A touring exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution has been on display at the City Hall’s annex building since mid-November. According to Ashland City Councilwoman Becky Boddie, more than 2,000 residents have stopped by to take a look at the displays, called “The Way We Worked,” that examine the history of jobs and industry in the United States.
“A lot of people here would never have the opportunity to see these unless they were here,” Boddie said. “This is a great opportunity, especially for our kids.”
The displays are part of “Museum on Main Street,” a Smithsonian program that works with state humanities councils to bring exhibits to rural towns throughout the country. State bodies work with local communities to serve populations removed from urban areas to see educational material from other cultural centers.
“We don’t have an interstate coming through here,” said Ashland Mayor Larry Fetner. “This is a very big deal for us.”
John Rochester, chairman of the board for the Alabama Humanities Foundation, and an Ashland native, said the city’s town square made it a natural home for the exhibit.
“We have a 100-year-old courthouse right here in the square, which is a bit unusual,” Rochester said. “You don’t see that everywhere.”
“The Way We Worked” contains photographs from the National Archives depicting regular Americans working, from early 20th century farms to modern office buildings.
The exhibit also contains short videos, and interactive, moving parts for young children to explore how workers from different industries did their jobs over the last 100 years.
“The child labor display is probably their favorite,” said Tina Nolen, librarian at the Ashland City Library. “They come in and say, ‘What? We don’t work.’ They can’t believe children used to work.”
Besides material from the National Archives, the city of Ashland has used the on-loan materials to set-up a short-term museum of the city’s history to complement the Smithsonian displays. Historic photographs, school memorabilia, newspaper clippings and a signed photo of former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, an Ashland native, are on display around the Smithsonian’s exhibits.
“So many of these places I recognize from my childhood,” said Judy Coffey, who visited family in Ashland while growing up in Louisiana. Coffey said she moved to Ashland two years ago, and was excited to see the historic photographs the town had on display.
“I just wonder looking at these if they’re some of my ancestors,” Coffey said on Monday of people in the old pictures, while visiting the exhibit.
Boddie said so far, only Clay County schools have scheduled visits, but she hopes other nearby groups will make appointments before they head out of town for Christmas. The next stop for the exhibit in the state is Andalusia in early January, before moving on to Fairhope, Northport and Wetumpka.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.