For the past 35 years, those with questions about the past of Scott County and its families have turned to the Scott County Historical Society.
From its headquarters at the Doisy House — the 100-year-old home donated to the Historical Society by U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. — and the adjacent Archives Building, the Historical Society has been publishing books about the county’s past and helping families conduct genealogical research.
At some point later this year, the Historical Society will turn a page as it moves from the present Archives Building — which it has outgrown — to the old Scott County Courthouse nearby.
That move has already been approved by Scott County Commission, which has turned over the upstairs of the old courthouse to the Historical Society. Except for storage and a few theatrical productions, that upstairs portion of the old courthouse has been largely unused since the courts and related judicial offices made the move to the Scott County Justice Center a decade ago.
Allen Keeton, who serves on the Historical Society’s board of directors, said he estimates the move will require around six months to accomplish.
“There have been some materials that have been donated, and right now we’re waiting on those. We’re also going to petition to get inmate labor to help with the renovation,” Keeton said.
Keeton said that representatives of the Tennessee Library & Archives — a division of the Tennessee State Department — are expected to visit later this month to advise the Historical Society on how best to proceed with the move.
Meanwhile, the Industrial Development Board of Scott County is awaiting word on a Three Star Community grant, which if approved would provide $25,000 in funding for the Historical Society to install a lift chair and make other repairs to make the second story offices and storage more accessible.
In some ways, the Scott County Historical Society dates back to 1965, when it was originally chartered. But it was mostly dormant until 1983, when county historian Irene Baker took an interest in reviving the organization.
The Historical Society’s original incorporators were James Baker, Mrs. Howard Jeffers, Mrs. Earl W. Lockin, Mrs. Clyde Reed, Chester D. Sexton, Clifton Sexton, George A. Terry, Taskel Welch, John Lee West, James O. West, Elsie Cecil, Columbus Watters, Clyde Reed, C.C. Reed, Richard Smith and Tom Gentry.
In August 1965, the Scott County Quarterly Court approved $800 in funding for a two-story log cabin, which was to have been used to construct a facility for the Historical Society. A cabin was purchased in Kentucky, disassembled and moved to Scott County, but never erected.
That was that, until 1983, when Baker requested Scott County Commission to appoint herself and several others — including Fayrene Terry, Carmel Burke, Norma Mabe, Helen Shoemaker, Bruce Butler, Elsie Cecil and Sharon T. Scott — as members of the Scott County Historical Committee. The first move of the newly-appointed committee was to reactivate the Historical Society, with Baker elected president. Burke was vice-president, Butler was secretary and Shoemaker was treasurer.
From there, the Historical Society quickly grew to more than 100 members, and Sen. Baker donated the historic Doisy House to be restored and transformed into a permanent headquarters for the organization.
Baker — a first-generation American whose husband, James T. Baker, was a cousin to Sen. Baker — served as president of the Historical Society until her death in 2009. The current president is Stephen West.
Keeton, who has volunteered for the Historical Society for several years, recalls a recent phone call from a woman in California, who was searching for information on a family member who had been killed in Scott County.
“I was able to find the information, which included the arrest and the trial, all the way through the sentencing,” Keeton said.
It is that sort of inquiry that is typical of the Historical Society. In addition to storing records and other historical items, the Historical Society assists with research — mostly related to genealogy.
Keeton recalls another instance where a brother and sister from Knoxville were searching for their grandmother. They knew her maiden name, but could not locate their grandfather. The Historical Society was able to help them locate that information.
The Historical Society maintains all sorts of records — from old census data to circuit court lawsuits and rulings to marriage records. Some of that information is required by the state to be kept in storage in each county. To that end, Keeton said the move to the old courthouse will better enable the Historical Society to fulfill that role for the county.
“The Archives Building may still be used for some storage, but we needed more room to store stuff,” he said. “Moving to the courthouse will give us room to do that, and we’ll be able to store more records than before.”
In some instances, Keeton said, records aren’t stored on shelves; instead, they’re kept in boxes where they’re largely inaccessible. The added space of the courthouse will change that.
By the time of Baker’s death in 2009, the Scott County Historical Society had acquired more than 85 books related to the history of Scott County and its families. Most of those books are still being published today, and can be purchased from the Historical Society.
Among those books are census records from Scott County that date from 1850 through 1930, marriage and divorce records from the 1850s through the early 1900s, obituary and cemetery information, and family histories related to a number of Scott County’s early families.
The Historical Society also publishes a hardback book that depicts Scott County’s history in photos, Esther Sharp Sanderson’s “Profiles of Scott Countians,” Paul Roy’s “Scott County in the Civil War,” H. Clay Smith’s “Dusty Bits of the Forgotten Past” and a number of other local books.
The Need for More
The goal of the Historical Society is to keep regular hours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Monday through Friday. Having volunteers on site helps book sales, enables researchers to stop in for information, and puts someone in place to answer phone calls.
There are days, however, when the Historical Society’s Archives Building remains locked throughout the day, due to a lack of volunteers.
That’s where the public can help.
Membership to the Historical Society is just $25 annually, or $35 for a family membership, and includes a quarterly newsletter published by the society. The Historical Society is looking for volunteers, and will have its annual meeting this Saturday at the Archives Building, beginning at 10 a.m. At the annual meeting, three new directors will be appointed and other business will be conducted.
To join the Historical Society, to volunteer or for other information, phone (423) 663-3887.
Sidebar: Scott's Original Historian
Born Irene Bernice Sobodoski, Irene Baker was a first-generation American, whose parents — Josephine Podloski Sobodoski and Frank Sobodoski — immigrated to the United States from Poland.
Baker met her future husband — James Toomey “JT” Baker — in her native Detroit, and the two married in Las Vegas, Nev.
Eventually, the Bakers moved back to JT’s native Scott County, where he was a cousin to U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. Irene Baker worked as a clerk at the Town of Huntsville and for the Department of Human Resources before retiring in 1994. She successfully sought the re-establishment of the Scott County Historical Society in 1984, serving as the organization’s first president, a title she held until her death in 2009.
This story is the May 2018 installment of Profiles of a Three Star Community, presented by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County on the second week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version can be found on Page B6 of the May 10, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.