The Sherwood Anderson Odyssey

Woodcut by J.J.. Lankes
Woodcut of Troutdale, Virginia by J.J. Lankes

In 1925, Sherwood Anderson, the father of the modernist style of American literature, visited Troutdale, Virginia not far from the town of Marion, to escape New Orleans oppressive summer heat. By that time, Andersons writings, such as Winesburg, Ohio (1919), The Triumph of the Egg (1921), and Dark Laughter (1925), had brought him critical acclaim and some commercial success. He was so taken by southwest Virginia that he purchased property in Grayson County and built a cabin which he named Ripshin. Anderson once again re-invented himselfhe bought two weekly newspapers in nearby Marion, became active in local politics, and accompanied his fourth wife and Marion-native Eleanor Copenhaver on tours of southern factory towns to rally for workers rights and unions. He traveled the region, commenting on life in Wytheville, Pulaski, Roanoke, and Christiansburg. From the mid-1920s until his unexpected death in 1941 (peritonitis due to swallowing a toothpick from a martini) Anderson became a southwestern Virginian through and through.

Ripshin located in Grayson County
Ripshin located in Grayson County

The published works on Anderson and his writings are immense. The largest collection of his original papers and manuscripts were placed at the Newberry Library in Chicago. In Virginia, several libraries and archives acquired collections related to Anderson and his associates. Because of his connection to southwest Virginia, faculty and students at Virginia Tech have maintained a strong research interest in Anderson. The high-water mark of interest occurred during the 1980s when Dr. Charles Modlin and Dr. Hilbert Campbell in Virginia Techs English Department authored countless books, articles, and presentations on Andersons legacy. To support that research interest, Special Collections at Virginia Tech built a large printed collection of his published works and acquired a small number of original items related to Andersons family.

Scarcity and the passage of time are the greatest challenges of finding new materials for an archives program, especially for a topic with an extensive bibliography. My first efforts to locate available Sherwood Anderson material for Special Collections, nearly ten years ago, resulted in a few sparks but no fire. Then, and quite unexpectedly, in the spring of 2015 I was surrounded with a largely undiscovered cache of original Sherwood Anderson material.

Sherwood Anderson
Sherwood Anderson

The first collection came in March 2015 when a book and manuscript dealer listed a set of eight original Sherwood Anderson letters from 1916-1924. The letters were from Anderson to Llewellyn Jones, the literary editor for The Chicago Evening Post. The correspondence discusses reviews of Andersons recent books, his new writing projects, and a 1918 letter mentions his having this damned Spanish Influenza. Following acquisition of the small collection, it was processed, scanned, and placed online with full transcripts.

As is often the case, the discovery of one collection leads to another. I could not contain my excitement about the new acquisition and shared that information with another book and manuscript dealer. At that time he had largely been securing collections related to Virginia Tech history, such as original scrapbooks and personal papers from past graduates. To my surprise, he mentioned that one of his good friends was Dr. Welford D. Taylor, an emeritus English professor at the University of Richmond who had spent much of his academic career studying Sherwood Anderson.

In the weeks that followed, the dealer arranged for me to meet Dr. Taylor at his Richmond home. Dr. Taylor was a delightful host and an incredible resource on American literature, art, and Virginia history. From these discussions I learned that Dr. Taylor had a large collection of original Sherwood Anderson material that he had amassed over his academic career. Further, he was looking to place the collection in an archives program in Virginia where scholars would benefit. I made multiple trips to Richmond to talk with Dr. Taylor and by June we agreed to the terms of the agreement. His collection included several hundred letters, selected ephemera, and dozens of rare publications related to Sherwood Anderson. In addition, Dr. Taylor donated scarce publications, letters, ephemera, woodcuts, and other related pieces.

A 1928 letter from Anderson describing his opening a small library in Marion.
A 1928 letter from Anderson describing his opening a small library in Marion.

The Welford D. Taylor Collection on Sherwood Anderson, 1927-1992 (MS2015-045), represents a significant collection of material on Andersons years in southwest Virginia. The collection documents Andersons life in a small mountain community, newspaper publishing, finding inspiration for new writing, labor organizing, the publishing industry, and reactions to literary criticism. A highlight of the collection is over fifty letters written between Sherwood Anderson and J.J. Lankes, a significant illustrator and woodcut artist who worked with Anderson and other literary luminaries. The letters begin in 1927 continuing until the early 1940s. There are dozens of documents from other members of Andersons family including correspondence from Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson and his son Robert Anderson. Dr. Taylor is also represented in the collection, as he corresponded with Andersons family and associates for many years.

