There's a hidden treasure in Lebanon. It's hidden in plain sight, and while it's not a secret, it's also not well known. It's the Wilson County Archives, a vast repository of records, photos and miscellany.
The custodian is Linda Granstaff, who has been director of the archives for 21 years and has painstakingly built up the collection.
"A lot of people don't know what we have here," Granstaff said. "That we have a working archives. A lot of counties don't have the money to finance an archive."
Here is just a sampling of what's in the building at 111 S. College St. in Lebanon: mortgage deeds 1829-1931, school records 1928-1971, mineral, oil and gas leases 1902-1980, Circuit Court minute books 1810-1982, Circuit Court case files, probate deeds 1843-1947, records of elections 1884-1928, birth records 1881-1886 and 1907-1912, death records 1907-1912 and 1925-1939, will books and original wills 1802-1964 and marriages, including licenses and bonds 1802-1953.
Granstaff joined the archives just three years after it was established. A history buff herself, and a member of the one of the first families of Tennessee, she had done volunteer research at the local library and courthouse for years. She took classes from the state on archival management and at Cumberland University on records management.
"I've always loved history," she said. "Both mine and my husband's families came here in the late 1700s. Gannons and Granstaffs were early settlers."
The archives got a huge boost in 2006 when a $416,000 from the late William Gwynne Baird provided the funds to remodel the building and create a temperature and humidity controlled vault to house many of the records. Today, a small room is dedicated to Baird and his family, and includes photos and other items.
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Today, the archives operate on an annual budget of about $180,000. Granstaff has one part-time employee, and a group of five volunteers who come in weekly to help archive and index material. The budget allows for the purchase of a modest amount of new material each year, and the archives also receives donations from the public -- both of material and money.
"All of the county mayors have been supportive," Granstaff said.
The archives are used by genealogical researchers, historians, schoolchildren, university students and county staff. Granstaff has even taken dozens of oral histories, which are preserved on video that she is now transferring to CDs.
A $1,500 state Archives Development Grant was recently announced by state Sen. Mark Pody and state Reps. Susan Lynn and Clark Boyd.
"This is good news for our Wilson County Archives," Pody said in the announcement. "Many area citizens utilize the archives to research their heritage and look at the historical identity of our communities. The next generations won't know the history of the county unless we preserve it."
On a recent day Bobby Dutton was deep into research in the archives. Dutton is a member of the Auburntown Historical Society and was researching the ownership of the land the original Auburntown Baptist Church was on. Auburntown is in Cannon County, but used to be part of Wilson County.
"It's great," Dutton said of the archives. "We have an archive, but it's not as complete as this one and we don't have the personnel."
Granstaff will soon be publishing volumes two and three of "From the Wilson County Archives Collection of Images." The first volume, which is a 442-page coffee table book full of photographs and descriptions from Wilson County history, was published in 2015. Volumes two and three will be out in time for holiday gift-giving and proceeds help support the archives.
For more information, visit the archives from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, call 615-443-1993, or go to www.wilsoncountytn.gov/departments/archives.