Inside the Archive: Uncovering Hidden Treasures

September 18, 2023

Within the walls of the Eugenia Williams House, a quiet history unfolds. It’s the story of a woman’s life told in fragments of a different era. As we continue to explore the many items recovered from the house and grounds and donated to the Aslan Foundation—personal effects, family photographs, letters, and everyday household items—we are given a window into Eugenia’s upbringing, family history, and daily life. The archive the Foundation is building also offers a better understanding of the times in which Eugenia lived, including some of the standards, conditions, and events that still shape East Tennessee’s cultural heritage today. Join us as we uncover a handful of items that once belonged to Eugenia Williams and explore their stories and significance.

1. Antique Photographs (courtesy of the Roddy Family)

This antique photograph collection includes portraits of family members up to three generations removed from Eugenia. Here are just a few images of Eugenia’s youth and closest family members in the archive. Many pictures are originals predating modern photography techniques and were taken before Eugenia was born.

2. Vintage Leather Trunk and Monogrammed Louis Vuitton Luggage (courtesy of the Roddy Family)

Among the most notable artifacts from Eugenia’s life are these two pieces of luggage, generously donated to the Aslan Foundation by the family of Patrick Roddy. This enormous leather steamer trunk and monogrammed Louis Vuitton suitcase are in near-pristine condition and once contained bed linens and furs.

3. 22 Carat Gold Dinner Plates (courtesy of Virginia Rainwater)
Twelve dinner plates decorated with 22-carat gold ornate gilding were donated to the Aslan Foundation by Virginia Rainwater. Late in her life, Eugenia gifted the dinner plates to her hairdresser, Elaine Ballard. The maker stamp on the back reads “Thomas Bavaria.” The plates are in near-mint condition, with only minor wear on the gilding, and are remarkably free of any chips or cracks.

4. A Taste for the Finer Things: Remnants of Eugenia’s Shopping Habits

These fragments, including a Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag, the department store in New York City, which she favored, point to Eugenia’s love of fashion. The branding on these items evokes a sense of nostalgia and provides insight into the societal norms and preferences of the time. It also appears that Eugenia had a penchant for orange marmalade.

Preserving the Past for Future Generations

The Eugenia Williams archive is a treasure trove of photographs and artifacts that allow us to connect with Eugenia herself on a more personal level. It serves as a reminder that preserving personal items can help us remember our cultural heritage and the stories that shape our community. Through carefully curating these items, the Aslan Foundation strives to ensure the legacy of this historic home for future generations.