The 21 volume set of The Complete Works of Sherwood Anderson (1982).

Other gems include The Complete Works of Sherwood Anderson, edited by Kichinosuke Ohashi (1982), a rare, out-of-print, set of Andersons work published in Japan still in original custom-made boxes.

The Welford D. Taylor Collection on Sherwood Anderson represents one of the most significant acquisitions for Special Collections at Virginia Tech in recent memory. It will be a deep resource for scholars studying both Sherwood Anderson and the history of the southwest Virginia. The complexity of the collection has made processing much slower than expected, but once fully arranged and described there will be further updates and the release of a detailed finding aid. Those goals symbolize the end of this acquisitions story, but serve only as one chapter in the lengthy and ongoing odyssey to find and acquire new Sherwood Anderson materials for Special Collections at Virginia Tech.

Although still being processed, the collection is available for research use in the reading room. If you want more information about this and other Sherwood Anderson related collections held by Special Collections at Virginia Tech please send an email to

The Power of Provenance

Where are you from? is one of the first questions people ask when meeting someone new. Knowing where a person is from is a way to understand, connect, or relate. Where you are from does not define you but it adds important contextual information.

For archivists and people doing archival research, the origins of documents, photographs, or objects is crucial. Where the material comes from, who owned it, what person or organization created it, and how it relates to other material from the same origin is known as provenance. This principle guides the decision to acquire new materials through donation or purchase, as well as how to arrange and describe the material.

A few weeks ago I received a call from a local book and manuscript dealer who frequently acquires local and university history materials. Usually they have letters, photographs, and old books to offer. But this time, the dealer had a snare drum that belonged to a Virginia Tech cadet from the 1940s. As I frequently tell people, Special Collections is a research archives and not a museum of objects. So at first, this offer seemed like an easy one to dismiss, until I learned the provenance of the drum.

Robert V. Kelsey, from The Bugle, 1942

Robert V. Kelsey was the owner of the drum. Robert grew up in Blacksburg and followed in the footsteps of his father V.E. and older brothers Donald and Paul by attending Virginia Tech. He enrolled in 1941 and was in the regimental band.

Music, movies, and theatre were a large part of Robert’s youth. His father was vice president and general manager of the Commonwealth Theatre Corporation. The Kelsey family owned the Lyric Theatre from when it opened in 1930 until 1989. The family also owned and operated the Little Theater on Main Street.

The regimental band in 1942, The Bugle, 1942

After two years of study Robert joined the Air Force and began pilot training. On October 1, 1944, Robert was injured in a plane crash at Courtland Army Air Field in Courtland, Alabama. He died the next day. As recognition for his service, R.V. Kelseys name was etched into the pylons at the War Memorial Monument alongside the names of other Hokies who made the ultimate sacrifice for their county.


What began as an offer of an old snare drum, which I first thought belonged in a museum somewhere, turned into a much more compelling story. The provenance connected the item to its owner and made further discovery possible. With that information I found his picture in The Bugle, read his obituary notice in The Techgram, and discovered his named etched into stone a mere ninety-five feet from Special Collections. That power of provenance creates connections and makes seemingly static, inanimate objects, documents, and photographs come alive.


It was an easy decision to acquire Kelseys drum and make it available for future generations of Hokies. Because archives do not usually collect drums, a custom box has been ordered. In the meantime I am sharing my desk with this unique item. So stop by, take a look at the drum, and tell me where you are from.

Minor Revisions

Charles L.C. Minor, 1835-1903, was the first president of Virginia Tech. A Virginian and former Confederate officer, Minor took a keen interest in education. In 1872, he arrived in Blacksburg to launch Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Minor found success building the campus and student body, but his clashes with faculty (including a fistfight) over military training led to his departure in late 1879.

Charles Minor as president of Virginia Tech

The colorful stories about the tenure of Virginia Techs first president have appeared in several books and articles, but less is known about his career after leaving Blacksburg. In 2013, Special Collections acquired a unique acquisition related to Virginia Techs first president, which gets us closer to understanding the real Charles Minor.

