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Time Travel is Real: The Lewis A. Loder Diaries, 1857-1904 (to 2021 and beyond…)

The Lewis A. Loder Diaries, 1857-1904, are among Boone County’s most unique local history resources, and have long been appreciated by members of the community and library staff for their rich historical content.

Lewis Allen Loder (1819-1905), born in Pennsylvania and later a longtime resident of Petersburg, Kentucky, diligently recorded, in his personal diaries, his observations of daily events for nearly half a century. Loder served as a tavern keeper, book keeper, and Justice of the Peace in his time.

Lewis Loder, seated, with sons James and Leon, BCPL Local History.

Loder’s diary entries reveal many stories from the riverfront community of Petersburg and its vicinity. Even just a quick pass through Mr. Loder’s diaries enables one to travel back in time for a moment. Weather reports, floods, steamboat traffic, boat accidents, drownings, distillery news, crop shipments, Civil War-related events, social events, personal incidents from Loder’s life, and more – the content ranges from the dramatic and tragic to the seemingly mundane. More recent research by Local History staff has broadened their use, bringing to light Loder’s recording of incidents involving enslaved African Americans during the antebellum period, such as escapes made or attempted along the Ohio River.

Loder diary entry pages.

But the physical items themselves, as artifacts, also reveal an important story. Indeed, the Loder diaries have experienced their own journey over the past 160+ years. The diaries were donated by E. Y. Chapin as part of the dedication of the Chapin Memorial Library in Petersburg in 1948-1949. Edward Young Chapin, born in Petersburg in 1865, eventually studied law in Covington and Cincinnati, and later became a successful banker in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His desire to fund a library for the community of his childhood resulted in his partnership with the Petersburg Christian Church and the Reverend Claude MacDonald.

The eight (8) Loder diaries come in various shapes, sizes, and weights, indicating that Mr. Loder used a variety of types of notebooks over time. Also noticeable is that the quality and type of paper inside the diaries changed over time. All the diaries are hand-written in pencil, which is preferable because pencil lasts a long time when left alone, and is less likely than ink to smear, run or fade.

It is unknown what the original bindings or covers of the diaries looked like. As part of his gift to the Petersburg community, Mr. Chapin had the diaries rebound by the George A. Flohr Company, Library Binders, of Cincinnati, Ohio. The black covers are embossed with “Loder Diary No. 1, 2, 3, …”, stamped on the inside with the bindery name, the date of December 1949, and a bookplate label for the Chapin Memorial Library. For some reason, the diaries were not bound in date order. (See the end of this blog for a complete list.)


Over time, the efforts to share and promote the Loder diaries’ rich content also has evolved. From 1985-1988, local historian and educator William Conrad compiled, indexed published transcriptions of the Loder diaries (titled, The Loder diary: a transcription of the original), an extremely helpful research tool. Later, the Loder diaries were reformatted to microfilm in 2001 at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives, enabling broader access, and less handling of the originals, in the years prior to the digital revolution of the 2010s. Additional indexes also have been created.

For many years, the Loder diaries were kept at the Chapin Memorial Library. Local residents may recall Loder Diary No. 8 (1889-1896) on display in an acrylic exhibit case. The decision was made recently to bring all of the Loder diaries to the Main Library on Burlington Pike, where they are stored in the Local History closed stacks area for safe-keeping. The decision also was made to invest in additional archival storage materials to ensure the diaries continued long-term preservation.

The Lewis A. Loder Diaries, 1857-1904, have held up rather well over many years; these most recent steps should enable them to continue their journey through time, and well into yet another century.


But wait, there’s more…

Use of the original Lewis Loder diaries is restricted due to their age and condition. Print and digital versions of the resources described above are available via BCPL’s Local History Department and the BCPL catalog.

The Loder diaries are a component of a larger collection of materials, the Chapin Memorial Library, Petersburg History Collection, 1830s-2000s.

Questions? Contact the Local History reference staff by email localhistory@bcpl.org, by phone (859-342-2665, x8150) or visit the Main Library on Burlington Pike in Burlington.


To read more about Lewis Loder and his diaries, see the links below:


BCPL, Local History, Chronicles of Boone County, Lewis Loder article

KHS, Explore Kentucky History, Petersburg and Lewis Loder historical marker

Lewis A. Loder Diaries, 1857-1904
Loder Diary No. 1 (1857-1858)
Loder Diary No. 2 (1884-1889)
Loder Diary No. 3 (1879-1883)
Loder Diary No. 4 (1872-1878)
Loder Diary No. 5 (1863-1871)
Loder Diary No. 6 (1896-1904)
Loder Diary No. 7 (1859-1862)
Loder Diary No. 8 (1889-1896)

Tracey Howerton is a Local History Librarian at Boone County Public Library.

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