History through Accounting ~ Looking in the Ledgers of Lee’s Financial Legacy,
and Lexington’s Historic General Store
The presentation sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the Rockbridge Historical Society that was originally scheduled for February 16, but canceled due to the weather, has been rescheduled for March 16th with the reception starting at 6:30 and presentation starting at 7:30 at the Hillel House on West Washington St. The presentation is by Professor Stephan Fafatas and two of his students; Bereket Mechale ’15 and Catherine Roach ’16 from the class he taught last spring. They made extensive use of our Special Collections in their research.
Hopefully the weather will cooperate this time.
Bereket Mechale, a senior Accounting/Business Administration major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, explored the daybooks and accounting ledgers from Dold’s Store, a landmark business that long occupied the corner of Main and Washington. These detailed records afford a glimpse of the kinds of products that were available and in demand between the 1840s and 1890s, covering the period before and after the arrival of the railroad in the early 1880s that affected the city and its county markets.
Store inventory that had been based on locally sourced staples quickly broadened to include new medicines and domestic products, even anchovy paste, all commodities that would previously have been rare luxuries. The ledgers enable precise reckoning of the consistencies and variations in price that affected the area. Mechale’s analysis also found broader shifts that made the local and national economies increasingly dependent on the transfer of raw materials, technical know-how in manufacturing, and the packing and transport of materials from more distant centers.
Rather than examine a single set of account books, Catherine Roach, a junior with a double major in European History and Accounting/Business Administration, studied a wide range of unique documents (and accounting formats) held in Leyburn Library’s Special Collections. Among them were Washington College’s operational accounts and Trustees’ Reports, enrollment records, President Lee’s personal correspondence, and newspaper advertisements intended to recruit new students and raise funds in the North as well as the South. A roll of Confederate veterans who made modest contributions to the College’s endowment, as well as gifts solicited from major donors like Cyrus McCormick and George Peabody, all testify in clear fiscal terms to the personal impact of Lee’s tenure, 1865-1870, crucial years of the College’s revival and reinvention.
In tying together these innovative contributions to local history and financial practices, Professor Fafatas will address some of the broader challenges and opportunities in bridging these methods and fields. His research and teaching was recognized in 2014 with a national prize from the Academy of Accounting Historians. Along with the collaborations of student research, he looks forward to building on the work of other local historians and archivists, and some of our RHS records, to flesh out the past through its commercial math and communal connections.
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, VA 24450