After leaving Virginia Tech, Minor continued as an educator. In 1880, he purchased the Shenandoah Valley Academy in Winchester, Virginia. In 1888, he moved to Baltimore to direct the St. Pauls School. He also served as associate principal of the Episcopal high school in Alexandria, Virginia.

In the 1890s, Charles Minor retired from teaching and began writing essays on the Civil War. The consummate educator, Minor wanted to record his recollections of the 1860s so students could better understand that crucial decade. He published several newspaper articles and other pieces that criticized the character, leadership, accomplishments, and personality of Abraham Lincoln. For the basis of his research, Minor focused on the words and actions of a number of Lincolns associates.

Minors writings attracted the attention of Kate Mason Rowland, an early member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the author of several historical works. She compiled Minors articles and other research into The Real Lincoln, a pamphlet published in 1901. It also included an anti-Lincoln essay written by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, son of President John Tyler and President of William and Mary College from 1888-1919. In the pamphlet, Minor asserted that biographers deified Lincoln and evaluated him only through the lens of the northern perspective on the Civil War. Readers with Lost Cause sympathies embraced the pamphlet, while others criticized Minor for only focusing on the negative aspects of Lincolns presidency. Minor continued his research on Lincoln and planned to publish a book on the topic.

Cover of pamphlet
Charles Minor’s annotated copy of The Real Lincoln (1901), with his signature at the top and other notations.

Minor began his revisions by working from the published 1901 pamphlet, by literally cutting and annotating the printed text. In 2013, a book dealer contacted Special Collections with a unique findCharles Minors annotated copy of the 1901 pamphlet. The item, marked on the front and back as property of Charles L.C. Minor, included handwritten notes, cut-out sections of the text, references to other sources, and other annotations. These markings formed the basis for his expanded version of the book. The annotated pamphlet revealed the authors editorial process and his thinking about what to include in the new version. Special Collections acquired the item (MS 2013-057) and made it available for researchers.

Inside pages of Minor's annotated copy of The Real Lincoln (1901) with cut text and notations.
Inside pages of Minor’s annotated copy of The Real Lincoln (1901) with cut text and notations.

By early July 1903, Minor completed the draft of the book on Lincoln. Nearly four times longer than the pamphlet, the manuscript provided details on how northern eulogists bestowed excessive honor, or apotheosis, on Lincoln and his legacy. On July 13, 1903, Charles Minor died at Beaulieu, the home of his sister, Kate Mead Minor, and her husband, Richard M. Fontaine, in Albemarle County, Virginia, leaving behind a nearly completed manuscript. Charles Minors brother, Berkeley Minor, and sister, Mary Willis Minor, edited the manuscript and added a biographical note about the author. In 1904, Everett Waddey and Company in Richmond published a revised and enlarged edition of The Real Lincoln.

Image of Charles Minor included in The Real Lincoln (1904).
Image of Charles Minor included in The Real Lincoln (1904).

In addition to Minors handwritten version of the 1901 pamphlet, Special Collections has another item that relates to the story. There are two copies of Minors The Real Lincoln from 1904 in Special Collections. One of those copies was inscribed as a gift from Berkley Minor (who worked with his sister to publish the posthumous version of The Real Lincoln in 1904) to his niece Louise B. Fontaine in the late 1920s. This copy contains a significant number of handwritten notes made by Berkeley Minor, a letter to the editor of the Staunton Spectator in March 1909 regarding Lincolns character, and other loose papers. Berkley Minors annotations in the 1904 volume included new references, additions of text, clarifications of events, and small grammatical changes. This annotated volume served as the basis for the revised and enlarged edition of the book in 1928, which was edited by Berkeley Minor and M.D. Carter. The book itself came to Special Collections in the 1980s from the grand-daughter of Kate Mead Minor and Richard M. Fontaine.

Inscription from Berkeley Minor to his niece Louise B. Fontaine in the front of Berkeley Minor's annotated copy of The Real Lincoln (1904).
Inscription from Berkeley Minor to his niece Louise B. Fontaine in the front of Berkeley Minor’s annotated copy of The Real Lincoln (1904).

