A Window into Time: Resource Preservation Advisory Board debuts new heritage Web site
Story by: James Faucett
From her second floor office in Madison, Tara Cooner conjures up people from the past, summoning them at will, bringing them flickering to life on her backlit computer screen.
Some, on video, tell stories given texture through accents and gestures; others peer curiously from sepia-toned photos, as if aware that what they're looking at is more than just the camera in front of them.
A kind of window into time.
Here, a family gazes out from the early 1900s; a tailor, standing in his jacket and high, white collar, beside him a young girl with a white bow in her hair and a woman in a round-collared dress.
Here, a couple speaks from a yellowed 1980 newspaper article about a train that derailed, causing an LP gas car to explode just across from their Buckhead home.
And here, from 2005, a retired legislator seated before a row of mustard-colored books talks about the quiet Madison weeknights of his youth and the alternately busy Saturdays when motion pictures could be seen for 10 cents and sharecroppers came to town to buy supplies.
For a year and a half now, Cooner, who is a project officer at Morgan County Planning and Development, and what she refers to as an "army" of others have been archiving the county's past as part of a project undertaken by the Resource Preservation Advisory Board. The result of their efforts was unveiled last week with the launch of the Morgan County Heritage Web site.
It started with an oral history project, interviewing senior citizens in the county about their experiences.
"We got some great stories from them about their families and communities," Cooner explains. "The Web site came out of the question, 'Where are we going to make these interviews publicly available?' We thought a Web site would be good because you'd be able to reach a broader audience. People who are doing genealogy research or are even just history buffs would be able to access the site from wherever."
Soon it was decided that historic pictures, documents and other items should be put on the site.
In the time since, she and others involved have tenaciously scanned photographs and documents, shot and edited videos and compiled audio interviews.
"It's kind of grown into its own project," Cooner explains.
On the site, users can search for information in a variety of ways – by topic, media type, community or a combination of the three. Topics include subjects like automobiles, farming, the Civil War. While more than 50 communities have been identified in the county's history, the group chose to focus on 17 of them first.
"These communities we chose because we had a significant amount of information on them, or we had interviews on them," Cooner explains.
The advisory board wants to add more communities in the future.
"We'll get information on them so that we can then add them and the specific community can have its own page," Cooner says. "We're hoping folks will share their pictures and their family and community stories with us. We want this to be a comprehensive heritage site for the county."
Many communities, once bustling, began to disappear once the railroad lost its significance, Cooner explains, history beginning to evaporate like a photo fading with time. She stressed the importance of preserving the county's living history while there's still time.
"These people are leaving us, so getting their memories and their recollections, their stories – those are things we'll never have the opportunity to get again," she says.
Several of the people interviewed have since died. Documents and photos, becoming more fragile as they age, are also in danger of disappearing. Many important documents and pictures have already been lost through fire.
As part of the project, historic documents and photos are being preserved as both hard copies and in a digital format on a server and backup server.
"Anybody in the future who wants to research these things, they're here, they're available," Cooner says. "We're not going to lose them."
Created in 2006 by Morgan County Commissioners, the Resource Preservation Advisory Board first created a cemetery survey in 2007. The advisory board had a launch party for the site last week attended by about 60 county officials, staff, advisory board members, volunteers and others who had helped create the site. Advisory Board Member Carol Cross, addressing the crowd, said she was proud of the finished project.
"It will keep our heritage alive," she said.
Visit the Morgan County Heritage Web site at www.morgancountyheritage.org