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'Mother lode' of Byrd papers arrives at Shepherd

August 26, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE
  • Lilly Phipps, office manager of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies in Shepherdstown, W.Va., unloads boxes full of papers Thursday that belonged to the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Two tractor-trailers backed up to a Shepherd University building Thursday at noon carrying the mother lode of the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's personal papers.

Shepherd employees and staffers of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, a 16,000 square-foot, three-story wing of the college's Scarborough Library, were unloading boxes and huge wooden crates from the trucks and wheeling them into the center on dollies.

The center will house Byrd's nearly six-decade collection of private papers, 1,300 framed plaques, awards and photographs, scrapbooks, political records, letters and correspondence, constituent files and other ephemera.

"His office was a museum of his career," said Raymond W. Smock, director of the Byrd Center.

When Byrd, D-W.Va., died June 28 at age 92 he was the longest-serving member of Congress. In 2006, he was re-elected to a record ninth term in the Senate. He served through 11 presidential administrations.

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For years, he chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, a position that allowed him to send billions in federal dollars to his home state, including the funding of major government facilities in the Eastern Panhandle.

The boxes and crates trucked in Thursday held the last, "the mother lode," of Byrd's collection, Smock said.

The center has been accepting Byrd's papers since it opened in 2002, he said.

What came in Thursday was stored in the senator's two state offices in Charleston, W.Va., and Martinsburg, W.Va., in the U.S. Capitol and in the Hart Senate Office Building, including three attic storerooms in that building, Smock said.

Smock said he didn't know how long it would take before all of Byrd's collection would be open to researchers.

"We have to go through each box," he said.

Volunteers, including some former members of Byrd's Senate staff, are helping with the sorting.

Records received earlier, including some in Braille, have been catalogued and stored in acid-free folders and boxes in the center's third-floor storage room.

Eventually, records will be scanned and logged onto a digital data base for easy reference and location, Smock said.

The center also stores legislative papers of the late U.S. Rep. Harley O. Staggers Sr., as well as those of his son, former U.S. Rep. Harley O. Staggers Jr.

"They were found in an old barn in Keyser, W.Va.," Smock said.

He said the Byrd Center is one of about 50 such facilities storing records for members of Congress.

Smock, 69, served as historian of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 1995. He was a consultant in the design and building of the Byrd center, and has been its director since it opened.

Center employees, in addition to Smock, are Keith Alexander, director of archives; David Hostetter, director of programs and research; Marc Levitt, archivist; and Lilly Phipps, office manager.

"I feel at home here," Smock said. "I'm a historian. I love reading other people's mail."

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