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Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center Makes Newton County Historical Records Available Online

Liberty, TX – In celebration of Newton County’s 175th anniversary, the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center (SHC), part of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), has digitized records salvaged from the 2000 Newton County Courthouse fire and made them freely available online.

The records were donated to the SHC for professional conservation treatment after being damaged. Although the records survived the flames, the water used to fight the fire left them moldy, covered in dirt and soot and, in some cases, torn and unbound.

Around 200 volumes of Newton County government records, totaling more than 40,000 pages of information, had to be treated. Staff vacuumed each page by hand to remove mold spores and debris. After careful cleaning, staff and volunteers gently packaged each volume for transport to Austin, where they could be inspected by TSLAC’s professional conservator and receive further treatment if needed. Finally, the surviving records were transported back to the SHC, where an archivist began creating descriptive guides to the collection for researchers.

This multi-year project saved all but nine of the original volumes. Those volumes were so extensively damaged by mold that keeping them would have been hazardous to the rest of the collection, so TSLAC staff digitized the volumes to preserve their contents and make them available online instead. The first of these scanned volumes is now available on the Texas Digital Archive, www.tsl.texas.gov/texasdigitalarchive.

“The Center’s primary purpose is to preserve local government records from Southeast Texas for future generations, but it’s rare for that service to involve something as devastating as a courthouse fire,” said Center Manager Alana Inman. “Being able to help save records from Newton County is one of the most historically important projects I have worked on while leading the Center.”

The full collection of Newton County government records at the Center includes a variety of documents, such as land and school records, tax rolls, marks and brands and probate files. Online guides are currently available for two government offices: district clerk, ranging in date from 1847-1898, and tax assessor-collector, dating 1846-1936. These series include court records, women’s voter registration receipts, poll tax receipts and other items of significant historical interest. Three volumes, a 1912 tax roll, 1847-1852 district court minute book and 1852-1884 record of jurors, are available online.

The effort to create online guides to all Newton County government records continues. Next, staff will release scanned volumes and a guide to the records of the county clerk. In the meantime, anyone interested in accessing the records can contact SHC staff or visit the Center.

A component of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center houses local government records, rare books, manuscripts, archival materials, photographs and other media formats covering a wide range of Southeast Texas history. In addition to the archives and museum, four historic buildings and the Jean Price Daniel Home and Archives are located on the Center’s grounds.

The Center is located at 650 FM 1011 in Liberty, Texas. Operating hours are Tuesday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Visits to the research library may be set in advance by appointment. For more information, please contact Center staff at 936-336-8821, samhoustoncenter@tsl.texas.gov or by visiting www.tsl.texas.gov/shc.