by W. Todd Groce, Ph.D.

This winter, the Georgia Historical Society celebrates the grand re-opening of it Research Center in Savannah. After an intense, three-year construction project, GHS now has a renovated library and an expanded, state-of-the-art archival processing and storage facility, giving us the capacity to collect and make accessible Georgia history for years to come.

What we will celebrate, however, is even grander than a new building. Over roughly the past decade GHS has conducted two major campaigns to raise nearly $23 million in capital, endowment, and programming funds to expand our capacity and prepare us to fulfill our mission in the 21st century. With the completion of the Research Center and the Next Century Initiative campaign that funded it, GHS will have totally transformed itself and its 150-year-old Savannah campus.

In November 1994, I set foot for the first time in Hodgson Hall, the venerable library building of the Georgia Historical Society. During that visit–which, incidentally, was my job interview–someone on the search committee commented that GHS was running out of room and would soon need new space for its growing staff and archives.

Over the next ten years, this statement became a common refrain—and the clock was ticking. With the acquisition in 2009 of two major collections–the papers of legendary UGA Head Football Coach Vince Dooley and Attorney General Griffin Bell, 400 boxes of new materials combined–we were finally forced to act.

Step one was acquiring and developing new office and workspace for our growing programs and operations team. That was accomplished between 2011-2014 with the completion of the Jepson House Education Center, our administration building located on the north side of Gaston Street.

With most of the workforce moved to new quarters, step two in the process was to create in the building south of Gaston the proper space for the historical treasures in our care.

With the support of many generous donors, we raised the funds to dramatically expand the 1970s Abrahams Annex archival storage facility and renovate the 1876 library building, repurposing its ground floor and bringing Hodgson Hall and the Research Center simultaneously back to their original splendor and into the 21st century.

Other much-needed improvements include upgraded fire suppression and security systems; significantly expanded processing rooms; a new loading dock and receiving area; a quarantine room for remediating newly acquired archival material; and a treasure vault for our most precious possessions, such as the original draft of the US Constitution. We have also updated our collection management system to provide patrons with a more streamlined and intuitive process for researching and requesting materials, both online and in person.

I invite you to visit the GHS Research Center and explore our nation’s oldest collection of Georgia history–including over five million manuscripts, historic photographs, maps, rare books, artifacts, and portraits. There you will find the documentary legacy of our state and the primary sources that form the building blocks of all new scholarship.

You will also experience the physical aspect of, and final step in, a total transformation of GHS that will allow our institution to fulfill its educational and research mission on an unprecedented scale.

That mean more students learning history, more books and articles being written that create new knowledge, and more historical markers offering new interpretations of our past. It means a better educated, more engaged citizenry and a stronger, more vibrant democracy. It means a brighter future, not just for GHS, but also for our state and nation.