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A Most Welcome Surprise Package!

A box arrived in the mail on Friday, out of the blue and addressed as shown:

“Historical Papers Dept.” is a wonderful way of describing our Community Archives Room, which is where the box was swiftly taken and immediately given a new and permanent home.  As many of you know, the C.A.R. first opened in 1985, was renovated into a beautiful, climate controlled space last year, and was re-dedicated just last month.  It is home to a collection of unique and engaging local history materials and artifacts covering the historic past of Gardiner and its surrounding towns, as well as family histories and papers of those who lived here “way back when.”
Such personal collections really help bring our history to life and Friday’s package did not disappoint.  It contained dozens of letters, two diaries, and several receipts from a Gardiner family in the late 1880s into the early 1890s.  What’s more, they were an addition of newly found items that will round out a family collection that was donated to us nearly ten years ago.  It short, it was a most welcome surprise!
Of all the materials we keep in the archives, I most appreciate the opportunity to care for and preserve family papers.  They are so personal and, by far, the best way I know to step back in time and see history and daily life through the eyes of those who lived it.  Receipts, such as the one above (from a local shop in 1890), afford us a snapshot of home life — cooking and shopping habits — as well as business workings (prices, billing practices, inventory) over a century ago.  The diaries, shown below,    are an especially personal look at day-to-day — from descriptions of the weather to train rides and work life — and even marriage customs!

 

These two diary entries cover the mundane (work, haircut, finances) to the monumental (getting married!), as well as heading off on the Pullman for a rainy honeymoon in Passadumkeag.
And then there are the letters…  In this package they covered the courtship (leading up to the wedding above) and early years of marriage of a local couple.  Reading and organizing them carries one through the stories of life — at times tragic, but often delightful.  The young woman in this case lost her father when she was a child and her mother when she was a teen, leaving her to look after her younger sister and board with family and friends until her marriage in 1891.  Among the correspondence were also letters between mother and daughter, as well as one earlier gem (below) that was sent to her mother in 1862.  It includes brilliant fabric samples (and prices per yard) for a dress a friend was sewing; the samples are hand-sewn onto the letter itself.  It’s a lovely letter and a wonderful reminder that those dresses in black and white Civil War era photographs were rarely ever black or white!
So, what will we do with these new-to-us treasures?  They will be arranged and cataloged and join their compatriots in archival folders and boxes, housed in the Community Archives Room.  They will be available for reference and research (whether informal or scholarly) and will help future generations to form a truly compelling and detailed picture of our local history through primary sources.
And in the near future some of them just might find their way into a curated display in our new exhibit case in the Reading Room…

 

Stay tuned!

 

– Dawn Thistle, Special Collections Librarian

A new year, a new calendar — or…

If you never got around to using an old 1988 or have a favorite 1960 calendar, they are finally functional again!
How do I know this?  One of my favorite perpetual calendars tells me so.  Calendars can come in pretty handy when working with historic materials. For example, many newspapers published weekly editions and often referred only to the weekday an event occurred (so and so arrived Wednesday or such and such will be held on Monday) and today we must scurry to find a now ancient calendar to determine what date they were talking about.  Of course, a quick Google search can help bring up a calendar for any year — but a handy perpetual calendar can provide the answer just as quickly.
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/rbc/rbpe/rbpe19/rbpe199/1990170a/001dr.jpg
This is one of my favorite perpetual calendars.  It’s from an 1848 broadside and is owned by the Library of Congress.  Click here for close-up views and more information.

Perpetual calendars may look intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of them they’re a breeze and can actually be a lot of fun (well, perhaps more fun to some folks than others, but I’m quite partial to them).  Some perpetual calendars are quite basic, while others (like the one shown above) are a bit more complex.  The gist of any perpetual calendar, however, is the simple fact that, because a year may only begin on one of seven weekdays, there are a finite number of configurations any year may have (14, total), but, due to leap years (like 2016), there are still more possibilities than cannot be quickly computed on the fly (although mathematicians, including Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll, have come up with some fantastic algorithms over the decades to do just that — but we won’t get into that today).

The calendar shown above offers an amazing amount of information on one sheet of paper. Printed in 1848, it includes the dates and days of the week for every year from 1775 to 2025, as well as, at a glance, all the leap years and all the years that share the same configuration within that 250 year time span.  How amazing is that?!

But we’re all tired from the holidays and maybe some of us aren’t ready to embrace perpetual calendars as a new hobby for 2016.  So, to elicit some calendar fascination for all, here are some interesting factoids about calendars that I find fascinating — and just might make for interesting conversation when you need it:

Did you know?

