'We could lose history.' Appalachian archives soaked in record Kentucky flooding

Bill Estep and Austin Horn, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Weather News

On Saturday, Meredith Scalos, spokeswoman for the organization, said staffers were still assessing the archive contents and wouldn’t likely know the extent of the damage for some time.

Hindman Settlement School was founded in 1902 to provide education in what was then an isolated spot in the mountains.

It was among a collection of settlement schools, mission schools and academies, some secular and some church-run, set up in Appalachia in the late 1800s and early 1900s to educate children at a time when public schools were scarce or hard to reach for many kids.

Improved roads and the spread of public education ultimately reduced the need for such places.

Hindman Settlement School stopped boarding students in 1980, but it and some others, including Pine Mountain Settlement School in nearby Harlan County, adapted with new programs.

Hindman Settlement School, for instance, provides dyslexia education for young people and hosts the celebrated Appalachian Writers’ Workshop.

It also has a writing program for high-school students; operates a literary imprint in partnership with the University Press of Kentucky to tell Appalachian stories by people in the region; and provides folk-arts education in schools and an after-school program to teach old-time music to young people.

The school overlooks Troublesome Creek, but is on higher ground and had never suffered significant flooding in its 120 history, said Anderson, the executive director.

“You just can’t imagine the water getting this high,” he said.

Water reached a depth of five feet in the office of the school.

The wife of an employee fell and broke her leg as as she and others tried to get to campus buildings on the hillside above the creek, Anderson said, and 12 cars owned by participants in the workshop were swept away.

Staffers Josh Mullins and Sarah Kate Morgan tried to save items, grabbing computers as the water rose quickly, but they didn’t have time to carry boxes of items out of the archives.

Four instruments got wet, but employees dried them. Anderson said it appears they will be OK.


The school sees its mission as serving the community, and it was doing that Saturday. Volunteers were handing out water and the school was providing housing and meals for 30 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed, with more expected, Anderson said.

As for the archives, it’s unlikely that decades worth of soggy newspapers can be saved, and the school may lose some historical books that can’t be replaced, Anderson said.

But Anderson, a photographer, said he believed photos from the archives can be cleaned and saved.

Materials from the archives were still in wet storage boxes on Saturday. That was on purpose; removing papers and photos could make them stick together as they started to dry.

Saturday, people were loading boxes of archival material to take to Eastern Tennessee University, which has a freezer to keep them in — to keep them from molding — and resources to help save them, Anderson said.

For materials that wouldn’t fit on the truck, the plan was to have volunteers familiar with saving flood-damaged records take them.

The state Department of Libraries and Archives had provided advice on putting documents in freezers to prevent them from molding and dry them, Anderson said.

Anderson said the soaked storage boxes will have to be broken apart to get materials out without damaging them.

Anderson said the school had flood insurance, but it’s not clear if it will cover all the losses. The school has set up a page for donations.

What’s not in doubt is that the school will clean up and get back in business, Anderson said.

“We haven’t lost the spirit and the desire to serve our community,” he said. “I think there is a love of this organization. I don’t think people will let it fade away.”

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