Have you ever held an object from over 100 years ago in your hands and wondered what life was like in earlier times? History is all around us in objects, documents, and stories from the past that all need to be preserved and protected. History is not static. There is always more research to do.
Andover is a small town of about 2,400 residents. The town has a vast archive curated and owned by the Andover Historical Society, making it possible to preserve historic documents and artifacts. The AHS is responsible for an impressive collection of over 6,400 historic items which it has received from generous donors over the last 40 years. An archive should create a safe location to store and catalog historic documents and artifacts for research or future exhibits. I spoke to Luan Clark, the AHS archivist and curator at the office upstairs at the J.C. Emons General Store & Post Office on Depot Street in Andover, in the section of town known as Potter Place.
The curator’s first job is making the decision whether or not the donated item is a good fit for the AHS. Then she determines if it will go to the archives or to one of the AHS museums in Potter Place for a special exhibit. Each item is given a numeric code, and a detailed form (called a gift agreement) is filled out. The form includes the name of the donor, any known history of the item, any family history connected to it, and a clear description including color and size. This information is then entered into the computer database for the AHS archives. The database keeps a computer copy of everything and gives the information needed to easily locate and identify each item in the archival collection. Finally, the item is placed in the archive room, located in the attic of the Potter Place train station. The AHS hopes to obtain a robust computer program in the future to begin putting some of the photos and scanned documents online for future research.
The archive room was constructed in 1985 with a double wall to protect the collection from the elements. In the early days, the collection was relatively small, so this space worked as a temporary holding area. Today, the AHS archive room has reached capacity since the organization receives new donations every month. The AHS is now looking into creating a new archive room to house and preserve the ever-growing collection. The current archive room is also a safety concern for the organization. To get to the archives you must climb a steep set of stairs to the attic of the Potter Place Train Station. Carrying heavy items up and down the stairs can be difficult and even dangerous for the curator or AHS volunteers. This safety concern and liability is one important issue. The second concern is that the archives are unheated without climate control. Because of this, the documents and artifacts are not safe from environmental wear and tear. The space is ice cold in the winter and overheated in the summer making it a difficult working condition for curating or visiting the archives.
After visiting the archives, I talked with Dr. Susan E. Schnare, historic preservation consultant, and longtime volunteer and supporter of the AHS. She is working with a committee to plan the new archival space. While it is just the beginning of the planning session, Susan and the committee are discussing and planning how to best protect Andover’s history. She explained, “the new archives will be climate controlled with space to grow in, all on one level, to protect our irreplaceable historic treasures and our curators.”
Meanwhile, the AHS Fundraising Committee is working on a campaign to support this goal with the aim of creating a new structure in keeping with modern standards. If you are interested in learning more about this project, campaign, or the archive collection, please contact the Andover Historical Society.