Walking Through 141 Years of McPherson History
McPherson Sentinel, June 7, 2013
There are many distinguishing features about McPherson, but the one of which I am most proud is the collective appreciation by the community of our history. Whether the subject is parades or sporting excellence, industrial development or public utilities, there is a general awareness amongst McPhersonites that none of this happened overnight. It happened, in fact, over the span of 141 years.
As the institution responsible for collecting and preserving the written and visual record of that one and one half century history of our city, the McPherson Public Library is constantly making new resources available to the public, either in the library or digitized and online via our website.
The crown jewel of our local history resources is The Linn Peterson Collection. The massive archive collected by this local historian and community leader and donated to the library by the Peterson family consists of newspaper clippings, photographs, diaries, books, maps, manuscripts, and a variety of other documents. And it is being made accessible to researchers as it is processed.
After over two years of creating subject headings, preserving documents in acid free formats and folders, filing, scanning, and evaluating, it is safe to say that some 95 percent of the City File Group of the Peterson collection has been completed.
There are more untold stories in those files than I can name, as well as enough primary source documents to support a great many books and theses. But the richness of the collection is in the details. Linn had that historian’s instinct for recognizing and committing to paper those facts and stories that he knew were fleeting at best and might never be captured again.
Another facet of the collection which resonates with me is the people and personalities that make our history come alive. Through diaries, manuscripts, and interviews, the words of those who made our history echo clearly through time.
This is an ongoing project involving many members of the library staff. And as I cast a backward glance at processing the city files, I can’t help but feel that we have been occasional witnesses to that 141 years of McPherson history. I’ve touched every clipping and document, examined every photograph, and generally seen it all, piece by piece. How can I summarize it all in a few sentences?
It’s easy to imagine McPherson’s past as golden, but it was not. As with any community, there are chapters in the McPherson story that are troubling and not likely to be found in promotional brochures.
But things turned out alright in the end. We began as a dusty, treeless plot of land known as McPherson Flats, and with vision, determination, hard work, and a lot of luck, McPhersonites (including more than a few eccentric characters) created the city that we know as home.
Now it is time to begin processing Linn’s county files. A new adventure awaits!