Author Archives: Jonathan Jeffrey

Gordon Wilson’s Love of Birds

Dr. Wilson's field glasses and some of his bird checklists.

Dr. Wilson’s field glasses and some of his bird checklists.

“Tiny Treasures,” curated by Special Collections Cataloger, Joseph Shankweiler, contains several pieces related to Dr. Gordon Wilson, former professor and head of WKU’s English Department as well as avid bird watcher.  The exhibition features miniature books from the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC), and one case highlights several bird identification guide books.  To enhance the case, the curator chose a pair of field glasses (loaned by the Kentucky Museum) that Gordon Wilson used on his well-known bird watching expeditions.  Also included in the case are several bird checklist cards, produced by the Kentucky Ornithological Society, on which birders could mark the specific birds they spotted on individual treks.  These two small cards, from a collection of close to 1000 similar cards in Dr. Wilson’s papers, document a trip taken in 1964 to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Alexander Gordon Wilson was born on 14 October 1888 in New Concord (Calloway County), Kentucky. He attended local public schools and Clinton College and afterwards taught in the rural schools of Hickman County.  He entered the Western Kentucky State Normal School, now Western Kentucky University (WKU), Bowling Green, Kentucky, in January 1908 and received a life teaching certificate in 1913.  He then matriculated at Indiana University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1915, a master’s degree in 1924 and a Ph.D. in 1930.  The two later degrees he earned while teaching at WKU. Wilson became an English instructor in 1915; he was formally appointed department head in 1928 and held that position until his retirement in 1959.  Besides teaching the classics, Wilson was nationally recognized as a folklore expert.  A finding aid to Dr. Wilson’s collection can be found by clicking here.

A typical bird checklist from the Wilson Papers.

A typical bird checklist from the Wilson Papers.

Wilson was an accomplished amateur ornithologist. He began observing birds around 1909 and recording information about his nature walks and sightings while he was at Indiana University. Upon returning to Bowling Green, he became more serious about the avocation and published his first major article on birds in The Auk (1921).  His fieldwork concentrated on south central Kentucky and he published several articles and pamphlets about the area’s birds.  Wanting to share his information with fellow enthusiasts, Wilson helped found the Kentucky Ornithological Society in 1923 and edited its publication, The Kentucky Warbler, for a number of years. In recent years, DLSC, in cooperation with the Kentucky Ornithological Society, has digitized copies of The Kentucky Warbler. They can be accessed by clicking here.

“Tiny Treasures” will be on exhibit through December 8, 2016, in the Kentucky Building’s Jackson Gallery.

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Vertrees Diary Featured in National Publication

Photo of Vertrees

Peter Vertrees (1840-1926)

Quotes from Peter Vertrees’ typescripted autobiography, housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of Library Special Collections, were recently included in an article titled ‘”I Stayed at My Post Until the End’:  Peter Vertrees:  Black Confederate and Celebrated Church and Community Leader,” in the UDC Magazine.  Published by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the magazine is distributed to the organization’s 18,000+ members.  The article by Elaine Clonts Russell relies heavily on the autobiography, but is supplemented by other research.  During the Civil War Vertrees served as a cook in the 6th Kentucky Regiment.  “I never was a soldier on the firing line,” said Vertrees, “but these scenes brought the real activities of war to my view and made me realize what the real combat was.  I suffered the same deprivations of warfare that the soldiers felt.  Sometimes I was hungry, sometimes cold, sometimes drenched with rain, sometimes tired and footsore from walking, but I stayed at my post until the end.”

After the war Vertrees became a minister and was involved in civic affairs.  A Tennessee state historical marker recognizes his contributions and can be found on South Water Street (Highway 109) in Gallatin, Tennessee.  The finding aid to the Vertrees Collection can be found by clicking here.  To search for other collections about the Civil War or African Americans see TopSCHOLAR.

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Hopper Receives First Mills Scholarship

Jessica Hopper

Jessica Hopper

My name is Jessica Hopper and my major is History with a minor in Library Media Education. During the spring 2016 semester I began an internship at WKU’s Library Special Collections. My internship has given me new insights into how different departments within the library operate and what I might expect in my future library career.  I would absolutely recommend a similar internship to any WKU student; it has given me plenty of hands-on experience that I can use in future classes and employment. Not only does a student get to work in an environment similar to a potential library position, they are also acquiring skills essential for future employment such as use of the collections management software Past Perfect. In addition to gaining work experience, I received a $500 scholarship which is named for long-time Special Collections professor Connie Mills.

