A small group of Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) faculty and staff gathered in the Garnett Library recently to sift through a collection of old documents, maps and books about the Ozarks and its residents. Their task? To determine what pieces to include in the new Ozarks Heritage Resource Center (OHRC).
Years in the making, the OHRC will house an archive of materials related to the south-central and southeast Missouri Ozarks that can be used by researchers, regional history enthusiasts and students when it opens in the lower level of the Garnett Library in 2022.
The archive will include documents and visual resources that represent the history and cultural heritage of the region, including materials written by and about Missourians, according to Dr. Jason McCollom, associate professor of history at MSU-WP and one of center’s advisory committee members.
“The OHRC will be a place where instructors can bring their students to teach them research skills, to study Ozarks culture and history, and to explore the ways in which an archive functions,” McCollom explained. “It also will provide one-of-a-kind materials to the public.
“In addition, the collections will aid faculty and staff seeking local and regional materials for a variety of projects, presentations or grant opportunities, and scholars and academics from across the nation researching a variety of Ozarks topics will find primary sources and archival materials to inform their publications, studies and projects,” he added.
“Ultimately, we hope the OHRC will become a one-of-a-kind hub in the region for creating a documentable and usable past of our area, promote educational resources, and sponsor speakers and workshops,” he explained.
What it will contain
The center’s integrated collection will feature monographs, manuscripts, archival pieces, photographs, pamphlets, maps, prints, audiovisual and musical pieces, and other selected memorabilia donated to the university, McCollom said.
Geographically, the contents will encompass Butler, Carter, Crawford, Dent, Douglas, Howell, Iron, Oregon, Ozark, Phelps, Reynolds, Ripley, Shannon, Texas, Washington, Wayne and Wright counties in Missouri, McCollom said. Some selectively acquired pieces from the Arkansas Ozarks regions also will be included, he added.
What it will not do is replace other well-established historical collections in the region. “The center will be one of the few archival repositories in the region – one piece of the broader cultural and historical mosaic in the southeast Missouri Ozarks,” he said. “For instance, the West Plains Public Library has a wealth of genealogical resources, thus the center won’t focus on genealogical records. Instead, its materials will provide broader historical context to family histories and genealogical research.
“In other words, the center will not replace the local historical repositories, it will complement them,” he said.
A long-held desire comes to fruition
The desire to preserve this region’s history and culture is not a new one. Frank Priest, MSU-WP English professor and center advisory committee member, said community members and area scholars have worked for years to keep the region’s history and culture intact.
“I first became aware of the efforts in 1996 while working in the Garnett Library to classify and catalogue the Ozarks Oral History Project tapes from Carol Silvey’s history classes. In addition to Silvey’s project, many books, journals and other writings pertaining to the Ozarks were held in the library, most circulating through the general collection,” he explained.
Interest in Ozarks studies grew stronger locally with the addition of the university’s Ozarks Studies Symposium, originally led by Assistant Professor of English Leigh Adams, and the annual publication of “Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies,” led by Professor of English Dr. Craig Albin, Priest said.
With the release of his own book, “Yonder Mountain: An Ozarks Anthology” from the University of Arkansas Press in 2013, Priest said he pushed university officials to create an Ozarks-based resource center on the MSU-WP campus. He submitted a formal proposal for the creation of the OHRC in February that same year after consulting with his fellow English faculty members Adams, Albin and Professor of English Dr. Phillip Howerton.
Other faculty and community members also took up the cause. Among them were Silvey and Dr. Ed McKinney, both of whom are former history professors at MSU-WP; librarians Rebekah McKinney and Neva Parrott; Interim Chancellor Dennis Lancaster; and Kathleen Morrissey, one of the founders of the Old-Time Music, Ozarks Heritage Festival in West Plains.
Silvey, who currently serves on the MSU Board of Governors, is thrilled the center is finally coming together. “The OHRC is a project that is dear to my heart because it preserves Ozark culture,” she said. “Our culture is unique and worthy of protection and sharing.
“For example, there are thousands of hours of oral interviews conducted by the university’s history students from the 1970s through the 1990s that have been digitally preserved and could be accessed by people residing in far off places who are interested in cultural tourism,” she explained. “This addition will further enrich the services provided by the university to our community, region and even the world.”
Trillium Trust joins the cause
Earlier this year, the effort received another generous boost when officials with Trillium Trust, a non-profit corporation in West Plains, handed over their Unlock the Ozarks and Bryant Creek Watershed Projects to the university to use as a virtual component in the center.
With a mission to “help support and sustain the Ozarks spirit,” Trillium Trust utilizes its funds to promote the area’s history, as well as provide opportunities that encourage economic development.
“We felt that, with the longevity of the university and its student base, these long-term projects were better served in the hands of the university and the Ozarks Heritage Resource Center,” said Trillium Trust Executive Director Jim McFarland.
