On the morning of July 28th 2022, the waters of a 1000-year flood breached Appalshop’s warehouse and vault which held paper records, film, video, audio and photographs representing a century of central Appalachian history. While a great number of archival items had been preserved over the years, with copies stored elsewhere, many had not yet been transferred to contemporary, accessible formats. Plans to accelerate the digitization of the collections were underway when the floodwaters overtook our building.
Thanks to emergency support from archival specialists and an incredible team of volunteers who came from near and far, we have been able to carry out a complex recovery effort to empty the contents of our warehouse and vault, sort materials according to their needs (e.g., some items were refrigerated while others required immediate dehumidification), and ship them to different locations for treatment and storage.
80% of our film reels, video tapes and audio tapes were affected by the floodwaters. These materials include interviews with and footage of legendary Appalachian musicians, artists and authors such as Ralph Stanley, Hazel Dickens, chairmaker Chester Cornett, Harriet Simpson Arnow, and scholar Helen Lewis. They also include mountain people from all walks of life, from coal miners to lawyers, politicians to local sheriffs, granny midwives to teen-aged basketball players. Thousands of these items are at preservation labs to see what can be salvaged, and thousands more are being stabilized in a low-humidity space in Whitesburg.
Several of our photo collections were also affected by the floodwaters, including the 3600 original photographic negatives in our William R. “Pictureman” Mullins Collection, 1935-55. Mullins took portraits of people, ceremonies, and landscapes in central Appalachia, such as this image of a river baptism (digitized before the flood). Mullins’ photo negatives are being assessed by a conservator to see what can be saved.
The estimates of the costs for salvaging and digitizing the collections are high, and we expect that it will take at least a year to compile a full account of the flood’s effects. Early reports from preservation labs have been encouraging and we are hopeful that the quick actions taken in the first weeks of the flood will result in a significant amount of material being saved, but it will take a great deal of time and funding to accomplish. Our hope is to digitize whatever is salvaged and to make the Appalshop collections more available than ever before.
We have a lot to be grateful for, but also a long road ahead of us in recovering and providing access to our collections. We will need the continued support of our community to make it there!
If you would like to to support us please click here to make a donation to Appalshop Archive. You can also support us through our Amazon Wish List that will be updated periodically as needs change throughout this long process.
Thank you from all of us at Appalshop Archive.