Tuesday, November 4, 2008

All History Is Local

Paul, my friend from the Masters in Applied History program at Shippensburg University, posted on his blog an essay about the challenges in finding archival records for a project involving a local church. His post served as a reminder that all history is found locally. You might live where something big happened, for example Paul lives just a few miles from the Gettysburg Battlefield. Or, you might be where the history is not so evident. Every town and county in America has its own story to tell. Whether you live near the “big stuff” or not, history can be found all around you. Maybe you’ll find an interesting story in the local cemetery, or in the history behind a plaque on a building or bridge, or in Paul’s case study, the story behind a not-so-old church in a very old town.

My wife and I recently moved to the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. A short walk from my home is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, known by the more common name of “The Ballard Locks.” I thought I’d share this with you because and my local NPR station did a segment on the Locks today. Take a listen to the show and soak up some local Seattle history. Also, Arcadia Publishing recently released one of their local history books about it, The Ballard Locks by Adam Woog. I own the book and it is quite good. However, the work is like all of the Arcadia Publishing books in their “Images of America” series in that it is picture rich, but textually it is only a summary history.

There is no museum or archive at the Ballard Locks and that’s a shame. There is nice little gift shop that shows a short film and a lot of great volunteers. The history is in the site itself. The Ballard Locks was dedicated in 1917 and has been in operation ever since. The site, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, connects the Puget Sound to lakes Washington and Union. I stop by there with my cattle dog Sydney nearly every day to watch boats move through. It’s relaxing. However, looking at the 100-year old concrete structures makes me wonder what else they have to tell me in addition to what can be found in Mr. Woog’s book. So I started yet another quest. In a search of the National Archives online, I found some record groups pertaining to incidents at the Locks. And what do you know, they are housed right here at the National Archives Pacific Region Facility in Seattle. I’m planning my visit. I’ll let you know what I find out.

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