting pieces of cultural history so future generations can easily access it. The King collection includes diplomas, military papers and family letters.
Other snapshots include the 1922 Winchester High School basketball team, and King’s father, Oscar Ray King, showing a mule at the county fair.
In the future, Gary said the library staff hopes to revise its mission statement to reflect the cultural work done by the reference librarian. He compares it to the work of anthropologists, and is flattered that King trusted the library to preserve such important documents.
“The magnanimity of her, and her putting this here, she’s right in line with what our mission is,” Gary said.
People from all over the country make use of the library’s local history resources, Gary said.
“I guess what’s important for me, and what libraries across the country are asking themselves, is what do we do that’s of value?” Gary said.
He also complimented the Bluegrass Heritage Museum on the work they are doing to promote local history, and help with genealogical research.
In addition to providing historical information, reference librarians routinely assist patrons with their research, and lead research classes.
“It’s a really, really big function of this library,” Gary said.
For more information on the Clark County Public Library, call 744-5661, or visit www.clarkpublib.org.