The Challenges of Making Erwin Sibley’s Papers Accessible

One of the longtime collections most recently made more publicly accessible in Special Collections are the U. Erwin Sibley papers. This collection came to Special Collections in two parts. The majority of the collection was transferred to Georgia College from the Mary Vinson Public Library in 1982, and the addition of the Sibley & Sibley series was donated from a family member in 2004. There’s a more than 30-year gap from the time the papers were acquired to the time we put the finding aid online, but for good reason! Due to the nature of some files, they needed intensive review, so it was all hands on deck to make this more accessible to our researchers.

For those unfamiliar with Sibley, he was born and raised in Baldwin County, where he was widely known and respected in his practice of law. He attended Georgia Military College and graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Laws in 1910. A year later, he formed a law firm called Sibley & Sibley with his brother, and in 1914 went on to become the secretary of W.H. Fish, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. In 1930, he and associate Marion Allen created the firm Allen & Sibley, a firm that significantly influenced life in Milledgeville, making Sibley a foremost member of his profession.

Kodachrome slide of Ulysses Erwin Sibley

Continue reading “The Challenges of Making Erwin Sibley’s Papers Accessible”


Georgia Day and the Story of a Former State Capital

On February 12, 1733, the colony of Georgia was founded. Today, we usually celebrate Georgia Day on the 12th, but occasionally, it can be observed the weekend before. Whether on the 12th or around the 12th, this is a time when those of us in archives and special collections enjoy highlighting some of our Georgia history collections.

One cannot tell the story of the State of Georgia without including the City of Milledgeville. It became the state capital in 1807 when the legislature met for the first time in the incomplete and under construction Capital Building. Now part of Georgia Military College, it was once the center of political life for the state.

Jared Irwin was the first to serve as governor in the new state capital. Starting in 1806, he served until 1809 with three of his four-year term taking place in Milledgeville. Following Irwin was David Brydie Mitchell.  Mitchell would serve the first of his terms from 1809 to 1813. His second term would come only a few years later after defeating Peter Early, Governor of Georgia from 1813- 1815, in his re-election bid. Mitchell served from 1815 to 1817. From this decade, one of the artifacts here in Special Collections is the book, Laws of the State of Georgia, cataloging everything passed by the legislature during this time. Some the issues they dealt with consisted of appointing trustees to the private academies that existed in towns and counties around the state,  passing laws to help alleviate debt issues that faced many Georgians,  laws that either raised taxes or relieved citizens from having to pay certain taxes, and even addressed the penal code.20180212_110824

Following Mitchell, the state capital remained in Milledgeville until 1868. One of the most important events in the Antebellum Era for many people at the time in Georgia and in the South took place in Milledgeville.

On January 19, 1861, three days after the State legislature convened,  the assembly voted for the secession of Georgia from the Union of the United States. The future of Georgia was irretrievably changed. On February 4th, each state in what would become the Confederacy sent members to the “Congress of the Sovereign and Independent States of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana” in Montgomery, Alabama. Georgia elected two men, Alexander Stephens and Eugenius Nesbit, to represent them. At this gathering, they wrote the Constitution for the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, which was officially adopted on February 8th.


This document was the precursor to what became the Confederate States Constitution. It would only be in place for year before the official Constitution was adopted. A copy of this provisional constitution resides in here in Special Collections.

The First Confederate States Congress took place from February 18, 1862 through to February 18, 1864. It was a bicameral legislature that lasted during the first two years of Jefferson Davis’ presidency and was seated in Richmond, Virginia. In Special Collections, we have a book of the statutes passed by the First Congress at their third session in 1863.  These are the laws, acts, and resolutions that were passed in an effort to both establish and run their government. They set up tax laws, government departments, and resolutions of thanks to officers and government officials. This congress was disbanded in 1864 and then re-seated in a second congress that lasted until 1865 when the Confederacy was falling apart and the Civil War was coming to a close.


A few years after the end of the Confederacy, the capital would leave Milledgeville and head to the growing city of Atlanta. Charles Johnson Jenkins was the last governor to take up residence in the Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville. When he was elected, Rufus Bullock became the first governor to take up residence in a large Victorian home in Atlanta, the same one where Governor Nathan Deal resides today. Milledgeville would no longer be at the center the political events and life in Georgia. However, this city played a pivotal role in events that forever changed the future of the state and continue to haunt us.

Happy belated Georgia Day, y’all!

The Exhibit for the First Annual African American Read-In

On Thursday, February 15th, Ina Dillard Russell Library held its first African American Read-In, an opportunity that invites students, faculty, and staff to read from the works of their favorite authors and some of the most remarkable African Americans in our history. It is meant to serve as a sort of “open mic” celebration, where participants are encouraged to recite and/or perform pieces of creative nonfiction, fiction, spoken word, poetry, etc. About 70 students, as well as numerous faculty and staff, participated in the event.

