Sunday, March 9, 1997
Water damage threatens books, history
Mold grows on 1859 papers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH, Ky. - Inside the Pendleton County Court House, shut away inside thick oak cabinets, sit handwritten history books from 1859.

A thick layer of white mold already is growing on the worn, dark leather binders that hold decades of the county's property purchases, births and deaths.

''We can't even pull them out, they are so swollen,'' said Kathy Wyatt, deputy county clerk.

The papers inside are already beginning to curl.

Flood waters from the Licking River covered four feet of these fragile volumes and more recent collections of data for about three days, but county officials are hopeful the texts can be saved.

The books have even recorded the water's height - easily visible halfway up the seventh row of property deed books.

If last weekend's disaster had been fire instead of flood, a steel door would have automatically slid out of the ceiling to seal off the circuit clerk's records room.

The door might have prevented some water damage too, Mrs. Wyatt said, but officials never thought to rig it to work in the case of anything but flames.

What the waters didn't soak into a heavy mush workers have carried outside the courthouse.

Now jury records dating back to at least 1983 are strewn around the mud along Main Street.

Anyone wanting to know about Brenda Spillman's jury information from a July 1984 trial just has to slide the paper out of the mud.

From a practical standpoint, the county clerk's office is lucky. Newer records were on higher shelves, said Frank Levstik, a representative of the state's Department for Libraries and Archives, who came to help.

Some of the city's sentimental records may be gone, too.

At the Pendleton County Library on Main Street, about 100 boxes of handwritten notes by local lawyer/historian E.E. Barton are waterlogged. Copies are on microfilm stored elsewhere, but Librarian Janie Harter doesn't think the originals can be saved.

Preserving the documents is an expensive job - one only county and historical preservation departments may be able to afford.

Property Evaluation Administrator James Kimble said his office will get its records back ''with a lot of manpower and about $4,000.''

Larry Waltemire, a district manager with the Munters Corp., took a quick look at the county records Saturday to see if they could be saved.

''I'm looking at this and I am astounded,'' said Mr. Waltemire, whose company specializes in drying and sterilizing papers and buildings damaged in floods. When finished, the documents ''won't be perfect, but they'll be legible,'' he said.