During my internship I worked in Library Special Collections’ three units: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, WKU Archives, and Kentucky Library Research Collections (KLRC). While in Manuscripts I worked on a collection of World War II letters that were written by a sergeant stationed at Fort Knox to his beloved fiancé and future wife. I read each letter and jotted down important information that the letter contained in order to describe the collection in Past Perfect. In the WKU Archives I worked on a collection that contained documents that were still unorganized. I arranged, foldered, and boxed the material by date for permanent storage. The last department that I worked in was the KLRC, in which I focused on newspapers. I organized boxes of newspapers published in the Bowling Green area in order to provide better access for the library’s staff and patrons.  I created a spreadsheet listing the titles and dates, which can eventually be used to complete the processing of that collection.

While working in the different units, I learned how each type of document is preserved. Most of the smaller documents are kept in acid-free folders to prevent further damage. Once a collection has multiple folders it is then placed in boxes that will keep the collection together. Bigger items, such as posters, are kept in mapcases so that they can be laid flat in order to keep their shape and prevent creases and tears. Newspapers are also kept flat and in oversized boxes for the same reasons. I was not aware of these preservation techniques prior to my internship. I value the information I have learned as it will be a very important when seeking future employment.  As far as future classes, my internship has increased my skills in researching and utilizing primary source material.

Connie Mills

Connie Mills

The Connie Mills Special Collections Internship allows an undergraduate student to have a working, hands-on experience in the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC) at Western Kentucky University. Emphasis is placed on processing projects within the department. Interns are given an orientation to all three departmental units. The fund honors Constance Ann Mills (1944-2013), who spent twenty-five years employed in WKU’s Library Special Collections. Information about the internship can be provided to students by contacting Jonathan Jeffrey, the Department Head for Special Collections at 270-745-5265 or


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Garvin Exhibit Opened in Jackson Gallery

David Garvin

The Department of Library Special Collections recently opened an exhibit celebrating Bowling Green businessman and “Renaissance man” David Garvin.  The commemorative exhibition will remain up through June 1, 2016 and is located in the Harry L. Jackson Gallery on the Kentucky Building’s second floor.  The exhibit features photographs, artifacts, and manuscript material related to several important aspects of Garvin’s life:  his family, his community involvement, his interest in historic preservation, Camping World, Beech Bend, and his beloved Ironwood Farm.  Items on display include a large gaming wheel from Beech Bend Park, a portrait of Garvin, trophies won by Ironwood horses, catalogs from Camping World, a painting of the Old Richardsville Road Bridge which he restored, along with dozens of Beech Bend souvenirs and postcards.

David Berry Garvin was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on 22 February 1943, the second child and only son of Charles Cromwell & Martha (Berry) Garvin.  He attended the Western Training School and graduated from College High in 1961.  He attended Vanderbilt University and graduated from Western Kentucky University; he furthered his education by taking classes at Harvard Business School.  He was a member of Bowling Green’s First Presbyterian Church and the E.Q.B. Literary Club.

Friends and family gather in the Harry L. Jackson Gallery to commemorate the life of David Garvin.

Friends and family gather in the Harry L. Jackson Gallery to commemorate the life of David Garvin.

In the early- 1940s, David’s father, Charles T. “Charlie” Garvin purchased Beech Bend Park, which adjoined the family farm.  That began a long career in family recreation for both Charlie and David.  Beech Bend Park eventually grew to become a nationally known amusement park and raceway and one of Kentucky’s largest tourist destinations.  David was instrumental in helping develop the International Race Track at Beech Bend.

David worked at Beech Bend from the time he was 12 years old.  In his early 20’s, while still working at the park, David founded Camping World (1966), a company which serviced the growing number of people who owned or rented recreational vehicles.  Headquartered in Bowling Green, Camping World grew into an important mail order business and eventually opened 100 retail stores nationwide and employed 5,000 employees.  David eventually sold most of his interest in Camping World to dedicate more of time to the development of a thoroughbred horse operation at his Ironwood Farm.

Besides his business interests, Garvin maintained an avid interest in historic preservation.  He purchased and restored Ironwood, the historic home of Joseph Rogers Underwood on the Barren River near Beech Bend Park.  He also restored the Old Richardsville Road Bridge and the College Street Bridge and supervised the development of an adjacent river park.  Challenging CSX Railroad, Garvin almost singlehandedly persuaded the railroad behemoth to strip the old silver paint off the Barren River railroad bridge and allow the metal to oxidize therefore making it more attractive at this busy entrance to the city.  Garvin and his son David renovated the rear of the old Bowling Green Armory into an attractive apartment building.

