Heritage Room shares stories of Brunswick's past

·6 min read

Jul. 27—A well-structured archive will talk, and listeners in the Brunswick library's Heritage Room can hear stories of the place they call home.

The Heritage Room is tucked away in a back corner of the library, and the archives and artifacts inside offer tactile evidence of Glynn County's history. The space is open to the public.

The library has housed all of its public review materials in the Heritage Room since completing a major renovation in 2019. The archives have been made more accessible to the public, and recent projects have improved the organization of numerous collections donated to the library.

"There is a lot of great material that people who are doing research on our area can have access to that are good primary sources," said Ben Bryson, assistant director of Marshes of Glynn Libraries.

During the renovation, a six-panel mural created by Glynn Academy students in 1976 was moved into the Heritage Room. The space also includes various pieces of artwork, furniture and other items, including a desk once owned by city founder Urbanas Dart, chairs from Sea Island's old Cloister building and more. The Catholic Liturgical Codex, a massive Spanish-Latin songbook used in worship services during the 1500s and donated to the library in the late 1970s, is also displayed.

Work is moving forward now on numerous collections stored in the archives.

"Since the renovation and since this room has been opened up, one of the things that we have done is work with student interns at the College of Coastal Georgia to process some of the materials that we have," Bryson said.

Among the student workers is Vance Lewis, who began an internship at the library in January. He first embarked on a project organizing a collection of Glynco Naval Air Station items.

As a contractor this summer, he's worked on a W.C. Little collection made up of papers from the former Brunswick attorney and judge, and the McGarvey collection of family papers dating back to 1897.

The Glynco Naval Air Station collection includes source materials donated by former officers who were stationed there with their families. The items date back to 1942 and tell their story through the following decades until the station closed in the 1970s.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center now occupies the site.

To organize the collection, Lewis went through old news clippings and writings to unravel the narrative of the station's formation, its purpose, the work that happened there and the lives of the people who resided there.

The collection includes copies of an on-site newspaper, scrapbooks created by women on the base, local discourse about the site and more.

Lewis read letters written by children who saw blimps built at the station fly over their school. He also learned about the removal of almost 600 graves near an African American church for the development of a landing strip that served the Naval station.

He explored and aimed to highlight the role women played at the station through the years, often while their husbands were away in the war effort.

"You kind of dive into the story of what it was like to be there through their eyes and their account," he said.

Lewis also tracked the community-wide question of what would happen to the station when it was no longer needed for wars and then what led to the creation of the Glynco FLETC site.

"Nobody thought Glynco was going to close because they had just spent millions of dollars on it to renovate it," Lewis said. "... And the next folder is like 1973, and they're saying, 'Oh yeah they said they're going to close it.' The community was shocked."

Interns have spearheaded much of the work on collections in the Heritage Room, most of which was previously stored in a less organized fashion inside numerous cardboard boxes. They've gone through the materials one by one to sort them and improve storage.

They recently completed a collection of materials from the J.A. Jones Construction Co., which can now be seen online through a statewide exhibit. Marshes of Glynn Libraries was one of several in Georgia to be included in new public library digital exhibits that offer a free way for patrons to interact with and learn about state history and culture.

The library's "Rituals of Wartime Labor in Brunswick, Georgia" digital exhibit shares the experiences of the men and women who worked at J.A. Jones Construction Co. at the Brunswick Shipyard building Liberty Ships during World War II.

The collections of papers donated by the McGarvey Family, who moved to Brunswick in the late 1800s, offers a snapshot of the city over a century ago. Included in this account is Cormac McGarvey's experience during and after a Category 4 hurricane hit Glynn County in 1898.

"It put downtown Brunswick under water," Lewis said. "... It put his store under four feet of water."

McGarvey moved to the United States from Ireland, and his family's name remains well known locally.

One of McGarvey's daughters held a patent for reversible cushions, and another was known nationally for her poetry. The paperwork in the collection offers details about these and other parts of their lives in the form of letters they sent and items they published.

"It's this family's narrative of being immigrants who come over, and his family continues to strive," Lewis said.

The papers and photographs that make up these collections are just a small portion of the many pieces of the community's full narrative.

"That's a story that's part of all of us," Lewis said. "The stories that are told in the Heritage Room are all of our heritage."

There are plenty of additional collections that the library plans to organize and make available to the public as documenting history is a never-ending endeavor. Every passing day becomes another page in the story that will some day be told.

A recent donation to the library from a Kentucky resident who has visited St. Simons Island often since the late 1970s includes a wide variety of items, like newspaper articles, restaurant menus and other paraphernalia that may one day contribute to the telling of another era in Glynn County history.

Among Bryson's favorite items in the room is a sanborn map produced for groups like fire insurance companies to have a visual and detailed look at downtown Brunswick block by block.

"This one was done in 1930, but it was updated through about 1940," Bryson said, pulling the large map out of a drawer. "So they had actually placed corrections on top of the map, over the top ... It does give you a sense of what the footprint was."

A post office is pictured where City Hall is now. Names of businesses don't match up to the storefront signs on display today. St. Mark's Episcopal Church sits in the same place.

Lewis said one of his overall goals in the Heritage Room is to make the archives speak and bring history to life in the minds of anyone who spends time there.

The collections aren't necessarily museum exhibits but can be organized to share stories in a similar way.

"It is the story of the people who were there," he said.

The library is accepting monetary donations to support continued work and updates to the Heritage Room and its archives. Anyone interested in donating can contact Bryson at bbryson@glynncounty-ga.gov.