Columbus State reveals the Ledger-Enquirer photography collection spanning a century of the region’s history
November 27, 2023
If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then the recently acquired Ledger-Enquirer historic photography collection — comprised of more than 100,000 photos spanning a century of the Chattahoochee Valley’s history — is priceless. The collection, made possible through charitable donations from a variety of resources, is now owned and curated by Columbus State University’s Archives & Special Collections.
The Archives & Special Collections unveiled the collection at a preview event on Thursday, Nov. 9, after spending a year and a half digitizing and cataloging the images into a searchable, publicly available database. The collection is already proving to be of interest to amateur and academic historians alike interested in researching the region’s history.
According to David Owings, head of Archives and Special Collections, “This enormous part of our area’s past had been lost to the community for decades. Once word began to spread that we had finally discovered this long-lost collection, there was an immediate groundswell of interest from across the community.”
Owings explained that the massive collection ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, after the Ledger-Enquirer sold it to a private collector in the early 2000s. Owings first connected with the collection’s owner in March 2020. Within just a few short months, he had rallied overwhelming philanthropic support from community donors and the Mildred Miller Fort Foundation. This included the Archives' first-ever crowdfunding campaign that generated nearly $90,000 in donations from local donors.
The collection arrived at Columbus State just over a year later. According to Owings, “the speed at which this project was accomplished is a huge testament to the community support we are so grateful to rely on.”
One of those community supporters is Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., a prominent local historian and author of Columbus in Vintage Postcards and Fort Benning: Images of America.
"A community's newspaper and its photographs are a vital research source for local history, so it was a no-brainer to support the efforts of the CSU Archives to purchase these great photographs and bring them back home for research and preservation,” Thomas said. “The detailed information on the back of the photos is as important as the images themselves — allowing us to place them accurately into time and place. I am glad to have supported this effort.”
Another prominent local historian excited about the return of this historic collection is Columbus State professor emerita Dr. Virginia Causey, author of the expansive history of Columbus entitled Red Clay, White Water, and Blues.
"The Ledger-Enquirer's historic photography collection, which was almost lost to our community, provides an irreplaceable, indelible record of the lives of Columbus citizens," Causey explained. "It’s possible within this collection to document and illustrate individual and family histories; the local civil rights movement; our architectural heritage; political campaigns; economic growth and development; social clubs and civic organizations; and much, much more.”
The collection specifically includes images captured by the Ledger-Enquirer staff photographers from the early 1900s to early 2000s documenting businesses, events, street scenes and people’s daily life in and around Columbus. The Columbus-based newspaper, currently part of The McClatchy Company network of 29 newspapers in 14 states, was founded in 1828 as the Columbus Enquirer. As a result of its extensive coverage of the region, the collection represents a significant part of the region’s past that will enrich the study and understanding of Columbus and its history in innumerable ways.
In the year and a half since acquiring the photographs, the Archives has worked on processing the collection. They were able to recruit a photograph specialist, Jessica Rayman, to spearhead the project. Her work over the past year specifically included supervising a group of five student assistants as the team collectively gained intellectual control over the collection and surveyed it to determine the best ways to organize and preserve it.
Their work also included assigning metadata in a centralized database — which will be vital to those tapping into the collection in the future for their own historical research. This metadata encompasses numerous elements that ultimately make these photographs discoverable and accessible. This includes titles, subjects, dates, keywords, assigning unique identifiers, and much more. There are currently over 7,500 distinct rows of data recorded in this growing database, which increases the promise for making the collection easily searchable and available to the historical community.
While searching this database will be the primary way researchers access these photographs, anyone interested may also browse the physical collection itself, which is arranged via subject and filed alphabetically in a total of 225 boxes. While the collection is only available in person currently, the Archives plans to upload digital images online for people to access remotely.
ABOUT THE ARCHIVES & SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Established in 1975, the Archives & Special Collections — a unit of the Columbus State University Libraries and located on the ground floor of the Simon Schwob Memorial Library — has served as a repository for materials documenting the history of the university, the city of Columbus and the broader Chattahoochee Valley region. Its collections span 5,000-plus cubic feet of material in more than 500 distinct collections, which include personal and family papers, business records, photographs, art, maps, blueprints, and much more. Among its most significant and noteworthy collections and artifacts are the papers of Col. Richard R. Hallock, the J. Kyle Spencer Map Collection, the Ledger-Enquirer's historical photograph archive, and records from the area’s textile industry, including the Bibb Manufacturing Company and Eagle & Phenix Mills.
Michael Tullier, APR, Executive Director of Strategic Communication + Marketing, 706.507.8729, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notable news coverage:
CSU brings back to Columbus treasure trove of historic photos from the Chattahoochee Valley (Nov. 30, 2023, Ledger-Enquirer)
CSU brings historic newspaper photo archives back home (Nov. 9, 2023, WRBL-TV)