MGA Cochran Campus Library to Showcase Archival Treasures at Open House

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2021 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Computing | School of Aviation | School of Arts and Letters | Pressroom | School of Health and Natural Sciences | Faculty/Staff | School of Business | School of Education and Behavioral Sciences | Students

Cochran, GA

Clockwise from top left: An engraved cornerstone from the Cochran Campus’s main academic building destroyed by fire in 1926; April Renfroe Warren of MGA’s Library with a Seth Thomas mantle clock, one of the very few items saved from the fire; and old yearbooks and other archival material. Photos by Anna Lipson.

On March 13, 1926, the main classroom building of what is now Middle Georgia State University’s Cochran Campus caught fire.

As people fled the premises, some managed to grab a few papers and a very small number of furnishings, including a mantle clock that chimed every hour to signal when it was time for students - who lived in two dorms, one on each side of the building - to change classes.

The building burned to the ground (and was eventually rebuilt as what is known today as Walker Hall) but the clock lives on in the archives of Roberts Memorial Library on the Cochran Campus. It’s one of the historical pieces that library staff plan to display at an upcoming open house for students, faculty, staff, and community members.

“1884-1965: 81 Years of Change” is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, in the archives, located on the bottom floor of Roberts, which reopened earlier this year after an extensive renovation.

“We thought it would be a good time to show the community that the library is back in business,” said April Renfroe Warren, Middle Georgia State (MGA) collections librarian. “We have a great new space for the archives and more supplies to take care of the historical items we have, which represent how much the University and the city of Cochran are intertwined.”

Cochran is the oldest and most traditional of MGA’s five campuses. Originating in 1884 as New Ebenezer College, the institution’s name by the mid-1920s had changed to Middle Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical Junior College. Students, faculty, and townspeople alike commonly referred to the school simply as “A&M.”

Later known as Middle Georgia College, the institution became part of the University System of Georgia in 1931. In 2013, Middle Georgia College officially merged with Macon State College to become what is now known as Middle Georgia State University.

Today’s Cochran Campus is far more expansive than the old A&M. A relatively small percentage of what fills the archives dates to that earlier era of the University’s history.

Warren has spent much of the last two years organizing old yearbooks and correspondence from around that time, including handwritten notes from previous college presidents. There are old photographic plates, which preceded film as a means of capturing images. The archives are home to the damaged engraved cornerstones from the classroom building destroyed by fire and to athletics team trophies nearly 100 years old.

Also part of the collection is a small, well-worn accounting ledger, on the front of which some long ago agricultural student printed the words “Cow Book” and used to keep track of cattle. An especially fascinating archival treasure is a very fragile and stained 1881 plot map of “Cochran Colored Cemetery,” a section of the city’s Cedar Hill Cemetery.  

Additional items from various eras include an antique piano that a previous president, Dr. Louis C. Alderman, bought for the school. There’s a taxidermied wolverine dating to the time of an earlier school mascot. One of Warren’s favorite items is a framed service award dating to when the campus served as a training site for the nation’s nascent Air Force.

Then there’s the clock.

The old A&M timepiece no longer works but is significant as one of only two items left from the classroom building destroyed by fire nearly a century ago. Also of note is that the clock was manufactured in the late 19th century by the famous Seth Thomas Clock Company, the same firm that created the renowned four-sided clock located inside New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

The clock, like everything else in the archives, tells a story. At the open house, “we’re going to tell some of those stories,” Warren said.

During the open house, library staffers will assume the roles of students, school trustees, and community members from long ago as they discuss specific material and events from the past. Warren also wants to use the occasion to highlight the work the library was able to do with grants from the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council.

The funding gave library staff the means to transfer nearly three decades’ worth of back issues of the Cochran Journal newspaper from hard copies to microfilm and to buy supplies needed to help preserve some items, including the cemetery plot map.

“We were also able to digitize a few years’ worth of the Cochran Journal via the Digital Library of Georgia,” Warren said. “These are resources available to the community to use, and we want to highlight that.”

Because the upcoming open house will focus on the Cochran Campus’s history up to 1965, Warren hopes this inaugural event is just the first in a series. There are, after all, decades of tales left to tell.  

“There’s so much here,” she said. “Every box, every file, every envelope we open is a new story, a new adventure.”