Only a handful of Charles Minors letters and papers have survived, so having an annotated version of his book in his own hand is an extraordinary resource. But even more unique is to also have the subsequent annotated version of the book in the hand of his brother Berkeley Minor. Charles Minors writings on Lincoln from the early twentieth century continue to have relevance in the early twenty-first century. In fact, todays readers can download an e-book version of The Real Lincoln from 1904 or order a reprint of the text. But, Special Collections at Virginia Tech remains the only place where readers can see how the work evolved through the handwritten notes of the author and his family.

Seeds of the Past

This week Virginia Tech marked the 100th anniversary of Virginia’s Cooperative Extension program. In addition to events on campus and in the library, special collections created an exhibit of original materials related to Virginia Tech’s role in Cooperative Extension. But the story of state outreach to Virginia’s farmers goes back even further.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the General Education Board (sponsored by John D. Rockefeller) led a nationwide agricultural extension and demonstration movement. In Virginia, the board designated Hollis B. Frissell, head of the Hampton Institute, to organize demonstration work for African American farmers, and Joseph D. Eggleston Jr., the state superintendent of public instruction, to bring the demonstration program to white farmers. The genesis of this statewide effort came at a Richmond meeting in 1906, with a number of influential politicians, university presidents, businessmen, and agricultural experts in attendance. At this meeting T.O. Sandy accepted the offer to be the state’s first extension agent for white farmers.

Sandy copy

In early 1907, Sandy opened an extension office in Burkeville to serve farmers in adjoining counties. In February, the General Education Board awarded Virginia $4,500 for demonstration work and appointed Sandy as state agent. Sandy hired agents to begin the outreach efforts and recruited farmers to participate in extension programs. The farmers agreed to tend a small plot, typically of less than five acres, and worked with agents to develop husbandry plans and follow budgets.

In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act assigned oversight of nationwide extension and demonstration programs to the Department of Agriculture. At that time, Virginia Tech became the designated institution to coordinate the state’s Cooperative Extension service. In 1916, Sandy moved the extension office to Blacksburg. Despite all of the changes and advances of the past 100 years, Cooperative Extension continues its mission of outreach, sharing information, and improving the lives of farmers.

Before the Cooperative Extension program, Americans received information about what to grow and how to grow it in a variety of ways. Many farmers relied on past traditions and resisted new practices, while others bought more modern equipment and cultivated new crops. One important source of information on new agricultural advances came from seed companies. Mail order seed businesses thrived at the turn of the twentieth century. The heavily illustrated and information rich trade catalogs appealed to both farmers and Americans who wanted a backyard vegetable garden or fruit orchard. Receiving seeds through the mail, rather than by traveling dozens of miles to a town, was an important convenience for farmers.

Special collections has a number of early twentieth century seed catalogs, featuring descriptions and colorful images of fruits, vegetables, and other crops. It is fitting that the same week Virginia Tech celebrated 100 years of Cooperative Extension, the department acquired a new seed catalog from 1903. The catalog comes from the Harry N. Hammond Seed Company, based in Bay City, Michigan, which was self-described as “The Most Progressive and Extensive Mail Order Concern of It’s Kind in the World!”

The first page of the catalog explained that between 1901 and 1902, sales increased 98 percent, which may account for why the company doubled its floor space and built a new warehouse. Robust sales may be attributed to the claim that direct mail order of seeds saved the customer 100-200 percent than if they purchased through a retailer. As for their subscribers, the company expected to mail out 500,000 (yes, half-a-million) catalogs to interested buyers. Oddly enough, according to OCLC Worldcat, just two libraries hold the 1903 catalog. Of course many libraries with collections of trade catalogs may not catalog the titles individually or catalog them at all.


Anyway, back to the seeds. The catalog begins with several varieties of potatoes, with “Hammond’s New Extra Early Admiral Dewey Potato” as perhaps the best choice for patriotic Americans who want to remember victory at Manila Bay, just five year prior, while baking, frying, or boiling their tubers. The catalog offered customers an enormous selection of garden staples such as beans, celery, beets, carrots, sweet corn, onions, cabbage, and melons.