Special Collections was asked to create a small exhibit to supplement the read-in, to create a display for students to not only to consider, but interact with. We decided to set our focus on three local and influential African American individuals — Former Georgia State Senator Floyd L. Griffin Jr.; Reverend Wilkes B. Flagg, founder of Flagg Chapel Baptist Church; and well-renowned activist and author, Alice Walker. For each, we picked memorabilia, documents, and other artifacts from each respective collection that represented their greatest and most stirring accomplishments. Because the exhibit operates on a small scale, narrowing the materials proved difficult. Continue reading “The Exhibit for the First Annual African American Read-In”

The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate

In Special Collections, we’re used to unusual things popping up. It’s the very nature of a special collection. Recently, we received a call from Mike Couch at the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority because he had some papers in his office that he thought would be best placed with us. Construction workers, planning to demolish a building at Central State, decided these papers might be important, so they decided to hand them off to Mike. It turns out those were Payton B. Cook’s papers. Rev. Cook’s name is familiar to newer residents of Milledgeville mostly because his name is on a building on Vinson Road. However, longtime residents will recall Rev. Cook as a pillar of the community, whose accomplishments were recognized by the Georgia General Assembly upon his death in 1998.

Rev. Cook was a clinical chaplain at Central State Hospital in the 1960s through the 1990s. He was an African-American who helped to integrate the hospital’s administration, and while that is certainly important, what I’ve learned about Rev. Cook through inventorying his papers is just how much he meant to Milledgeville and Baldwin County as a true public servant. He served on numerous boards for the hospital, the local community, and the state, and he traveled the southeast to encourage students studying to become clinical chaplains and preach in pulpits large and small (usually Baptist and Methodist). Business leaders wrote letters to him asking for advice, and occasionally, the area elected officials reached out to him as well. There were also notes from his young daughter, reminding him to run errands for her while she was at school.

Rev. Cook had a very busy schedule, and perhaps that explains what we ran across today while inventorying his collection — an original marriage license from Peach County, Georgia, from 1970. Rev. Cook was the officiant, and he had completely filled out the form, but it had never been mailed. I thought at first he had handwritten a copy, but the form in my hands clearly said “county original.” My next thought was that Rev. Cook had likely misplaced this copy, yet mailed a second one. I realized I had better call Peach County Probate Court to be certain. Continue reading “The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate”

Guards! Guards!

If you got the reference in my title as a Pratchett fan, you may be expecting dragons and the Night Watch. Not quite. This story started with the search for a cornerstone. During the process of putting together items for the upcoming Russell Library exhibition on Russell Auditorium, I went back to the stacks to search for the mythical Russell Auditorium Cornerstone. Little did I know that I should not be looking for a physical cornerstone but rather a box filled with items from the cornerstone time capsule discovered by Dr. Bob Wilson and unearthed by the Physical Plant staff in October 1996. To hear the rest of the story of the cornerstone, come visit the Special Collections exhibit on the second floor of the Russell Library.

In the search for this so-called stone, I stumbled upon a box with a brick — yes, a literal brick — labelled as coming from the Prison Courtyard during renovations during 2005-2006. Since the box label stated Dr. Bob to be the donor, I inevitably sought him out to ask him. Turns out that this little brick is part of a much larger story encompassing the slice of Milledgeville history that is the penitentiary.

Kemp House Brick
The infamous brick

As has been talked about on this blog before (our first post in fact!), the penitentiary began accepting prisoners in 1817 and existed well into the 1880s. After being engulfed in flames in 1864, supposedly by the prisoners who were let out in the hopes that they would fight to defend their city from the incoming Union General — William Sherman. To no one’s surprise, the prisoners didn’t, and the penitentiary was rebuilt to accomodate even more prisoners until the 1880s, dampened by the convict lease system instituted in 1868 and the establishment of a state prison farm with state prison warden two miles west of Milledgeville in 1897. So the story goes that the land appropriated to the prison became the land of G.N. & I.C. leading the students to sit among the spirits of the state prisoners, even leading to ghost stories of prisoners spirits shaking the green shutters of the Bell Hall Annex (Hair). Continue reading “Guards! Guards!”

Wine Not?

