Library shows rare artifacts related to county history

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 11, 2022

The Boyle County Public Library held a special Treasures from the Archive event in partnership with the Genealogical and Historical Society on Tuesday.

The artifacts were all related in some way to Boyle County history or its people. Some of them are kept in a fire safe and are considered rare and valuable.

Library Reference Associate Steve Ellis hosted the event and picked out what artifacts to show. He said that in March 2020 when the pandemic hit, library employees had to work at home. Ellis decided to take home items from the library archives that he or the library had not researched or cataloged in depth.

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Ellis found several very old and rare artifacts sitting on a shelf, including a third of a dollar printed in 1776, a newspaper announcing the death of George Washington, and a land warrant from 1792, which sat on a library shelf for 100 years from 1920 to 2020.

Some of these items are pictured on the library’s website in their archives section. But if people want to see items in person, they can make an appointment or ask Ellis to see them at the library.

“These are irreplaceable, and that’s why people should be able to look at them and that’s why we bring them out,” Ellis said.

Attendees at the Treasures from the Archive event were in awe of some of the artifacts. People were especially interested in a giant scrapbook from the filming of “Raintree County,” a 1957 movie partly filmed in Danville.

Starring big names like Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, the movie’s filming was a big deal for residents of Danville. The scrapbook is filled with newspaper clippings, photos of actors and movie posters.

Members of the Genealogical and Historical Society said they had never seen some of the artifacts, and thought the old documents and the scrapbook were the most interesting things.

The land warrant from 1792 was signed by Virginia Governor Beverley Randolph. Land Speculator and first librarian of Congress John Beckley bought the land from Edward Clark, a man who financed the American Revolution.

The parcel on the warrant of 7,950 acres spans from Somerset to Lincoln and Boyle County. Ellis said they were able to find the land from a speculator’s map on the back of the warrant.

Beckley is among many who bought land during the western expansion, hoping to sell it to settlers. However, settlers usually picked a piece of land, built a house and started a farm without buying the land.

Judges then had to decide if the family owned the land or the speculators owned it. Settlers usually won. Ellis said this part of Kentucky, specifically in Stanford through Harrodsburg, is where all the land questions were settled, setting the precedent for all western expansion.

Another interesting item is an 1861 flag from Kansas printed on silk that has only 34 stars. It was the U.S. flag from 1860-1863 before West Virginia became a state.

The third of a dollar that the library had authenticated was printed in 1776 in Philadelphia. It was hand-signed by the high sheriff of Philadelphia. It was part of a $1 million admission of continental currency, printed on paper made by Willcox Paper Mill in Pennsylvania.

The British, who were trying to sabotage the American economy, could not duplicate the money. The third of a dollar was quickly recalled in the late 1700s when the U.S. switched from fractional money to decimal money.

The library also showed a Pennsylvania newspaper announcing the death of George Washington. It was originally printed in 1800 when Washington died in December 1799, and it became a keepsake for Americans. Ellis said the newspaper was reprinted in 1820 and 1840, and the copy at the Boyle County library is likely from the 1840 reprint.

Some of the many other items shown were:
• An 1834 land transfer document that is not recorded in the Boyle County courthouse. The document pre-dates the county, which was formed in 1842. The document is a basic contract for a family who sold their land to another family.

• A letter that James Birney, an abolitionist born in Danville, wrote to his son in 1853.

• Two letters from former Secretary of State Henry Clay. One of them is to another politician who was elected to the state assembly and Clay wrote him sage advice. The other letter is to former Senator John Crittenden about when he will be posing for his portrait for the Boyle County library. The portrait, painted in 1845, was also displayed.

• A silver spoon owned by John Boyle, whom the county is named after. The library also showed his writing box that dates to the 1780s.

• A first edition of “The Hobbit,” which is worth about $9,000.

• Judge Samuel Cheek’s baby blanket. Cheek was a Boyle County judge from 1948-1961, and died in 1971.

• A collection of 1959 Ephraim McDowell stamps, signed by the postmaster general.

• A 200-plus-year-old doll that belonged to Zelpha Taylor Smith. It was given to her by a Taylor relative who was a descendant of the family of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor.

The library will not be displaying this collection publicly, but anyone can ask to see archives in person.