  • Most years begin and end on the same day of the week.  If January 1 falls on a Friday, December 31 will, as well.  (Leap years, including this year, are the exception.  In 2016, 1/1 was a Friday and 12/31 will be a Saturday.)
  • We have been using the Gregorian Calendar in the U.S. only since September 14, 1752.  The conversion from the Julian Calendar that year eliminated 11 days from our history, sort of — folks here in the Colonies went to bed on September 2, 1752, and woke the next morning on the 14th.  Basically, September 3 – 13, 1752, never happened in U.S. history!
  • We were late adopters of the Gregorian Calendar.  France and Spain made the change in 1582; Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire did so in 1583, while Protestant states waited until 1700.  Sweden, however, was a year later than British Colonies and Russia did not adopt our current calendar until 1918.
  • Whatever day of the week is 4/4, so shall be 6/6, 8/8, 10/10, and 12/12.  The same is true for 2/2 when NOT a leap year.
That seems plenty to wrap one’s head around for now, but better get busy using your 2016 calendar immediately — it’s a unique year and won’t come in handy again until 2044!  2014s will work again 2025, and 2015s in 2016, so hang on to them accordingly.
That said, Happy New Year!  May 2016 bring you all the best!!
— Dawn Thistle, Community Archives Room

Family History – now’s the time!

Thanksgiving Day is also National Family History Day.  It’s a natural pairing: that time of year when we gather together for family, food, and fun also marks the perfect opportunity to gather family information.

“Why didn’t I ask questions when I had the chance?”

That’s the #1 rhetorical question we get here in the Archives.  Whether trying to fill gaps in a family tree or hoping to recall or confirm stories from long ago, folks are always wishing they had taken the time to ask questions and record information once upon a time.

National Family History Day was actually declared by the Surgeon General after a Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that

  • over 96% of Americans considered knowledge of family history important to their personal health, but
  • less than 30% had ever actively collected family health information.

Wondering why the Surgeon General cares about genealogy?  Well, it’s simple – tracing family illnesses can help predict health risks and encourage preventative action to keep families healthy!  Of course, health questions may not be the easiest ones to address — nor do they necessarily make the best dinner conversation! — but, making an attempt to start talking about family history, asking questions, and recording information might help get the rolling on all fronts.

Here are some quick suggestions for easy ways to record your family history this weekend – or any time you gather together:

  • There’s an app for that!  Few people have tape recorders anymore, but your phone can do the trick instead!  Download a voice recording app such as StoryCorps (read about it in last week’s Wall Street Journal article) or Interviewy.   Have some questions ready (there are tips on the websites & in the article), but you can also just wing it & see where it goes!
  • Bring out old photos to get the conversation started — and while you’re at it, write the names on the back (in pencil or archival, photo-safe ink).
  • Create a Family Health Portrait with the helpful online tool from the Surgeon General’s Office.
  • Keep pencil and paper handy and just write it down!  Every little bit counts!

Need help pulling it together?  Stop by the Community Archives Room and we’ll give you a hand!

We hope you had a happy Thanksgiving – and that you build upon your family history on this weekend — and at every opportunity!

Do you recognize any of these faces?

Woman, unknown year, Gardiner, Maine.
October is American Archives Month, so it couldn’t be more exciting or appropriate that we finally completed renovations of our Community Archives Room and moved back in last week!  We’re still shuffling some things around, settling into the space, and waiting for some furnishings – so, stay tuned for more!
In the meantime, some things never change.  As thorough as we try to be with documenting and recording information about historic items and photographs, mysteries will always exist. We have many unidentified portrait photographs in our collection and most offer very few clues as to who the subject is.
Children photographed by S.C. Stinson, a Gardiner Photographer who worked with the ambrotype process in the 1860s.
Most photographs, such as the cartes de visite and cabinet cards included here, include the name of the photographer and location of his or her studio.  These photographs were all taken (or reproduced) here in Gardiner, each by a different photographer. Although Gardiner had many photography studios over the years, we can identify a time frame in which images were produced by knowing when the photographers worked in town.  Newspapers and directory listings have helped us build such a timeline, but some photographers left and came back, others worked steadily for decades, and still more names keep coming out of the woodwork (like Hamlin, above).
Man, “Photographed by Clark,” 1860s.
Man, 1880; “Photographic Studio of Mrs. J.K. Barker.”
Fashions of clothing or hair, styles of furniture and set pieces, and also the format and design of the photograph itself provide additional clues.  Women’s hairstyles and men’s facial hair followed distinct trends through the years and clothing and props can indicate time frames, ethnicity, wealth, career, interests and more. 
 