Dr. Bob Wilson of Georgia College spends many of his afternoons in the research room of Special Collections, rifling through stacks of folders and pages of books from the archive, as he updates the college’s history. Recently he stopped by to request help in locating a very specific, rather unusual item. He recalls a story he heard from a  dinner party thrown by Dr. James C. Bonner several years ago. Somewhere in Bonner’s collection existed an elusive “Dandelion Wine” recipe. Mikaela and I vaguely recalled coming across a wine recipe of sorts, but where it lay within the stacks, we had no idea where to begin. Bonner’s papers house eight shelves in the archive, an entire section of an aisle. We knew finding the recipe would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Dr. Bob first learned of the recipe through Dr. George Kirk, the chair of his graduate program at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He invited Dr. Bob to a dinner party where they enjoyed the distinct yellow colored wine. “The idea was cool, but I wasn’t a big fan then. So hopefully now, my tastes have changed.” He remembers it being very potent. Dr. Bob had forgotten about the wine until Dr. Ralph Hemphill, former Vice President and Dean of Faculties of Georgia College from 1968-2002, shared a story with him from a dinner party Bonner held years ago. Hemphill worked with Bonner, who was head of the social studies department at the time.They often saw each other outside of the university. Since his conversation with Hemphill, Dr. Bob has wanted to give the recipe a go himself. Continue reading “Wine Not?”

Swingin’ the Blues: 21 Years of the Georgia College Jazz Band with Dr. Bob Wilson

Now let’s go back to 1943, and if some of the jokes are a bit corny and sexist by 1990s standards, put it in a historical perspective.

— “Georgia College USO Show” script, 1995

Twenty one short years ago the Georgia College Jazz Band, with special guest appearances from the Georgia College Show Choir and Georgia College Theatre Department, performed the Georgia College USO Show on February 24 and 25, 1995. With a show titled “Music from World War II,” the band went on to swing some iconic tunes, such as “Moonlight Serenade” from Glenn Miller, and the perennial classic, “Sing, Sing, Sing” from Louis Prima. This tribute was especially fitting; Georgia College, or Georgia State College for Women, was the site of a broadcast from Bob Hope and his whole troop on May 18, 1943. Why? Because of the brave women receiving training on campus from the Navy WAVES program. The one thing missing from this triple threat of musical talent was the history. Band director Todd Shiver needed someone to take the helm as emcee and provide some historical perspective to the show — a newly promoted Associate Professor in the Department of History and Geography, Dr. Bob Wilson.

Even after retiring from teaching, Dr. Bob has continued to be the voice of the Georgia College Jazz Band, delighting jazz band members and audiences alike. However, on November 3 and 4, 2016, the jazz band paid tribute to Dr. Bob’s “swinging” as announcer at his final shows. Full of stories of jazz legends, jazz history, and a whole lot of love for the band, Dr. Bob’s scripts represent a large part of the institutional history of Georgia College and the end of an era to current and former band members, as well as those returning audience members. Thankfully Dr. Bob kept all of these materials since 1995; Director of Georgia College Bands Dr. Cliff Towner received four folders of scripts, programs, newspaper clippings, notes — everything imaginable about the band — from Dr. Bob, and these materials were promptly passed on to Special Collections.

Before going on, I must admit the personal joy I have gotten out of handling this collection. I was a member of the band from 2012-2016, playing alto and tenor saxophone, and experienced firsthand the pride Dr. Bob has for the students, the band, and the music. Reading his scripts over the past few days has made me relive the concerts of my past, dating back to 2012, my first semester of undergrad at Georgia College. I’m sure that other former members of the band will get this same joy out of seeing themselves, their names, and their memories in this amazing collection.

It’s definitely a “sentimental journey” to look back on the past twenty one years of Dr. Bob’s legacy with the Jazz Band. Here’s a look back at Dr. Bob and the GC Jazz Band along with our institutional history:

1995. The Georgia College USO Show is in full swing. Dr. Barbara Chandler, a former Navy WAVE at Georgia College attended the show. Georgia College is one year away from our sixth official name change – to Georgia College and State University.

2001. Georgia College Jazz Band welcomes Ken Burns to the stage this Fall. Dr. Bob also says perhaps my new favorite quote about jazz music:

Jazz music, like the American experiment, is all about freedom, improvisation, respect, and working together. Jazz, not surprisingly, was discouraged in Stalinist Russia, Hitler thought it was decadent, and Osama Bin Laden rarely gets groovy.

–Fall 2001 Jazz Band Concert

2003. Upon the 60th Anniversary of the Bob Hope Show coming to campus (1943-2003), the band performs the show in its entirety from the original script. Students portrayed Bob Hope, Frances Langford, Jerry Colonna, and the rest of the Hope gang. Dr. Bob once again provided his historical insight, taking the band right back to 1943. He once told me, when the archive was planning to showcase the WAVE uniform donated by Dr. Chandler, how the band dressed one of the show choir singers in the uniform to perform “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” In 2003, Georgia College was growing and preserving, building five new dorms as well as completing a historical renovation of the Old Governor’s Mansion.

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Continue reading “Swingin’ the Blues: 21 Years of the Georgia College Jazz Band with Dr. Bob Wilson”