Starting almost 70 years ago, DeKalb County Historian Tommy Webb began devoting his life to learning everything possible about DeKalb County and its people and documenting that information. As a means of preserving those historical papers, Webb is donating his files to the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Charles (Chuck) Sherrell, State Librarian and Archivist, his assistants, members of the local library board, and friends met at Webb's home on College Street Thursday for a formal announcement followed by a luncheon.
Although Webb's original papers will be kept at the State Library and Archives, copies will remain at Justin Potter Library. "I am donating to the Tennessee State Library and Archives all the historical material that I have collected about DeKalb County over the past 70 years. I'll be 83 in July. I started when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I got a very early start. I have what amounts to two- four drawer filing cabinets full of material about DeKalb County and its families, churches, schools, civil war battles, and everything else about DeKalb County. We have copies at the library of all this material. The originals are going to the state library and archives. They wanted the originals and that's what they're getting. But we have copies of everything at Justin Potter Library so we're not really letting anything go. And I am at Justin Potter Library from 9:00 a.m. until Noon every day except Sunday to answer any questions people may have," said Webb.
Sherrell said the State Library and Archives is honored to receive such an impressive collection of historical material. "We're excited today to bring the collection of Mr. Webb back to the state library and archives for permanent preservation and to make it available to researchers. A collection like this accumulated over a lifetime, carefully tended and representing many of the people who came from this part of the state, is a rich treasure for researchers, both historians and genealogists. We're excited about the potential for that as part of the collections at the state library and archives. For the last 60 years that the state archives has been in its building, we have brought in maybe seven or eight collections like this so it's a rare opportunity to find a collection of this depth and breadth. I had known of Mr. Webb for a long time even before I became state librarian but after I took the job he wrote me a letter and asked me to come down and take a look at his collection and to discuss with him what might be the best options for preserving it and making it available. We did that about four years ago and recently he contacted me again and said he thought it was time to make the transfers so that's why today is such a special day," said Sherrell.
"The originals will always be preserved. One of the services we have to offer is careful temperature and humidity controls so that the paper will be preserved in acid free folders and boxes. We will also microfilm the collection. A lot of people today say why would you still microfilm now that we have digitalization. But microfilm is the preservation media. We know that microfilm will still be here and still be readable without specialized equipment 500 years from now. We will also be able to make digital copies from the microfilm. Digital is the access medium. Digital files degrade over time. We know that we can create a digital copy and make it available perhaps on the Internet but we will always have that microfilm backup to go to in order to make a new copy when its needed," said Sherrell.
Kathy Hendrixson, Director of Justin Potter Library, said this is a special moment, not just for Mr. Webb but for the county as well. "I think it's important for the library and for the county because this is a great honor. How many people do you know that has their papers and their life's work put in the state library and archives? I think it's a big deal. Our library board is really enthused and proud of it. In fact, they fixed a luncheon for everyone who came today. Mr. Webb is just a treasure. He's there (library) from 9:00 a.m. until noon every day. There's hardly a day that goes by that we don't have two or three people who come in. He's in there helping them trace their family history. He knows so many things and a lot of it is off the top of his head. It's not something he has to go to a file for. For example, he'll say "so and so is buried over there. They lived there. The house stood there." And he is related to everybody. We are so proud of Mr. Webb and his accomplishments and we are thankful for him and all the things he does for the county and especially for the library because if he wasn't there during the day, we would have to be doing all these little things. For example, if somebody calls from California and says my great great granddaddy lived there in 1840, do you have any information on that? I'd have to say Mr. Webb is not here today. Wait and call back tomorrow. He can generally find that information. We are really pleased that Chuck Sherrell from the Tennessee State Library and Archives has come to collect these for the archives. It's an honor for us and for Mr. Webb. We're just so proud of him," said Hendrixson.
At an early age, Webb acquired an interest in local and family history and as he grew older, that interest became an obsession."My mother and daddy both, but particularly my mother always talked about her family and who we were kin to and how we were related. She knew a good bit of the family history because she had lived with her grandmother for a good while so I had heard her talk and decided I'd like to find out more. It became an absolute obsession. When I was in high school I would go down to the register's office after school and read the deed books. I started with the first one and read them all the way through. When I was in college, if I were bored in class I would sit there and draw a map of the Caney Fork River and put in every loop and turn. I'd put in the school houses where they belonged and that sort of thing. I didn't watch TV. I didn't care a thing about TV. I'd much rather dig into the history of DeKalb County. And I might add, I found out a lot about family history. I was interested in mine first and when I found what mine was like I thought Lord have mercy, I wonder what everybody else's is like so I dug into everybody else's (family history). I found out that they are all about alike. They all have some really fine people that you're proud of and you hope everybody knows you're kin to them. And they all have some that are just awful and you hope nobody knows you're kin to them but you are. People come into the library from places like Texas, California, and DeKalb County and they want to know where great grandpa is buried and why he doesn't have a tombstone and things like that and I can tell them. It's a pleasure to them and it's a pleasure to me," said Webb.
(PICTURED ABOVE: Jan Thomas of DeKalb Library Board (seated), Tommy Webb, State Archivist Charles (Chuck) Sherrell, and Bobby White of DeKalb Library Board (seated); Standing behind Webb are Genrose Davis of DeKalb Library Board, Director Kathy Hendrixson of Justin Potter Library, an Assistant of Mr. Sherrell, Susan Hinton, Assistant of Mr. Sherrell, Joe Webster, and Brenda Hooper of DeKalb Library Board)