Woman, early 1890s; J.S. Variel, photographer.
Child, early 1890s; A.W. Kimball, photographer.
Similarly, as photographic processing improved and changed, styles emerged to distinguish one print from another.  Colored borders became popular in the late 1880s and fancy edges emerged in the 1890s. Even the thickness of card stock can help determine the age of a photograph, as materials changed and advanced over the years. Coupling these details with our timeline of photographers working in Gardiner really helps in narrowing down years.  
 
Pup, 1890s; G.F. McIntosh, photographer.
 
Some photo albums or batches of images provide contextual clues, such as family resemblances or classmate connections. Unfortunately, without any contextual clues, we’re left only with facial recognition.  So, unless someone out there sees someone they “know” from the past, these folks and four-legged friends will remain mysteries for the ages.  
 
We hope you’ll tell us if you happen to recognize anyone above — and we have many more where these came from!  But the moral of the story is: be a part of history,
Label Your Photos (in pencilNO pens, post-its, or adhesives) Today!  
Happy American Archives Month!

A Glimpse Into the Past

Recently I had the opportunity to go play in the archives here at Gardiner Public Library.  And what a fabulous experience it was!

One day while I was working in the library, I delivered some books to Dawn, our wonderful Archives Librarian. I happened to mention a well-known house in East Pittston that used to be in our family.  It’s on the Historical Register, and I had some questions about it. We got to talking, and Dawn suggested I come spend some time in the archives on my day off.  I set up a day and time with Dawn, who thoughtfully pulled out several items related to East Pittston. I parked myself at the table and before I knew it, two whole hours had passed.
Not only did I find out lots of information regarding the house of my original inquiry, I caught a wonderful glimpse into the past! I found a picture of the general store my great grandfather used to own, a picture of the one room schoolhouse where my grandmother taught, and a picture of the contraption, known as an “auto-house”, that my great grandfather and great uncle drove across country in on their way to California.
I had a few fantastic finds regarding my grandmother. There was a picture of her with one of her classes, taken at the one room schoolhouse. Sitting in the front row was my aunt. There was also an article about the Tom Thumb weddings she used to hold: “East Pittston Pupils Perform Mock Wedding”. I can remember her telling me about this when I was little, and it was pretty interesting to see it in the newspaper! Another wonderful item was a letter written about my grandmother from one of her former students. It was so interesting getting a glimpse into what her school day was like.
My most treasured item I found was a newspaper article reporting about my grandmother’s bridal shower: “Popular ‘Bride to Be’ Honored by Friends at Surprise Shower”. How wonderful to get a glimpse of what that day was like for her!
So thank you Dawn, for allowing me the opportunity to see into my past.
P.S. I’m hooked on archives now!

Historic Photo Mystery – Solved in the Archives!

Of all the wonderful reference questions we field in the Community Archives Room, some of the most engaging involve identifying photographs and their subjects, relative to Gardiner history.  Often people bring in photos of family members or local buildings and want to know just where or when or why a photo may have been taken.  We have wonderful historic maps and directories, as well as many already-identified photos that help with picking out clues to solve the mystery.  And, inevitably, every “solve” brings out new and enlightening details of our richly historic town.

Recently, a  mystery came our way electronically.  Someone had noticed an image for sale by auction on eBay and it struck up lively conversation on Facebook, with folks wondering just where in Gardiner the photograph had been taken.  The auction has since ended, but the image is still view-able online (simply Google: Gardiner bridge 1904 eBay, or click this link: http://goo.gl/dazhU8). The photo shows a young woman standing on a bridge, alongside intricate metal balustrades and a tall railing, with many wooden buildings on the waterfront behind her; writing on the back noted that it was taken September 1904 on the Gardner [sic] Bridge in Maine.

The photo offers some wonderful close-up details, but was taken from a perspective rarely seen in our collection and was not instantly identifiable.  It was not surprising that questions and discussions arose about the location, as Gardiner has at had least four to six bridges that have changed architecturally over time (Gardiner-Randolph, Bridge Street, Winter Street, New Mills, as well as those on Maine Avenue crossing both the Cobbossee and the Causeway).  Only by following each clue and connecting the right dots, could the location be pinpointed.

Many still recall the old Gardiner-Randolph Bridge (c.1933) with concrete railings and balustrades at either end.

 

New Mills Bridge (with trolley arriving, c.1910) was one of Gardiner’s metal bridges for decades, but also lacked the intricate details shown in the mystery photo.

 

Commonwealth Shoe factory, along the Kennebec, c. 1910.  The Causeway bridge in the foreground has the same metalwork and balustrades as in the mystery photo, but has different buildings in its vicinity.

Close inspection of the mystery photo shows small rosettes in the ironwork.  Many will recall similar rosettes that were removed and sold as souvenirs when the old Gardiner-Randolph Bridge was dismantled in 1980.  According to the details in the photo above (if you really zoom in), they also ran along Maine Avenue.

