The Laurel County Historical Society would like to thank those who came to our Open House event on Saturday, October 12. Our staff had worked hard for several weeks on the exhibits and arrangements and we were excited to share them with members and friends. We enjoyed seeing all of you and we appreciate your interest in and commitment to our organization more than we can say.

We are sorry that so many others who had been invited by letter, newspaper notices, radio spots, and face-to-face invitation missed this opportunity to see the treasure-trove of materials and artifacts the Society has collected over the years.

I have been giving the matter some thought in the days since the Open House and it seems to me that, aside from the normal things that could interfere with being able to attend an event one might wish to go to, there is a general lack of interest throughout our community in historic preservation of any kind.

Did you know that Main Street was once a section of the famous Wilderness Road? That Levi Jackson’s father-in-law, John Freeman, built and ran the first tavern along the stretch of that road that ran through Laurel County? That the last Swiss Colony established in America was our very own Bernstadt, or Swiss Colony, as it is now more commonly called? These facts, and so many more like them, are your heritage if you have Laurel County roots. Sometime when the chaos of today’s world is making you feel lost, consider a visit to your past and see if it doesn’t give you a new perspective.

Our town is all about tourism and the money it brings in, and the powers that be seem to want to turn our history into just another way to make money. The County Tourism Board now has its own historical venue, geared to garner the tourist trade, out on the edge of town.

The organization I represent is called the Laurel County Historical Society. It’s been around in its present form since 1963. It is geared to preserving the history of the county and region by providing hundreds of historical records on paper, microfilm, and in book form, along with more hundreds in pictures and artifacts. Our preference has always been to stay in town near the courthouse, where our patrons can have easy access to primary records, the heart of accurate genealogy research, and where we can maintain control of what we have worked so hard over the years to collect. The Fiscal Court allows us the use of the old Health Department building which is perfectly located for our purposes. We are grateful to the Court. And, when we have visitors from out of town they stay in the motels, eat in the restaurants, and shop in the stores, just like other tourists.

The Laurel County Historical Society has no funding beyond what we take in from the sale of the books we produce (i.e. copies of census records, cemetery listings, excerpts from the old London newspapers, marriage records, etc.) a $15 per year family membership fee, for which each member is entitled to receive our quarterly newsletter, and unsolicited donations. As I said before, we have the use of our building through the courtesy and kindness of the Fiscal Court. Our library is open to all at no charge. Our staff is made up totally of volunteers, and we are always seeking those who would join us in this effort on those terms.

Let me tell you a story. The day before our Open House, a woman who had contacted us earlier and made arrangements to come that day, brought us an exhibit on the Swiss families from whom she is descended. It contained paintings and pictures and written history about her Swiss ancestors, as well as other artifacts. We did not have time before our event to give it the space and display it deserved but we managed to put some of it out where it could be seen by our visitors. We will do a more comprehensive exhibit later. My point is that this woman wanted these materials to come back home to Laurel County. She researched us and chose our library and museum as receptacles for them. We are grateful to her for validating our status as preserver of historical records and artifacts and making us feel useful in our community.

I know Tourism is important to this area. I contribute to it every time I eat a meal at a local restaurant and so do you. But history and heritage are important, too, and someone has to keep the flame burning.

Come visit the Laurel County Historical Society. At present we have only enough staff to stay open two days a week. With more volunteers we can open another day – or two – a week. And remember, any day you come, you can stay all day for free.

Jan Sparkman

President, Laurel County Historical Society

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