One of the unsung centers in the battle for historic preservation is the Newburyport Library Archival Center. Before the Library was greatly expanded, archival material was found in the Hamilton Room which was located in the basement in the original Tracy Mansion. The Library did its best but the archives were not well-protected nor was the organization of the archives at the cutting-edge of preservation techniques found in top-notch libraries.
One of the great battles over the new library was where the Hamilton Room would be re-located. Many trustees recognizing the one-of-a-kind resource wanted it on the first floor and others such as Ed Molin wanted it back in the basement. In the end, it was a good thing that it ended up in the basement as you will see later in this dissertation.
One drawback is the out-of-sight location. A large population of citizens are totally unaware of the archival center. To locate it, the first thing is to go directly back from the front entrance and head as it were toward the Program Room in the back of the library. The first door on the left is the entrance.
After opening the door, you will be facing two ominous statues and a flight of stairs.
Travel down this imposing pathway and soon you will see the entrance to the archives.
One of the advantages of this location has been the total control of the environment with filtered air to combat dust and controlled light to combat deterioration. The hours of the archival center are M-Fri, 9-12, 1-4, Sat is 9-12 and Wed (if volunteers are available) 5-8. Jessica Gil is the head of this important part of the library and has worked diligently to professionally preserve our city’s recorded history.
Once you open the door, you will immediately be faced with a smiling, dedicated volunteer who has been trained to assist you in anyway possible.
The volunteer’s names above have been withheld to protect the dedicated.
I tried to obtain a picture of Jessica Gil but she declined. It is unfortunate because in the next year, her role in the City will be greatly enhanced as the Mayor pushes to have the records scanned that the City Clerk and his small army of volunteers have catalogued over the last several years. Once they have been digitized, the originals will be moved to the Library’s archival room to be catalogued and preserved for posterity. There is also a move afoot to have other department’s records scanned and the originals placed here.
When you enter the archival center, there are simple protocols to observe. First, sign in. Many times if grants are applied for by the center, proof has to be shown of how important the center serves the community. By putting in your name and what you are seeking, you may actually help fund the Center. Second, don’t brush aside the staff and fumble off on your “search” like waiving off a sales staff at Marshalls. Ask questions. If the volunteer doesn’t know the answer, she has access to the computer and of course, there is Ms. Gil herself! It could save you hours of seeking. Third, stacks of rulers are on each table. If you pull a book, put a ruler where the book was and when finished, DON’T PUT IT BACK. Many a research has been foiled because a missing book was a shelf away. Let them do it later.
I encourage you to at least set a little time to visit and take a ‘tourist’ tour. It is truly amazing at what ‘treasures’ can be found at a quick glance.
If you ever want to know what your taxes go toward in services, this amazing place is a prime example. Want to research your historic home? Want to find out the real history of Newburyport? Want to do some serious genealogy? Want to feel like a History Detective? This is the place!
Take time and visit.