 

Sometimes it takes finding just the right image, taken at the right time of year (e.g., after the protective wooden sidings of winter are taken down) and, of course, in the right year (e.g., after 1896 when the 1850s bridge washed and was replaced, but before the concrete sidings were changed in the late 1920s-early 1930s) to make the solve. The image below was contemporary with the mystery photo and it showed ironwork matching the 1904 railings.

An older photo of the Gardiner-Randolph Bridge, c.1905, showing the metal balustrades and railing that match those in the photo, as well as background buildings that appear to be on the Randolph side of the bridge.

The final clue came by matching the above photo with a period map of Randolph.  The buildings on the north side of the bridge match those in the background of the mystery photo.  By 1910 (not shown), some of the buildings in question were already gone.

1903 Sanborn Map detail of Randolph, including the wooden buildings on the north side of the bridge, matching the those in the mystery photo.

At last, it was safe to conclude, without a doubt, that the mystery photo was taken on the northern Randolph side of the Gardiner-Randolph Bridge.  Although the process sounds a little tedious and drawn out, our marvelous collection led to an answer in under 15 minutes!

Of course, in true form to all our research discoveries here in the Archives, no sooner is a mystery solved than a new and exciting detail — or further mystery — crops up!  A few days later, when browsing microfilm of Gardiner newspapers to pursue a completely different question, a note about the Gardiner-Randolph bridge caught my eye in the July 20, 1906, Weekly Reporter Journal caught my eye:

Apparently some of those small details were not so small after all!

Of course, we still don’t know who the lady is.  If you have any idea — or if you have more Gardiner photos (mysterious or otherwise) — please share them with us!!  We love a good Gardiner mystery!

Things are Shaping up in the Archives…

Slowly, but steadily, progress has been made on the renovations of the Community Archives Room!

We are still a few weeks away from moving out of the reading room and back downstairs, but here are a few hints at what the big picture will look like — and soon!

From top to bottom…

New Sprinkler Heads
Fresh Ceiling Tiles & Efficient, Non-Damaging LED Lights
Dimmer Controls for the LEDs

 

 

An HVAC System to Control Temperature, Humidity, and Dust
Our Beautiful 1881 Gardiner Bricks – Cleaned and Ready for Another Century!
Freshly Painted (and Water-Resistant) Walls – with Clean Radiator Fins
Water- and Damp-Resistant Floor Tiles
Put it all together and we’ll have the state-of-the-art home our local history treasures deserve!
Stay tuned.  It won’t be long before you will be able to see the whole picture….
Indeed, there is LED light at the end of the tunnel!

From the Archives

For a change, I thought I would showcase some postcards that are in the Archives Room. 

 

 

These postcards, from around 1906, show some of the ships that went up and down the Kennebec River with supplies and people.  
 
If you have old postcards of the Gardiner area that you are willing to donate, the Gardiner Public Library would love to have them.  These postcards are just one of the things that the Archives Room at the library has to show our customers.  
 

 

 
 
 
Archive Hours – 
Tuesday – 10:30 – 7:30
Wednesday – 10:30 – 1:30
Thursday – 10:30 – 5:30
Friday – 9:30 – 5:00
 
Please call first, as these hours are subject to change.
 

Ginni Nichols, Young Adult Librarian

Dawn Thistle, Archives Librarian

Help Preserve Your Class History!

 
Class of 1963 Candids

Just as quickly as the flurry of graduations subsides, we are hit with Reunion Season – time to pull out the old yearbook and take a stroll with your high school buddies!  Over the years, Gardiner Public Library has made a point of collecting annual copies of Gardiner High School’s yearbook, the Quill.  Many of you may recall when they resided in the Hazzard Reading Room and wondered what became of them.  Having outgrown that roost, the collection is now lovingly cared for in our Community Archives Room.
Our collection spans from 1919 (when the Quill was more of a periodical school newsletter) all the way to today – with only a few gaps along the way, but that’s where you come in! 
We would love to complete our collection (which, we gather, is even more complete than that of the Kennebec Historical Society’s collection of Cony’s yearbook, Coniad – so, if ever there was a good cause for rivalry, here it is!)  
 
 We are missing the following years of the Quill: 1923, 1925, 1927, 1930, 1936 (that is Class of 1936; we have the 1936-37 issue), 1974, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2003.
Should you come across one of these missing years (whether cleaning out the attic, hitting lawn sales, or dusting it off your own shelf) we would happily accept a donation toward completing our collection.  
Of course, even if you don’t have one of the missing copies – or are missing one yourself – you are more than welcome to stop in and walk down memory lane here at the library!  
The Community Archives Room is open during regular library hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; and from 10:30 to 1:30 on Wednesdays.   Stop in and step back in time!