Storage of county records has been a growing concern for virtually every department in county government, and the majestic county courthouse, though picturesque and historic, was never designed to house the mounds of public records amassed through decades of transacting daily count business.
Last year, Probate and Juvenile Judge L. Scott Powell agreed to work with county commissioners in investigating a possible solution to the shortage of space in the 19th-century courthouse. An architect visited the courthouse and examined possible locations for an expansion, but the county has been unable to come up with the money necessary for any architectural work.
Clerk of Courts Diane Lynch and a staff of three deputies work in two rooms. One wall is lined with little numbered cardboard boxes, filled with court records from the mid-19th century. Lynch’s vault holds the spillover from that type of records storage system.
A room which was once part of the courthouse corridor houses Lynch’s desk and several moving filing cabinets filled with more old cases. Standard filing cabinets hold the most current court files.
Other records, dating from the early 20th century through the 1940’s, are now stored in the old title office on the second floor, a ground-floor room on Second Street, and part of the third floor of Anderson’s Furniture. Some of her records are bound for the old Veterans Memorial Hospital building, where other county records are now being stored.
Lynch said she is concerned with theft, since the abandoned hospital has been illegally entered on a number of occassions, and about the safety of the records in light of the hospital’s deteriorating condition. She said she has insisted the storage room her records are placed in be securely locked.
Recorder Kay Hill is more fortunate. Her official records are all contained in her office. However, she has stopped keeping a paper record of newly-recorded documents, because there is no more space in which to keep them. The deeds and other land documents in Hill’s charge date back to the 1820’s.
Deeds, mortgages and other recorder’s records are scanned into a computer and printed upon request. The indexing is also done on the computer, eliminating almost all new paper documents.
Powell himself has moved some of his records out of the courthouse, and into space at the Meigs County Museum. Powell said his decision to do so not only allows more convenient access to the public than storing the records in another location, but it also protects the records.
Powell said those old records are used primarily by geneaology researchers. Some records were damaged, and others were stolen while in the courthouse space, because court staff was unable to properly monitor them.
Allowing the public open and unsupervised access to those records in Powell’s office placed confidential information at risk sometimes, he said.
Several years ago, before Powell took office, rats damaged boxes of court records while stored in the rear of the courthouse.
Powell has said a courthouse addition would not only provide for more safe and secure records storage, but would also help the three courts in the building comply with added security measures now in place. The open space between the courthouse’s side entrance, now closed to entering public, and the sheriff’s office is one place where officials have proposed a possible addition.