Lake Norman & Mooresville

Local history preserved in growing online collection

Offering a window into the past, an online trove of photographs, films and other historical artifacts related to Mooresville and its surrounding areas is expanding slowly but steadily.

The collection is already extensive, spanning several decades and including essays, letters, newspapers and audio- and video-recorded oral histories.

That said, “It’s a continuous project,” said Andy Poore, curator of special collections for the Mooresville Public Library, who has spent the past several years compiling the collection. As for the exact size of its inventory, he added, “I have never counted.”

Created about eight years ago with the help of an information technology worker with the town, the collection is meant to “promote a deeper understanding of the community” by expanding access to its historical artifacts, its website says.

Many of the relics are “just too fragile to handle,” Poore said, including the oldest known photograph of Moorseville. Dating to 1875, it shows a young boy and girl sitting in a goat-drawn wagon on a dirt road in downtown, against a pale-colored backdrop.

Among the recent additions to the collection is a film shot in 1944 that depicts everyday life in Mooresville. Running a little over a half-hour, it was part of a nationwide campaign to sell war bonds.

Made with highly perishable film, it took about a year and a half to restore and was added to the collection a couple months ago, Poore said. To pay for its restoration, the library used a grant worth some $13,000 from the National Film Preservation Foundation that it received last year.

It is among other several decades-old films the library has restored in recent years.

Another one, shot in the Depression era, shows hundreds of residents going about their everyday lives before ending with a twist: a staged bank robbery.

The 1937 film was made by Herbert Lee Walker, a documentary filmmaker and photographer born in Caroleen, about 15 miles southeast of Rutherfordton. He was best known for a series of short films that captured the comings and goings in small towns throughout the Carolinas, as well as Tennessee and Virginia.

To restore it, the library used a some $10,000 grant it received in 2012, also from the nonprofit film preservation foundation.

Most of the artifacts are part of the special collections department at the library, which was added about 10 years ago as part of an expansion. The department also includes manuscripts, rare books and genealogical records, among other research materials. It also contains the annals of the town government with old maps and planning documents, many of them in digital format.

Some, however, have come from residents, including original photos of the Lowrance Hospital School of Nursing that Poore scanned and added to the online collection.

For Poore, who also serves as the town historian, the collection is seen as a way to generate interest in local history. A couple of years ago, he created a Facebook page, using it to post old photos.

In particular, he is seeking help to identify a growing number of unidentified photos – perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 – most of which are online. Poore noted that while some of them are local, others are from across North Carolina and other states.

Indeed, expanding the special collections department is a seemingly never-ending task, Poore suggested, especially given that people are generally less inclined to donate local relics, perhaps seeing them as somewhat less significant.

“It’s been a very slow process,” he said.

Yet of what has passed into the library’s hands, Poore added, “It’s here forever.”

Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: jacobflannick@gmail.com

Know more

To view the online collection, visit http://digitalmooresville.org.

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