For farmers, the catalog listed a wide selection of grains (oats, barley, wheat, corn, and millet) and grass seeds for hay and pasture. Like other such companies, Hammond’s featured page-after-page of flower seeds. Finally, the last page of the catalog advertised the company’s health food (malted grains and nuts treated with Pepsin) which came in packets and could be served cold with milk or cream, or mixed with hot water. The healthful product promoted good nutrition and digestion, but the advertisement said nothing about the taste. The company encouraged buyers to add an extra $0.15 to their seed order and try a packet for “Breakfast, Dinner, or Supper.”

For today’s readers this seed catalog is comical at times and sometimes disconnected from the present. In 1903, this type of trade publication provided Americans with a great deal of information about new crops and growing methods. Even though we take Cooperative Extension for granted, its services provide farmers and backyard gardenerd with reliable information about planting, growing, and cultivating just about anything.

More importantly seeds have modern day significance. Across the country, farmers markets are full of heirloom fruits and vegetables, farmers operate active seed exchanges, and growing numbers of Americans demand that their plates contain no genetically modified foods. It seems that the seeds of the past have enormous value in the present.

Too Much Warm Potato Salad on July 4th? You Need “The Best Dyspepsia Water In Virginia”

Let’s face it, most American holidays center around food and lots of it. Too much of a good thing is never enough, and celebrating American Independence often means a good excuse to overeat. I already had lunch today, so hunger pangs are not the focus of this post. This week’s post on the What’s Cookin’ blog focused on frozen desserts for the steamy outdoor July 4th celebrations. So as a counterpart, let’s briefly re-visit how Americans in the late nineteenth century recovered from their indigestion and where they went to escape the summer heat.

As is often the case of working in special collections, it is very easy to get distracted by original material, rare books, or other items in the stacks. While searching for another book, I ran across a wonderful advertising piece for the Roanoke Red Sulpher Springs in Salem, Virginia. Printed in 1898, the booklet contains dozens of first-hand testimonials about those who found comfort from their ailments by visiting this largely forgotten summer resort. Yes, there are plenty of other nearby resorts (Eggleston Springs and Montgomery White Sulpher Springs) to talk about, but this forty-something page pamphlet caught my eye.

coverLike today, there is fierce competition for tourist dollars and J. Harry Chapman, the manager of the springs, made it clear that the Roanoke Red Sulpher Springs has “The Best Dyspepsia Water in Virginia.” The springs opened each June and accommodated up to 300 guests. In addition to easing the upset stomachs of those who could afford to travel to Salem, the waters also healed “Hay Fever, Lung, Throat, Heart, Kidney and Female Troubles.” The springs thrived as a destination for Virginians as well as those from across the country. Like modern day travel guides, the booklet includes distances to major cities, including New York, Atlanta, and even Galveston (only 48 hours away).


The healing waters, the cool mountain breezes, and the chance to escape the drudgery of urban areas motivated many middle-class Victorians to find their way to natural springs like this one in Virginia. The book is littered with testimonials from past visitors who hoped to cure their maladies and enjoy the tranquility of the mountains. Visitors from New Orleans, Pensacola, Norfolk, Philadelphia, and even San Antonio gushed about the springs and became regulars each summer.


The testimonials make this small nook in the Virginia mountains sound like Xanadu, rather than a resort just nine miles north of Salem. An artist’s depiction of Roanoke Red Sulpher Springs from Edward Beyer’s, Album of Virginia (1858), which appeared on the front of the 1898 booklet, matched the idyllic description of the grounds.

Album of Virginia rendering

Like many items in special collections, the 1898 booklet is a snapshot of a particular time in the history of a place. The springs first opened as a resort in 1858 and went through several owners. The medical benefits of the springs made it an ideal location for battling one of the most troublesome disease of the period–tuberculosis. In 1908, the State of Virginia took over Roanoke Red Sulpher Springs and made it the state’s first tuberculosis sanitorium (Catawba).

The 1898 advertising booklet documents the high-point of Roanoke Red Sulpher Springs as a summer resort. In the late 1890s visitors came to the springs to recuperate and have a vacation. On this July 4th, 116 years later, many of us will do the same–travel to a far away location (a lake, a beach, or an amusement park) to relax, rejuvenate, and feel better. The restorative powers of such an escape may be even better for you than natural spring waters, and certainly better than eating warm potato salad. So travel safe, be healthy, and enjoy the waters.