HANCOCK COUNTY — History buffs soon will be able to pore over countless documents detailing the county’s past — from photos of local landscapes to first editions penned by James Whitcomb Riley.
Hancock County historian Joe Skvarenina has spent decades collecting artifacts pertaining to the people and places of Hancock County’s past — sometimes through private purchases and often through donations. In hopes of sharing the stories laid out in some of those records with the public, Skvarenina recently donated an archive containing thousands of documents to the Hancock County Public Library.
Letters, photographs and news clippings that had previously been taking up a considerable amount of real estate in Skvarenina’s Greenfield home soon will be part of a public display for patrons to use and enjoy.
Skvarenina is a frequent presenter at library historical programs and writes a weekly local history column for the Daily Reporter, but some of the items are ones he has never shared publicly, he said.
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Among the donated items is a file containing the names of local members of the Ku Klux Klan, which will remain sealed until 2036 in an effort to be sensitive to surviving relatives, Skvarenina said.
Library employees are now in the process of digitizing records and uploading them to the organization’s website so researchers far and wide can make use of Skvarenina’s collection. Meanwhile, they’re calling on the public to help piece together the stories behind some of the items.
Many of the photos inside the archive don’t identify the individuals pictured, said Dave Gray, library director. In an effort to make sense of many of the images, which include everything from family portraits to snapshots of historic homesteads, Gray said library employees will post photos to the organization’s social media sites to see if residents have any assistance to offer.
“We know there are people out there who know more than we do about some of these things,” Gray said. “Hopefully, we’ll uncover some stories.”
Gray said he’s aiming to open access to the collection up to the public by late May. Some of the items that are too delicate to allow visitors to handle will be stored in back, while others will be put on display for visitors to see, Gray said.
Shortly after unveiling the collection, Gray said he hopes to host a question-and-answer presentation with Skvarenina, during which residents could come to pick the historian’s brain.
Paul McNeil, genealogist and reference librarian, said once the collection is available online, it will provide a simple tool for residents to search through local records.
Documents will be labeled by keywords, McNeil said, allowing users to search thousands of files with a few keystrokes.
The Hoosier Poet’s ties to Hancock County — Riley grew up in a home on Main Street — make him a frequent topic of local history searches.
Among the collection are two of Riley’s early works, “Afterwhiles” and “Sketches In Prose,” published in 1887 and 1892, respectively.
Beverly Gard, president of the library’s board of trustees, said she hopes the new exhibit becomes a resource for local students seeking information about Hancock County’s history.
The library, which already houses a trove of local historical records, is a well-suited location to house such information, Skvarenina said.
While certain details contained in the records might be irrelevant to some, it could be treasure to others, he said.
“People need a chance to be able to interpret history for themselves,” Skvarenina said.