Preserving Camille: Nelson County Historical Society works to tell the story

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NELSON COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) — At the Oakland Museum just outside Lovingston, a group of history buffs, locals and archivists is making sure the story of Hurricane Camille’s wrath on Nelson County is told long after this milestone 50th anniversary.

Jane Raup, archivist with the Nelson County Historical Society, flips through photos of the flood of 1969. WDBJ7 photo.

Jane Raup is one of those people responsible for telling the story of Hurricane Camille. It is a story she knows well.

"It's easy because I was there,” said Raup, the archivist for the Nelson County Historical Society. “It's as if it were yesterday, even though it was 50 years ago."

It has been 50 years since remnants from Camille devastated Nelson County, dumping at least 27 inches of rain and wiping out one percent of the county’s population in a single night.

Raup was 14 years old when more than 120 people in her community died.

"It was just terrifying and so sad,” she explained. “When you wake up and your world is just very different."

Raup is now the archivist for the museum. Several shelves in the archive room are dedicated to commemorating Camille.

She keeps track of hundreds of pictures and handwritten notes from the disaster, including a box that holds original documents. One legal pad had a list of the names of people missing sprawled across it.

"At the time, it was very jarring. Many of them were children, some I went to school with,” said Raup, holding the legal pad in her hands.

"People who lived through it refer to it as, 'before Camille' and 'after Camille,'” said Heywood Greenberg, the secretary of the Nelson County Historical Society.

He said the way people responded to Camille, and the lessons learned, have shaped what the county looks like today. The flood informed land-use planning and called for improved emergency communications.

"Camille is almost assuredly the most dramatic change agent and event in Nelson County's modern history,” said Greenberg.

The Oakland Museum houses the Camille Resource Center, a place to further research and understanding of the historic event.

The museum also hosts an exhibit that features the names of the people who died, a map of more than 5,600 landslides that ran through the county, and stories of heroes and recovery.

"This is an example of how people react to disaster,” said Raup.

From the practical to honoring lives lost, it is a story the historical society says cannot be forgotten.

“Eventually no one will be left who remembers it. So we have to preserve it for those who did not experience it,” said Raup.

There were two events this weekend to commemorate the anniversary and honor the lives lost 50 years ago. On Sunday, there was a memorial event with music and photographs at Nelson County High School. On Monday at 10 a.m., the county will host a ceremony in front of the Nelson County courthouse.

The museum is open year-round Wednesdays and Saturdays. The historical society also has an extensive database online.

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