Besides his development and management of Camping World, David also undertook several land development projects in the Bowling Green area, including the building of Sugar Maple Square, a retail shopping center, on Highway 185, northwest of Bowling Green.  He was also heavily involved in conceptualizing land use for a commercial recreational vehicle haven in Franklin, Kentucky–Garvin’s–that was to include several national chain stores, a recreational vehicle museum, amusement rides, and an area for camping.

Garvin married Charlotte Mann in 1969.  They had four children: Katherine, Kimberley, David, and Arthur.  Garvin died on 30 August 2014 at the age of 71.


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Your Discovery!

WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC) recently added a discovery sharing page to its website that allows patrons to share items that they found in Special Collections and how the material aided their research.  Our first respondent was Michelle Dilliha, a local CPA and owner of Front Porch Rentals.  Dilliha has been responsible for adapting historic properties into multi-family living arrangements.  Most of these properties have been in the College Heights Historic District.  Before purchasing another property in which her company was interested, Dilliha came to Special Collections to see if the house’s original drawings existed.


DLSC owns over 1500 sets of architectural drawings, chiefly from Bowling Green.  Although a number of architects are represented, the majority of them come from James Maurice Ingram (1905-1976), Frank D. Cain (1922-1994), Joseph P. Wilk (1926-1994), and Bill Finley (b. 1939).  By providing some details about the property including the address of an early resident–which Michelle gleaned from city directories–the DLSC staff was able to locate the drawings by James Maurice Ingram.  The original drawings provided information about the structure that was helpful in evaluating how the house had evolved over the years and the best way to handle several unusual details during renovation.

Dilliha was happy to find the drawings and was equally impressed with DLSC’s staff who were “extremely helpful” and “went above and beyond” expectations.  A basic database for searching the architectural drawings is available in-house; approximately 25% of the drawings have been cataloged in DLSC’s catalog KenCat.

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Tearing Up the Roads

Minute obstacles can cause huge delays when moving armies.  If anyone doubts this, they need only see how a small accident or distraction can stymy traffic on a major interstate.  During wars, strategic transportation routes are often heavily reconnitored or destroyed in order to impede an army’s progress.  In Kentucky roads and railroads were of major importance for moving troops and supplies during the Civil War, particularly in the interior.  Steamboats were more significant on the Commonwealth’s perimeters.

A Civil War era illustration from Frank Leslie's.

A Civil War era illustration from Frank Leslie’s.

In a letter recently donated to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of the Department of Library Special Collections, Confederate J.J. Williams writes to his wife Emeline about how the southern army had played menace with the Louisville and Nashville railroad, which had only recently been completed through Bowling Green.  To disable the railroad, Williams wrote, “our men had torn up the rail road some 5 or 6 miles and Blowed up the tunnel and burnt the ties[,] beat the rails to pieces with a Sledg[e].”  They wreaked further havoc by blockading the Louisville and Nashville road “by cutting the trees a cross it for a bout 3 miles and Some other Place they have plowed up the road so they can not haul a thing a long it.” To see the finding aid for this small collection and a typescript of the letter, click here.

To search finding aids for hundreds of other Civil War letters in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit, click here.

The salutation of J.J. Williams' letter to his wife, 13 January 1862.

The salutation of J.J. Williams’ letter to his wife, 13 January 1862.

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Hire Intern Scholarship, A First in Special Collections

HirschMy name is Sidney Hirsch and I am proud to be the first Dr. Delroy and Patricia Hire Intern in the Department of Library Special Collections this fall.  I am a senior at WKU with a double major in history and sociology with a minor in art history.  I have a strong passion for learning and researching history, specifically the history of the United States, and the people who built our nation.  I grew up on a farm in a rural community, so I enjoy learning about the early farmers and settlers of south central Kentucky presented in the Petersen collection, which I have been working with this semester.  I have also been working on a project concerning Joe Downing, an internationally known artist and native of Monroe County, Kentucky.  His abstract works of brilliant colors have hung in galleries from Kentucky all the way to Paris, France, and this collection has been particularly interesting due to my attraction to art history.

The research presented by Dr. Albert J. Petersen Jr., provides a range of slides and notes recording vernacular architecture of south central Kentucky that he hoped would become part of the National Register of Historic Places,

Photo of a single pen log cabin in Allen County from the Petersen Collection.

Photo of a single pen log cabin in Allen County from the Petersen Collection.

specifically Allen and Monroe counties.  Allen County was formed in 1815 from land which was previously part of Warren and Barren counties.  The architecture represented in the collection reflects the style of each county’s earliest settlers and their use of the abundant timber and local resources.  The research conducted by Petersen and his students sited that 48 of the 283 buildings recorded were single pen log cabins, characterized by one room and an exterior brick chimney.  Pictured is an example of this style recorded as the John Cole home.

