Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston - Guardian of History
Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston, rescuer of Kentucky history and past president of The Filson Historical Society, is a man to be remembered. He was known to many as Mr. Thruston, as Rogers to his close associates and friends, and as "Uncle Rog" to his close kinsmen. No one in the 117-year history of The Filson Historical Society has done more to build and to preserve the collections than this man of zealous dedication to Kentucky history.
Mr. Thruston was born Rogers Clark Ballard on November 6, l858, in Louisville, the son of Andrew Jackson Ballard and Frances Thruston. His father was a descendant of the celebrated Ballard family of Shelby County, Kentucky, whose ancestry can be traced to the "Old Indian Fighter" Bland Ballard. His mother Frances Thruston was the daughter of Charles William Thruston and Mary Eliza Churchill and a collateral descendant of George Rogers Clark. Clark's sister Frances Eleanor married Captain Charles Mynn Thruston, and they were the grandparents of Rogers Clark Ballard.
Rogers began his educational pursuits at Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, Connecticut. He then attended Welliston Seminary, East Hampton, Massachusetts, and Yale University, where he entered the Sheffield Scientific School in l876 and graduated in l880.
On October 27, 1884, at his mother's request, Rogers Clark Ballard had his name legally changed to Thruston, by an act of the County Court in Fayette County, Kentucky, to carry on the Thruston name.
By 1909, Thruston began a search for his ancestors, and in 1919, after many successful years of being employed as an engineer and geologist active in the eastern Kentucky mining fields, he retired to devote all of his time to Kentucky history and genealogy. In that same year, Thruston offered to give The Filson Historical Society $50,000 as the beginning of an endowment fund and to donate his own private collections and manuscripts if The Filson would procure a house with a fireproof room to house its collections. A few years earlier, in 1913, The Filson's founder Reuben T. Durrett died, and the society seemed to be on the brink of failure. Earlier efforts failed to find a proper building, and Mr. Durrett's collections were sold by his family to the University of Chicago. Mr. Thruston went to Chicago and was able to show proof that many of the items that were sold to the university were the property of The Filson and brought them back to Louisville. A few portraits and relics and a small amount of other material were found at Durrett's home and turned over to Mr. Thruston, who housed them in his office and library in the Columbia Building, which served as a temporary home for The Filson. Meetings were held at the Louisville Free Public Library. In 1923 Thruston became president of The Filson and was instrumental in helping The Filson purchase a permanent home. Over half of the cost was covered by Thruston, and in 1929 The Filson moved into its new home at 118 West Breckinridge Street.
Mr. Thruston was continually engaged in researching his special interests. Because of his well-known ancestors, he became very interested in genealogy and was responsible for the beginning of the family collections at The Filson. The evidence of his work and research is ever-present. Hardly a day goes by without some researcher finding his meticulous notes with his initials RCBT. His volumes of correspondence on the Clark family is a valuable resource for researchers today.
Much of what is in The Filson collections is the result of Thruston's efforts. One source of great importance is The Genealogies of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence from Mr. F.W. Leach. Mr. Leach had spent many years preparing this work in conjunction with the centennial celebration of 1876. After completing it, however, he was unable to sell it to the Library of Congress. Mr. Thruston was able to purchase the complete set for $2,000. This collection is one of the richest genealogies of American families in existence.
Over 20,000 photographs dating from l880 to 1942, known as the Thruston Photograph Collection, is also part of our Special Collections Department. Thruston photographed scenes across many Kentucky counties, other states, and foreign countries. Of special interest are scenes and people of the eastern Kentucky mountains.
Thruston was very careful about having important documents duplicated, and he made many photostat backup copies. He was responsible for having over one hundred volumes of American newspapers, including twelve volumes of the Kentucky Gazette from 1787 to 1800 and fifty volumes of the George Rogers Clark Papers from the Virginia State Library, placed in the collections.
As a result of his research, he wrote several works on George Rogers Clark, flags, and historic sites in Jefferson County. Thruston began the first pilgrimages by Filson members to historic sites in Jefferson County.
In l946 Mr. Thruston died, but before his death he made provisions in his will for a substantial financial gift to The Filson. Louisville will never see the like of Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston again. It was his leadership and caring nature that made The Filson what it is today. We owe much to his tireless research and preservation of records.
Ironically, even though Mr. Thruston was gone several decades before The Filson moved to its present location, it was not surprising to find that he was buried from the L.D. Pearson Funeral Home at (where else?) 1310 South Third Street.
The Filson Historical Society