Jul 20, 2009

What’s In the Works ~ The McElroy House: Center for Regional Oral History and Folklife Research

After much thought and time spent wondering where to go from here, I have decided to begin the process of creating a small oral history and folklife research center in my hometown. I have included my plans and ideas for the Center listed at the bottom of this post. I welcome any feedback!

If you want to know more about the backstory on the Center continue reading. If you want to skip to the proposed plans for the McElroy House scroll down.

For a long time it has been a dream of mine to do something like this. My time in graduate school, and especially my time spent working with Michael Morrow and the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center as well as the Kentucky Remembers! Project, shaped my ideas and further pushed me toward this dream (If you want to know more about these projects please visit my portfolio. Their work is amazing, and I highly recommend checking it out). Through their example I saw how oral history and folklife research projects have the capacity to encourage dialog; I witnessed firsthand how youth oral history projects can truly build bridges between generations and members of a community.

I recently inherited my grandparents’ home, the small 1940s house I practically grew up in. It is located one street from my hometown’s historic Front Street. With its proximity to the Arkansas River and the historic district, the location for a folklife center is ideal. Wanting to honor my wonderful grandparents and uncle who once lived there, and my amazing mother who left me the house, I can think of nothing more appropriate then to dedicate the house to researching, and teaching others to research, the history and the folkways of the region they all loved so much. My grandparents’ last name, and my mother’s maiden name and uncle’s name, was McElroy, hence the name of the Center: The McElroy House: Center for Regional Oral History and Folklife Research.

The house is located in a residential area, which means the first step in the process is to apply for a special use permit to open a non-profit in the neighborhood. I have applied for the permit, and the the hearing will be held August 24th at 7:00 pm at Dardanelle City Hall. I will give a presentation detailing my proposed plans and will answer any questions the City Planning Commission and citizens of the community may have. The hearing is open to the public. If you are in the area already or happen to be passing through, I would love for you to come to the meeting and bring any questions, concerns, and/or suggestions you might have. If you are interested in the Center’s work, I would especially love for you to come by. On a lighter note, please be advised that I am having twins—they are due sometime between August 25th (the day after the meeting) and September 15th— so I may be quite a spectacle to behold by the time the meeting rolls around. haha!

It is possible that the City Planning Commission may deny my request for a special use permit. Should this occur, I won’t give up on the dream. I will just regroup and begin looking for a more suitable location.

Below are the proposed plans for the McElroy House. I welcome any comments and/or suggestions.
If you are interested in learning more or would like to support our work, please contact me. We greatly need volunteers who are willing to give time and lots of elbow grease (as my mom used to say) to our efforts–especially people who like garden work. If you are interested in helping out in any way, please let me know!


McElroy House: Center for Local Oral History Research and Folklife Research.

What I plan to do with the property should the special use permit be granted:

• The Center will focus on the documentation of local history and living traditions. It will be named in honor of my grandparents, Lloyd and Golda Taylor McElroy, and uncle, Bobby McElroy. As noted above, the Center will be called The McElroy House: Center for Regional Oral History and Folklife Research.

• Our main goals will be educational in nature and include cross-generational outreach programs between our community’s young people and elders. We will teach young people how to document oral history and living community traditions and preserve this information for decades to come.

• I will write grants to fund this work and partner with state and national historical agencies to make these things happen. I will work toward becoming a non-profit organization. What follows are some of the services we plan to offer.

A Few Specific Examples of What the Center Will Do:

• We will offer audio and video recording equipment and classes to teach interested community members and youth in our public schools how to use this equipment so they can interview their relatives or friends about their life history and the history of their community. Recording equipment will be available for checkout for events such as family reunions, city gatherings and the like.

• We will have scanners on hand so that community members can bring their old photos to the Center to be scanned into the computer allowing these invaluable photos to be saved for generations to come. We will offer “Photo Sharing Days,” wherein community members can get together to share and discuss their historic photos pertaining to our community.

• All these interviews and photos will be housed in the Center in our database so that they will be available for others to view and hear. A few topics we have already began researching are the cotton industry and its history in the community and the tradition of Decoration Days throughout Yell County. We plan to add many more topics to this list.

• We will partner with local schools, after school programs, and state historical societies to accomplish this work. While we will not be a museum or archival institution, we will work closely with other agencies throughout the state and region that can appropriately house historic documents and artifacts people may wish to denote.

• The small garden space that my grandfather once used to grow tomatoes and peppers will be converted back into a small vegetable garden where we will grow local foods. We will offer workshops, led by community members, on how to grow vegetables, save seeds, and can for the winter. Our goals for the garden will be to preserve and pass on these important gardening skills for generations to come. Any food produced in the garden will be donated to the community.

• A small memorial butterfly garden will be created and named after my mother, former City Clerk, Mary Sue Martin. She was the daughter of Lloyd and Golda McElroy who once owned the house. It will be called the Mary Sue Martin Cancer Memorial Butterfly Garden. Both my grandmother and mother loved butterflies. The garden will bear my mother’s name, but will also serve to honor the many people in our community who pass away from cancer each year. Before cancer took her life, my mother expressed her desire to use her life to help cancer patients in our community. I hope the creation of this garden will be just the first step in raising awareness regarding cancer in our community. Community members will be invited to add plants to the garden in honor of their relatives who passed away from this horrible disease.

This is just a small outline of some of our plans. At the core of our work is a desire to document and preserve the countless living traditions in our community and learn more about our local history. We want to help build bridges between the old and young and help young people know more about their community’s past and present while also looking toward the future.

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  • Wonderful!

    Comments to come, but right now I’m just digesting this beautiful legacy.


  • I’m so excited, Meredith! Remember what I said about counting on me for any guest folklorist needs… for grant-writing purposes or whatever. I’ll work for fried okra and/or blueberries. (Or whatever’s in season.)

  • Thanks so, so much Nelda!

  • When you first told me your dream, I never dreamt you’d be able to pull it off so immediately. This is a very organic, vibrant concept that will enhance your community and honor your family. You are so smart! Break a leg (only metaphorically) at the hearing.

  • Meredith.
    Just read about your plans for the McElroy house. I think that is wonderful. Would love to help with the garden and have a girl scout troop that can earn badges helping with many things too. I know your were a GS and your mother was a co-leader. Let me know when/what you will be needing.

  • [...] I love flower gardening.  So did my mother. When she came to visit us in Kentucky in 2007 we took her to a local butterfly habitat and she was amazed and full of laughter, watching all those butterflies as they landed on our clothing. One of my future goals is to create a memorial butterfly/bee garden in honor of my mother and many others who have lost their lives to cancer in the Yell County area (and that’s a lot of people, folks). In my dream the garden will be on site at the McElroy House, in the same spot my grandfather once kept his flower garden. In fact, discovering some of his iris in the tangled weeds near his house first led me to think about the McElroy House as a concept.  This memorial garden will be right beside the center’s veggie garden, for which I also have big plans (If you want to know more about the goals for the McElroy House: Center for Regional Folklore and Oral History go here). [...]

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What is the Boiled Down Juice?

This blog is a gathering space for questions and conversations at the intersection of sustaining community traditions and positive change and grassroots community action.

"Folklore," Zora Neale Hurston once said, "is the boiled down juice of human living." We strive to explore that concept (both the positive and negative aspects) and the roles it can play in sustaining and building community.

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