Brick House

Photo of the Brick House in Monroe County found in the Petersen Collection.

Monroe County, founded five years after Allen County in 1820, was also a subject of research for Petersen and his geography students.  This area’s abundant supply of natural resources, both above and underground, brought the county’s population to nearly 5,000 at its establishment.  One of the homes photographed during the study of the county was a home with an interesting history known simply as the “Old Brick Home.”  The two-story house is thought to be the earliest brick home in the area having been built around 1806.  Its builder, William Howard, lived in and ran his relatively large farm of several hundred acres from this home.  Howard is also significant in the county’s history because he freed his slaves who would eventually go on to found the African American community of Freetown.

Dr. Delroy Hire was born and raised in Monroe County, the son of Osby Lee Hire and Lillian K. Garrison Hire.  He graduated from Tompkinsville High School in 1959.  Dr. Hire is a 1962 WKU graduate and a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He is board certified in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology.  After furthering his education, Dr. Hire enlisted in the Navy and served for more than 20 years.  He retired as the Deputy Armed Forces Medical Examiner based out of Washington, D.C., and now lives in Pensacola, Florida.  “In the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC) we have unique collections that allow students to literally touch history,” said Jonathan Jeffrey, DLSC department head.  “Dr. Hire is providing a scholarship for a student intern interested in the histories of Macon County, Tennessee, and Monroe County and Allen County, Kentucky.  It is more than a magnanimous gesture, it is an investment both in our collections and future curators of similar collections.  Sidney Hirsch is a fine example of Dr. Hire’s investment.  This is the first intern scholarship ever offered in our department.  We are thrilled to offer this opportunity to WKU students.”


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by | October 30, 2015 · 8:15 pm

Reconstruction-Era Broadside Outlines Democratic Party Woes

The Kentucky Library Research Collections in the Department of Library Special Collections recently acquired a rare broadside related to civil rights in Kentucky after the Civil War which includes a blistering attack on Democrats who were supportive of Reconstruction and universal male suffrage. The broadside was addressed to voters in Henderson County, but it discussed political wrangling within Kentucky’s Democratic Party.

FullSizeRenderThe broadside begins with a diatribe against the “Radical party led by the dominant majority in Congress on the one side and the friends of Constitutional government on the other—This Radical party is led by those men in the North, who for many years have been notorious sectional agitators, enemies of the Union and the Constitution, and who ceased to proclaim their hostility to them both, only when the war offered them the means of gratifying their malignity, and effecting their sectional and selfish ends.”

After providing a list of 5 grievances that the state party had with national leaders, the broadside writer turns his attention to recent events within Kentucky’s Democratic Party.  Chief among them was two conventions called to elect a state party leader.  Both meetings were held in Louisville; one in May and the other in June.  The more conservative faction of the party elected Alvin Duvall as party chairman, and the liberal leaning members elected General Edward H. Hobson.  Interestingly, the writer never refers to Hobson by his full name, only as General Hobson.  He had no kind words for the General, saying “Hobson is supported by every radical newspaper in the State, and every one, which has delighted to stigmatize Northern Democrats as copperheads and traitors.  And his election is advocated and desired and will be hailed as a cheering omen by every radical man and newspaper in the North, who has spoken or who will speak of it.”

The writer surmised that if Duvall was elected as the true leader of the Kentucky’s Democratic Party, “the friends of the Constitution will accept it as a cheering omen of approaching triumph, as the breaking light of a glorious morn, and after a long and dreary, and almost hopeless night, and encouraged by the omen, will follow Kentucky’s lead as in 1798, to a universal national triumph, and the restoration of our ancient liberties.”

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WKU Acquires Rare Robert Penn Warren Item

A young Robert Penn Warren.  Courtesy of Dept. of Library Special Collections, WKU.

A young Robert Penn Warren. Courtesy of Dept. of Library Special Collections, WKU.

The Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies and the Department of Library Special Collections at Western Kentucky University (WKU) are pleased to announce the acquisition of Driftwood Flames, the first poetry anthology containing Robert Penn Warren’s poems.  The Poetry Guild of Nashville published the limited edition compilation in 1923.  The anthology, dedicated to influential Vanderbilt English professor John Crowe Ransom, includes five poems by Warren:  “The Fierce Horsemen,” “Wild Oats,” “Iron Beach,” “To Certain Old Masters,” and “The Golden Hills of Hell.”  Later in life, RPW had  no kind words to proffer about his early efforts.  In a poem, “Red Tail Hawk and Pyre of Youth,” Warren described himself as burning “a book/Of poems friends and I had printed in college.”

