Tennessee State Library and Archives painstakingly saves old state Supreme Court records
Wearing a heavy apron and armed with scissors, a brush, a sponge, pliers and a magnifying glass, Todd Wallwork huddles over a table in the basement of the Tennessee State Library and Archives and tends to a seemingly endless flow of Tennessee court records dating back more than two centuries.
Delicate work with fragile, largely handwritten documents isn’t what Wallwork had in mind when he accepted a position as a digital materials librarian, but such is the importance of the library and archives’ efforts to preserve 10,000 boxes of Supreme Court cases from the state’s birth to the 1950s. Wallwork is one of about 20 employees who devote four hours a week to the project.
“I don’t know too many people in the building who don’t do it,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to come down here and deal with paper.”
The boxes take up an entire half of the eighth floor of the library and archives building on Seventh Avenue North in downtown Nashville and constitute what Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore called “the largest body of official state records we have.”
Moore said he doesn’t know of any other state that has “grappled with the entire body of its Supreme Court” cases as Tennessee is now doing.
The case files were largely neglected in the attic of the Capitol building across the street for years, where they accumulated coal dust during the latter half of the 19th century because most Nashville buildings were heated by coal. The records are in dire need of inventorying and preservation.