Kentuckians help preserve Eastern Kentucky archives after historic flooding


People gather outside of Appalshop to remove archival materials on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Photo provided by Carol Street.

Amber Chaney, Reporter

Historic flooding in late July and early August devastated many families and people across Eastern Kentucky. People from all around the commonwealth have done their part to help recover lost items and archives.

Carol Street and Kopana Terry of UK’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) =’are two faculty members from the University of Kentucky who helped preserve historic archives and buildings in Eastern Kentucky after the flooding, such as at Appalshop and the Hindman Settlement School.

Street and Terry both said that the effects of the floods took an emotional toll on everyone in the group that went to help in mid-August.

“It would be very disheartening for anyone who has never experienced this level of destruction, and even though (Eastern Kentucky) is prone to flooding, even the most seasoned survivors weren’t prepared for this,” Terry said.

The process to save the archives was tedious and required drastic measures to prevent damage and preserve the quality of the fragile material, Street said.

“We essentially formed a human chain that moved the water-logged materials in plastic tubs from the archives door to freezer trucks,” Street said. “Some people were wearing protective suiting and respirators inside the archives, evaluating the situation and making choices on order of removal; some cleaned the tubs as they went back into the archives.”

There were at least 50 archivists, records managers and conservators from around the state who came to help, according to Street.

“There are hundreds of people who have no basic living necessities like shelter. Families living in tents with winter coming,” Terry said. “Elderly people living in outbuildings just big enough for a pallet to lay on.”

Appalshop’s website says its mission is to “document, disseminate and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia,” as well as “tell stories the commercial cultural industries don’t tell, challenging stereotypes with Appalachian voices and visions.”

This is done by promoting the preservation and development of film and music within the region. During the cleanup, the SCRC collected and preserved materials about the social and cultural history of Kentucky.

Though the Hindman Settlement School, located in Hindman, Kentucky, also suffered property damage in the floods, its staff and volunteers had to prioritize helping the community. The school focuses on furthering education and culture within the Appalachian region, providing community engagement opportunities.

While Hindman School staff were working to support the school’s surrounding community, the SCRC was working to recover academic documents and records. Hindman Settlement School stopped distributing community aid on Sept. 10, and it, along with other Knott County Schools, officially reopened on Sept. 19.

“Buildings can be repaired, but more importantly, our attention now turns to helping our friends, neighbors and community by providing meals, shelter, and basic necessities,” Executive Director Will Anderson said on the school’s website. “We have received calls and messages from so many looking for ways to help.”

School officials posted an Amazon wish list and a donation link on their website, as well as providing in-person food and shelter.

“The basics of life, those that I have taken for granted, such as a hot meal, running water, bathroom facilities, and a safe, dry place to sleep each night … are all things that are difficult to find in Eastern Kentucky at the moment,” Anderson said on the school’s website. “Hindman Settlement School is open and welcoming to anyone who has a need.”