2008-07-03 / News

Storage problems settled for island historical objects

By Rudd Hall

Sue Maden works with intern Laurel Richardson to catalog items in Jamestown Historical Society vault at Town Hall. Photo by Rudd Hall Sue Maden works with intern Laurel Richardson to catalog items in Jamestown Historical Society vault at Town Hall. Photo by Rudd Hall On June 29, the renovated Jamestown Museum opened to the public, showing various displays of artwork, maps, and other treasures relating to Jamestown's past. Its polished wood floors and well-kept exhibits engage anyone on their first visit to the museum. But the town's historically rich past still begs the question: where do they keep everything? The answer is a little-known area of Town Hall, called the Vault.

In 1971, the Historical Society took out a lease for 99 years on the building at the four corners, formerly the library where the museum is now, as well as on the room where the vault is located, beneath Town Hall. The vault has come about due to large numbers of historic artifacts compiled over the years, collected by the society which are donated by citizens or bought at auction. Sue Maden of the historical society said, "they (the Historical Society) began in 1912, and has been collecting things ever since!"

Prior to the vault, everything was stored in the museum, or at people's homes, due to the lack of space for it all. Maden explained the museum's lack of storage problem saying, "in the back room of the museum was an addition that was put on in 1921 for more library shelves which go from floor to ceiling, they made it impossible to work around. And with everything we have collected, the storage was just never adequate. It was overcrowded, it was hard to access anything, and the conditions were bad in terms of extreme hot and extreme cold."

So to deal with this problem the Historical Society requested that when the Town Hall was being planned they also build a place where the "overflow" could be kept safe, dry, and organized.

The vault, located in the basement of Town Hall, primarily stores archives as well as textiles including costumes and uniforms, and takes up a space of 26- by 10-feet. The vault is crucial because as Maden said, "it's been a huge success, and very important to advancing the goals and mission of the Historical Society, because now we have everything in one place, and we've been working very diligently to catalogue the archives, so we know what we have and where it is."

"We've catalogued over 13,000 items including objects, books, photographs and archives," Maden added. Rosemary Enright, president of the JHS adds, "It's much easier to access these archives when they're not spread around, it's a much too important place not to have."

Access to the vault is by appointment only, due to the delicate nature of many of the archives and artifacts, which deteriorate over the years. But as Maden said, "we don't use white gloves here like they do in some places, and we'll assist anyone handling the archives." And when JHS members aren't monitoring the vault, the contents are protected by the non-fire suppression system that will put out any fire while keeping the archives in tact. The system is extremely important because any loss from the vault would be a loss of Jamestown's past, and this is especially the case with the original 1657 Land Agreement, which the Society owns. Enright explained, "The 1657 Land Agreement is a pre-purchased contract among the men who bought the island from the Indians; we bought it at auction in 2005 for about $27,000."

Funding the purchase of the document led to a successful capital campaign drive, which raised $500,000 under the co-chairmanship of Anne Livingston and John A. Murphy. Enright said about the citizens' reaction when asked for funding, "Jamestown has been very, very responsive to the historical society when asked for funding, it's a great community, always willing to give, to preserve their island and its history."

Appointments for vault access can be made by going to www. jamestownhistoricalsociety.org.

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