Published when Warren was a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, Driftwood also includes poems by fellow poet Andrew Lytle, who along with Warren was a member of the Fugitives, a literary group composed of Nashville residents who shared an interest in poetry.  Although some of the other poets included in Driftwood do not have easily recognized names, many of them enjoyed distinguished academic careers:  John Paul Abbott taught English at Texas A&M University, Warren Taylor was a professor at Oberlin College and published several books including an important textbook Poetry in English, and Richard S. West, Jr. taught humanities at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Driftwood Flames is important because of its association with the Fugitives and because it is Warren’s first published verse in an anthology.  The volume is rare, because it was produced in a limited edition of only 325 copies and because it is soft bound.  Soft bound books cannot generally endure the same wear and tear that a hardback volume receives.  These factors, combined with the age of the piece, make it difficult to find.  “We consider WKU’s Warren collection to be one of the finest in the country, and anyone conducting serious Warren research should include WKU in their itinerary,” said Center co-director and Robert Penn Warren Library curator Jonathan Jeffrey.  “We are thrilled to add Driftwood Flames to the collection. It was one of only a handful of Warren items the collection lacked.”

Founded in 1987, the Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies at Western Kentucky University honors the legacy and achievements of native Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, the first poet laureate of the United States and the only person who has received Pulitzer Prizes for both poetry and fiction. The Center is proud to celebrate Warren’s life and work by increasing awareness of Warren’s achievements, curating an extensive collection of Warren-related memorabilia, artifacts, and documents, and, in collaboration with the Robert Penn Warren Circle, supporting an annual symposium on Warren every April.


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Ladies Literary Soiree of 1914

One of the programs handed to guests attending the meeting.

One of the programs handed to guests attending the meeting.

Manuscripts & Folklife Archives staff recently processed the records of the Current Events Club, a ladies literary club in Bowling Green founded in 1902. For their motto they chose lines from English poet Edward Young (1683-1765):  “Thoughts shut up want air, and spoil like bales unopened to the sun.” Tucked within the club’s records, processors found several beautiful programs printed on textured rice paper documenting an evening of Japanese music and dance. Each program featured its own unique cover illustration; the interiors announced the program and listed the members of the Currents Events Club. Fortunately an old newspaper clipping was included that explains the significance of these unique paper items. The newspaper title and date are not recorded on the clipping.

Under the title “The Current Events Club’s Entertainment,” the article reads: What was said to be the prettiest and most unique social event of the season was the Japanese entertainment given on Friday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock in Neale’s Hall (also known as the Davenport Building, which was at the corner of State Street and 10th Avenue. It was razed in the mid-1990s.) by the members of the Current Events Club for the six literary clubs of the city. This was in keeping with the annual custom for one club to entertain the other clubs every year. Each guest was presented at the door with a Japanese program with “Current Events Club, 1914” on the face of the program. The interior contained the list of the members, the second page contained the program which consisted of selections from the Japanese musical sketch given at New Vanmeter Hall (the current Van Meter Hall which was completed and opened in 1911; the old Vanmeter was located in the old Southern Normal School Building which located where Bowling Green Towers is today.) on Friday evening by Mr. and Mrs. Michitaro Ongawa.”

“The hall was artistically decorated in the club colors, green and yellow. The chandeliers were wrapped with yellow crepe papers with festoon of twisted yellow crepe paper draped from the large chandeliers to the small ones. In the hall were tables decorated with jonquils, each table having a large bouquet of jonquils.”

Promotional brochure about the artists performing at the meeting.

Promotional brochure about the artists performing at the meeting.

“One end of the hall where Mrs. Ongawa, of Japan, rendered her program, was in Japanese decorations, consisting of cherry blossoms, fans, parasols and screens. She was attired in a handsome Japanese costume, and the program was rendered very entertainingly.”

“The ices which were served were beautiful, consisting of individual ices shaped with Japanese figures holding fans and parasols. At each plate was a Japanese souvenir. In the receiving line were the officers of the club and Mrs. R.H. Lacey of Franklin, president of the Kentucky Federation of Woman’s Clubs.”

“The members of the Current Events Club were highly praised by the various clubs, on the preparation of the delightful entertainment.”

To see the finding aid for the club’s records click here.  To view finding aids for other literary clubs in Bowling Green, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat, the catalog for the Department of Library Special Collections.

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