Over the past few months I have been busy identifying and sorting the personal paper collections held in the Closed Stacks storage area. These papers are mostly collections of correspondence, sermons, research notes, copies of manuscripts as well and records of various kinds such as deeds and account books, and some photographs. They were mostly created in the early-to-mid 20th c. either by Schwenkfelders associated with the Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum project and the Schwenkfelder Library, the Schwenkfelder Church and clergy, or Schwenkfelders associated with the Perkiomen School. Names such as O. S. Kriebel, Flora Heebner, Elmer E. S. Johnson, Selina Gerhard Schultz, Lester Kriebel and Wayne Meschter make up the creators of many of these papers. There are also collections of papers, large and small, that have been donated to the library by individuals not directly associated with the library or even with the Schwenkfelders. We have, for instance, large collections given by Civil War veteran Jacob B. Stauffer and Ursinus history professor William Parsons.
The SLHC started collecting these papers during with the Corpus project in the late 19th and early 20th c. The Corpus project, in essence, was the beginning of the library as the papers and books gathered to write the nineteen volumes needed a home during and after the project. At the same time, papers were given to the library, often by the families, after the death of an individual. All of these papers are a great asset to the library because they provide detailed accounts of the lives and careers of the leading men and women in the community, as well as unique records of the history of the Schwenkfelders and Pennsylvania Germans. However, most of these collections have yet to be inventoried in a proper, archival sense; more troublesome is that many papers have yet to be properly sorted or even identified.
As a result of the size of the collections (in relation to the small size and limited time of the staff) the organization and, in some cases, the condition has been ignored and has deteriorated. Prior to the 2001 renovation, many of these papers were stored in the basement storage area known as the “Cave” or they were stored in the attic of the Carnegie library at the Perkiomen School. Due to the less than ideal conditions of this storage some papers were damaged. Nonetheless, the majority of the papers survived intact and are in good condition. The bigger problem has been that the papers were often placed into boxes without proper identification and, therefore, during and after the 2001 renovation they were quickly boxed up, then unpacked and re-boxed in acid free containers and hastily labeled. Since then it has taken all these years to finally turn my attention to figuring out exactly to whom the papers belong. Without proper labeling I have to rely on other clues such as handwriting or context to determine the creator. Sometimes I simply have to guess. As you can image it is at times a slow and frustrating process.
So far I have done rough inventories on sixty-six collections. Though it is moving faster than I expected there is still a long way to go in this stage. The next stage is to do detailed archival inventories which will be much more time consuming, but will help us better understand just exactly what we have been storing for all these years.
Hunt Schenkel – Archivist