By Joe Beck
FRONT ROYAL -- Archivists from the Warren Heritage Society reached into a copper box on a table before them at 6:30 p.m. Friday and lifted gingerly from it a collection of tattered, discolored papers that had been entombed for 78 years until that moment.
The opened box was a time capsule buried inside the cornerstone of the former town hall on Main Street. Archivists Deborah A. Corey and James F. Heflin spread the box's contents on the table with their gloved hands for all in the audience of about 20 to see. Old newspapers and letters from service organizations, some now defunct, and a map of Front Royal in 1810 were among the most visible items.
"It's all here," said Patrick Farris, executive director of the society. "Now the question is how much of this is going to legible."
One letter written by L.V. Dutrow, the first town manager appointed in the early1930s, survived in excellent condition.. The letter was pulled from an envelope marked with the words, "to the person who opens the box."
Most of the letter, read aloud by Farris, recounted the town's efforts to successfully obtain a loan through a New Deal program that allowed for the building of the former town hall and the courthouse.
The last lines carried a more personal message.
"As we write this, we wonder what will be the feeling of the people who finally uncover this stone and secure the papers that have been placed in it," Dutrow wrote.
The letter continues: "I hope that all those, we who put the papers in the stone today will have passed on, that our present conception of the hereafter, which most people in this day feel gives us the opportunity to look back and see this world after we leave it, may give us the opportunity to view the opening of this box and share with you the thrill that will come as the papers are unfolded and the contents made public. Certainly, we who have accumulated these papers are having the same type of thrill in doing it that you will have when the box is opened.
"With all good wishes for your day and time, I am yours very truly L.V. Dutrow, town manager."
Farris pronounced the letter "awesome," the first of many time capsule discoveries he hopes will add to the understanding of the town's history from that era as the papers' pages are dried out and pulled apart from each other in the coming weeks.
The time capsule's long wait to rejoin the present began on Aug. 17, 1935 when it was placed inside the cornerstone to the newly completed town hall.
The capsule disappeared into the past with no date designated for its opening.
Farris said the current town manager, Steve Burke, and others decided the time had come to exhume the box as part of the town's 225th anniversary celebration. The movement of the town administrative offices to the former BB&T building on Main Street also played a part in the decision, Farris said.
Farris said the recovered papers will need some restoration before they take their places in display cases in the former town hall and Heritage Society museum. The collection will be divided in half and swapped between the display cases every six months.
Town officials made a wise decision in opening the time capsule now instead of waiting until its 100th anniversary, Farris said.
"I'm looking at this, and I'm thinking if we waited another 23 years, there wouldn't be a whole lot left," Farris said of the documents spread before him.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org