Dedicated few share passion for county

Published 11:21am Tuesday, December 4, 2012

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

During my school days, history was the subject I could take or leave. I memorized the facts and could fill in the blanks, but I never felt much of a calling.

When I became a newspaper reporter two years ago, however, I felt the impact of history making. Many historical records are based on newspaper clippings from bygone eras, and I can feel the pressure of documentation when I write stories of significance.

Even more important than my own history making, however, is the work of a handful of dedicated historians in the county.

A group of local historians gathered at the Montevallo Chamber of Commerce meeting last week to talk about what is clearly a lifelong passion.

Representatives from Shelby Iron Works, the Aldrich Mining Museum, Shelby County Historical Society Museum and Archives and the Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington set up displays of all the historical sites have to offer.

Shelby County is also dotted with other notable historical locations, such as the City of Chelsea Historical Museum, Shelby Springs Confederate Cemetery, Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum and the Kenneth R. Penhale City of Helena Museum. The Alabama Firefighters Museum will soon join the list in Calera.

To be honest, what amazes me the most is the dedication of the sites’ directors and support staff. Most of those in charge of the sites lived and breathed the history they’re preserving for future generations.

Months ago, I had the opportunity to interview Henry Emfinger, founder of the Aldrich Mining Museum, who grew up in the mining town and, as a child, snapped photos with a Brownie box camera Santa Claus gave him for Christmas.

Ken Penhale, who founded a museum in Old Town Helena, also spent his childhood wheeling around on his bicycle after Helena’s mining heyday.

Bobby Joe Seales, director of Shelby County Historical Society Museum and Archives, has a family tree well-rooted in the county, with branches reaching to a number of historical figures.

Many of these men and women aren’t simply well educated on the history of the county, but lived out the days of the black-and-white photos recorded on the walls.

And so, while I’m documenting current events that will eventually be referred to by future historians and researchers on yellowed newspaper clippings, I applaud those who work tirelessly to preserve the heritage of this proud county.

For more information about Shelby County’s museum trail, visit Shelbycountymuseums.com.

Christine Boatwright is a staff writer for the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 16 or by email at christine.boatwright@shelbycountyreporter.com.

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