Written by Charlie Benton • Photos by Mary Rumore
A major resource for Civil War history is located on the Mississippi State University campus in the Mitchell Memorial Library, and it’s one of only six of its kind in the country.
The Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is located on the fourth floor of Mitchell and houses Grant’s papers, along with a large number of other artifacts from his presidency and before. The Grant Library also houses the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, which is the largest privately owned Abraham Lincoln collection in the world. The Lincoln collection was donated to MSU by Retired Rhode Island Chief Justice
The Grant Library opened in November 2017, with much fanfare. The facility occupies an addition to Mitchell completed prior to the grand opening. With the Grant Library, MSU has become one of six universities housing a presidential library on its campus.
“We’ve been very pleased with the response we’ve had from the general public in terms of coming in and seeing the exhibits,” said Associate Dean for University Libraries Stephen Cunetto. “To date, we’ve had over 6,000 people that have come through the museum. We’re very excited about that number, very pleased with that number, and we certainly want to see that continue to grow, and we’re looking forward to seeing more people, not only from the Starkville area but around the state and around the country coming into the museums.”
“It’s been quiet lately because the university’s quiet, but at the end of let year and times when people come to visit the campus, a number of people come in and tour and look at the films,” said Grant Association Executive Director and Managing Editor and MSU professor emeritus of History John Marszalek.
“We had some classes come in to see what we have, so it’s been going well.” Cunetto said many school groups, some from as far away as Colorado had visited the library. He also said the library had hosted the annual meeting of the Ulysses S. Grant Association in the spring to rave reviews. “We had probably 80 people here from around the country that are part of the association, and that included about 10 descendants of Grant, and they did a session on how it was growing up as a Grant Descendant, but they were very pleased with what they saw,” Cunetto said.
Cunetto said Grant descendants were continuing to give materials and artifacts to the library.
“This gives us an opportunity to add to our collections,” Marszalek said. “There have been some wonderful things that have been donated, so that’s really an important thing too, I think.”
Closer to home, Cunetto said the Library was becoming a resource for the campus and Starkville communities. He also said scholars were making trips to the library for academic purposes.
“All the (MSU library) faculty and staff have been very involved in bringing these collections here, and involved in the development of the collections, housing the collections and making everything available,” Cunetto said. “I think we’re all very proud to have it here. I know I am. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to work on this project with the development of the new facility, and bringing the collections here, and certainly very happy to be able to work with Judge Williams and his wife, Virginia to bring their collection here, as well.”
The Grant Library plans to rotate its exhibits with time to ensure more artifacts are displayed.
Marszalek said he was amazed to see how far the Grant Library had come since the papers arrived at MSU from Southern Illinois University in December 2008. The move to MSU followed the death of longtime Grant Association Executive Director John Y. Simon and the appointment of Marszalek as executive director.
“I like to talk about how it’s a dream come true, you know,” Marszalek said. “I have to pinch myself every once in a while to make sure that I’m seeing what I’m seeing.
The Grant Library is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The library is closed on Sundays. For more information, the Grant Library can be contacted at 662-325-4552.