A Lost Community Found in the Archives
The National Park Service preserves important American cultural sites, but did you know that it also preserves important archival collections as well?
The word “archives” conjures up an image of old historic artifacts. But the National Park Service’s archival collections are living resources that continue to reveal new stories and voices from our nation’s past.
At Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Louisiana, cultural resource specialist Dustin Fuqua discovered an entire “lost” community that was preserved in the park’s archives. Occupying more than 30 tenant quarters at Magnolia Plantation in the antebellum period through the 1960s, this community and the buildings they lived in have completely vanished today.
All that remains today are the records they left — store accounts, agribusiness invoices, and even receipts from the installation of electricity. Through painstaking research and cross-referencing Cane River Creole’s archives, Dustin creatively pieced together the Magnolia Plantation Tenant Quarters Community story.
The electrical contractor’s installation invoices provided the names and addresses of the community’s residents. By lining up this information against maps from the period and oral history accounts of friends and neighbors, Dustin determined who lived where. Now, we not only know where many of these structures once stood, but also a little about the people and personalities who lived in the Magnolia Plantation Tenant Quarters.
Dustin and his team are now planning to make finding aids for the processed collections available online – part of a larger NPS Web Catalog initiative to put all available finding aids online. For more information, visit the NPS Museum Management Program website.
For more information on Dustin’s Magnolia Plantation Tenant Quarters Community findings, you can view his presentation and read a transcript online: An Unlikely Paper Trail: Identifying the Sites and Inhabitants of the Magnolia Plantation Tenant Quarters Community.
Discover for yourself what artifacts and objects are in the National Park Service’s museum collections! Remember: every one, every place, and every thing has a story. So get out there and find them, and share what you learn with us with the hashtag #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque!
Laura Starr is a senior archivist at History Associates and worked on the Cane River Cane River Creole National Historical Park collection. History Associates is a leading historical services firm that is honored to have helped NPS process archival materials at more than 75 parks since 2001. Over the course of this partnership, we witnessed first-hand how Park Service collections illustrate our country’s rich cultural legacy and have shared in the joy that comes from discovering this uniquely American heritage.