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Treasure Trove of Historical Documents Moved to USI

Steve Burger

Records of a prominent post-Civil War veterans group will be preserved and digitized in a three year project.  

The life of a librarian can get pretty exciting sometimes. 

University of Southern Indiana archivist Jennifer Greene and graduate assisant Alex Hall of Evansville unlocked a cabinet in what's known as the GAR room in a ground floor corner room at the Evansville Coliseum Friday and got to work pulling out the contents.

A smell of mold and old paper escaped as the door swung open. Sweat formed on the brows of the researchers as they worked.  Old documents, scrapbooks and other items like an American flag and a cigar box from the Fendrich cigar company were removed from the cabinet.

As she flipped through a ledger, Greene noted, "....1882, now we're getting to the good stuff." 

Since the coliseum was finished in 1917, this room has always been the GAR Room. GAR stands for Grand Army of the Republic, a prominent group dedicated to Civil War veterans. According to Evansville attorney Joshua Claybourn, the GAR formed in 1866 and was active for ninety years. Another group called The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which grew out of the GAR, remains active today.

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN
The room is furnished with specially made furniture for the Grand Army of the Republic.

When she finished in the GAR room, Greene was happy with the material they collected. "We got a really good haul today, and I am going to be spending a lot of time unraveling this puzzle. I think one thing we can do is create a database from the member roles, ledgers and scrapbooks that can be cross-matched to the city directory and help us find out who these people really were."

Greene says it will take about three years to catalog, preserve and digitize the entire collection. She hopes that other documents stored at the coliseum can be moved to climate-controlled storage as well to preserve them.

When they finished in the GAR room, Greene and Hall moved to another room for more documents waiting in what can only be described as an archivist's nightmare.

Find out what awaited the USI researchers who removed documents from the Evansville Coliseum Friday.

What was in the icebox? Watch and listen for more stories in the coming days and weeks on this important move to learn more about Evansville's history.

We will continue to follow this story, which could lead to important insights about Evansville's past.