Clayton preparing for state archives transfer

Signage at the Georgia Archives still lists it as being part of the Secretary of State's office, but that will change Monday when it becomes part of the state's university system.

Signage at the Georgia Archives still lists it as being part of the Secretary of State's office, but that will change Monday when it becomes part of the state's university system.

— Christmas may not officially be in July, but Clayton County residents and history lovers everywhere will get a gift next month.

In addition to moving to the University System of Georgia next month, the 95-year old Georgia Archives will add two days of operation to its weekly schedule. That means people will be able use its resources four days a week.

That’s a far cry from nine months ago, when the archives appeared headed for a “by appointment only” schedule that had historians and local officials worried about the public’s ability to access one of the county’s most important attractions.

“It needs to be six days a week but it’s baby steps,” said Grant Wainscott, the county’s economic development director and a member of the Friends of the Georgia Archives board. “From zero to four is huge. I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

The official transition of the archives from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to the university system will officially take place Monday under state law. The expansion of its operating schedule from two days to four days will take place July 31.

Once the expansion takes place, visitors will be able to go to the archives Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Until then, it will be open Fridays and Saturdays only.

Although the transfer is still a few days away, many officials already view it as a part of the university system. The facility’s doors and a signing its lobby still proclaim it as part of the Secretary of State’s office, but the university system has already put out a press release boasting about the move.

In the statement, archives Director Christopher Davidson thanks a wide host of people involved in the transfer, including Gov. Nathan Deal, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, state legislators, university system officials and supporters who protested at the state Capitol building to make sure the archives stayed open.

“Individuals at the university system who are working to make our transfer as smooth as possible have been wonderful to work with and have been very responsive to our needs,” Davidson said.

University system Executive Vice-Chancellor Steve Wrigley said the transition has gone smoothly thus far.

“We are excited about the future and the potential collaboration and believe the archives is headed in a good direction,” said Wrigley.

Clayton County gains influence over the archives

While the archives will officially operate under the auspices of the Board of Regents in Atlanta, it is located next to university system member Clayton State University. That will mean someone in Clayton County — namely Clayton State President Tim Hynes — will be in a position to influence what is done at the archives.

That local influence didn’t exist when the Secretary of State ran the facility.

“They have first-hand knowledge of what our community’s needs are so having them oversee that is going to be extremely beneficial,” said Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford.

Hynes led the university system’s committee dedicated to overseeing the transfer of the archives. Richard Pearce-Moses, director of Clayton State’s archival studies program, also sat on that committee. During legislative deliberations about the transfer, it was announced that Clayton State students will be used to help fill some of the roles needed to operate the archives.

Wainscott called the university the “perfect strategic partner” and pointed out that Clayton State was the main factor in bringing the archives to Morrow in 2003.

“This gives them the ability to be more hands on and leverage the full resources of the university system, which is really what Clayton State is all about anyways,” said Wainscott.

But no bugs are being put into Hynes’ ears by local officials — at least not officially — to get him to do anything particular with the archives.

“Dr. Hynes doesn’t need bugs in his ear,” said Wainscott. “Dr. Hynes has a better pulse on this community than just about anybody else I’ve ever met.”

The local economic impact

Clayton County had a lot to lose if the archives eliminated walk-in access as Kemp had proposed last fall.

Historians from across the state said they spent money in Clayton County restaurants, stores and, sometimes, hotel rooms when they came to visit the archives. The county has also been using the fact that the Georgia Archives and the National Archives at Atlanta are in Morrow as a carrot to attract genealogy businesses to the University Station development located across Ga. 54 from both facilities.

The development is intended to be a diverse area where the county economic development department and chamber of commerce have offices, and where businesses such as Ancestry.com can set up shop alongside a hotel, small shops and a movie studio.

But the state archives is a key piece to bringing those plans to fruition and they could have fallen apart without it.

“Some of the vision that’s been discussed really hinges upon what happens there with the archives, with both of our archives that are there,” said Beauford. “To have them allows you to continue moving forward with some of those plans and some of the initiatives that have already been under way to really catapult that area to be that genealogical kind of research area.”

Wainscott said the local interest and impact of a facility like the Georgia Archives can be forgotten in the upper echelons of state government from time to time, but he said local officials are always cognizant of it importance.

“It’s a state institution — it’s the archives for the entire state — but there’s a local economic impact and a local interest,” said Wainscott. “This is more to us than having some state office here. This is a tourism generator. This is ‘heads in beds and butts in seats,’ as the tourism authority loves to say. This is one of those great, positive things that we have and nobody else has.”

What’s next?

The archives will continue to do what it does and collect and preserve state records in Morrow.

University system officials announced it will continue to host its lunch and learn lecture series on the second Friday of every month, from 12 until 1 p.m. The next session will be July 12 and it is titled “Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation.” The University of Georgia’s special collections staff will give a presentation on what they do Aug. 9.

Anyone who wants to attend these lectures is encouraged to bring a lunch with them on those dates. The archives is at 5800 Jonesboro Road.

Wainscott said the Friends of the Georgia Archives board is planning to hold a luncheon in July to thank the people involved with making the transfer happen. He added supporters who spent months worrying about the archives future have been in good spirits lately beginning with Deal’s formal signing off on the transfer May 6.

“We’ve pretty much been partying for the last few weeks,” said Wainscott.