Both projects use websites to promote active learning and place-based education. Established in 1996, the Bryant Creek Watershed Project combines educational technology, classroom teaching and hands-on experience to help school-age children connect to the place they live. The website includes a variety of projects teachers can use to help students learn about the area’s watersheds, history, folkways, farms, forests, schools and communities.
Due to a lack of funding, the project went dormant in 2009, but in 2013, with the blessing of its board of directors, the project’s mission was expanded by a new group of investors that included local residents Colin and Leslie Collins, and Trillium Trust was born.
New project helps Unlock the Ozarks
Unlock the Ozarks was one of Trillium Trust’s first initiatives. Developed conceptually by local resident Edward Boys as part of an activity at the Old-Time Music, Ozarks Heritage Festival, the project helps natives and newcomers alike better understand the nature of this place and its people through a quick response (QR)-driven website.
Through the project, keyhole-shaped placards with QR codes have been placed at some of the area’s most historical and significant sites, such as the Howell County Court House, MSU-WP’s Kellett Hall, the original Ozark Cafe on Washington Avenue, and the area on East Main Street where the West Plains Dance Hall Explosion took place. When the QR code is scanned with a smartphone, the website opens in the phone’s internet browser to information about the location.
“The project is designed to be a digital repository for the history, culture and natural beauty of the Ozarks that presents the information in a modern and engaging manner,” according to a description of the project on its website, unlocktheozarks.org. “It’s a blending of traditional Ozarks storytelling and modern technology.”
“We believe a significant piece of the Ozarks is about the stories,” McFarland said. “It is said that, when someone dies, it is like a library burning down. Through Unlock the Ozarks, at least some of these stories can be preserved through audio, video and text.
“All of us at Trillium Trust believe that Unlock the Ozarks is one of the best ways we can show off the history of our area and help our children take more pride in who they are and where they come from,” he added.
McCollom said the OHRC’s website will have direct links to the Bryant Creek Watershed and Unlock the Ozarks Projects’ websites, as well as other web-based Ozarks-related resources. In addition, the center will have a variety of other materials available electronically, including scanned documents and digital recordings, such as Silvey’s Ozarks Oral Histories Project audiotapes.
Garnett Library a perfect location for OHRC
When officials began looking for a location for the OHRC, the Garnett Library was the obvious choice, Director of Library Services Rebekah McKinney said.
“Libraries are institutions that look at preserving the written and spoken word for future generations, and the librarian heralds this as a passionate cause. Historic preservation is important in the fact that it allows us to safeguard our heritage for generations to come and supports the social, educational and cultural well-being of our community,” she said.
“By creating the OHRC and hosting it in the Garnett Library, we are continuing the task we, as librarians, were given and the one we are most passionate about. We look at this as an opportunity not only to preserve our heritage, but also to draw in those who enjoy the Ozarks and all it stands for,” she added.
Even though the center has not been announced officially until now, McKinney said they already are receiving items to include. “It is already starting to draw donations of books and items that will be more widely used and visible to the community and those from outside the region. Culturally, our community is richer for having these tangible items for everyone to see,” she said.
Projected timeline for opening
As the center’s committee members continue to review items, renovations will soon begin on the library’s lower level. Although there is no firm timeline for completion of the renovations, they anticipate the center will open sometime in 2022. “When it is operational, visitors, researchers and the public will have access to most of the center’s holdings,” McCollom said.
“Our main goal at this early point is to finalize construction of the center and house materials collected to date,” he added. “In the future, in addition to operating a full-service regional archive, we will integrate the center into student instruction in a variety of disciplines on campus, host student and community tours, connect the center more intently with the annual Ozarks Studies Symposium, and continue to acquire primary sources that document the region.”
McKinney hopes area students, educators and community members take full advantage of the OHRC’s resources when it opens.
“I would like to see faculty create assignments requiring the use of these primary sources that will be part of this collection. In bringing classes to the center, not only from the university, but also surrounding schools, we will draw attention to the campus as the place to be to start one’s higher education career. Making this a place for scholars to come and conduct research in one centralized location will draw attention and tourism to the city of West Plains and surrounding community in a positive manner,” she said.
How to donate items
Area residents who have historical materials – written, visual or physical – they would like considered for the center’s holdings should contact the Garnett Library at 417-255-7945 for more information.
“If a community member’s materials are accepted, they will need to complete a deed of gift form and/or a gift in kind form, both of which will be found in the forthcoming OHRC website or, in the meantime, from Garnett Library staff,” McCollom said.
McCollom stressed the OHRC wouldn’t be possible without the support of many at the university and in the community.
“The Ozarks Heritage Resource Center advisory committee members are excited to see this endeavor come to fruition after many years of planning. We want to thank everyone involved and extend our appreciation to the Missouri State University-West Plains and West Plains communities for their support,” he said.