Vermont Archives Month Blog

Archiving Postcards

-Beth Kanell, Archives Month Committee Member, Waterford Historical Society

Happy Halloween!

Image courtesy the author

One of the great heartaches of an exploring historian or archivist happens when a picture or postcard, or even a letter, has been fastened with some kind of glue or paste or tape, into a scrapbook.

The big plus of a scrapbook is that it illustrates how items connect with the person pulling them together. But the big minus is, vital information on the “flip side” of an item can be lost or damaged, if the item is fastened in a way that won’t let it pull free with its details intact.

Image courtesy the author

Storing vintage postcards is much simpler today than even a few years ago. Two good storage systems are shown here: a loose-leaf album with pages that have see-through pockets for the postcards, and a secure moisture-resistant container that can be divided into labeled section for larger numbers of cards. The loose-leaf album’s big advantages show up when you take it to a gathering or simply pull it out to show an archive visitor: It’s simple to examine the cards, front and back, without handling or damaging them. Using a separate album for each topic or donor adds to the value of this method.

The container’s obvious plus is the quantity of cards it can hold. But it must be filled almost to capacity, to ensure that the cards don’t bend or have their corners hurt with movement of the container. Also, each card should be in its own plastic sleeve, preferably of an archivally stable plastic.

With either of these methods, it’s important to store information with each card. The simplest method used in the Kanell postcard archive is to jot the information on a “sticky tag” and press it into place—never on the card itself, but on the outside of the plastic sleeve holding it.

Images courtesy the author

An additional method, very useful in the long run, is to scan each card and its accompanying information and store these images in a well-labeled file. Consider keywords and family names, as well as dates, in selecting how to label and organize this information.

There is one added plus to collecting postcards, which were at their most interesting in the so-called Golden Age of penny postcards, 1907 to 1915: Not only do you preserve a meaningful and often entertaining image, but the postmark, stamp, addressee, message, and writer are all valuable information.

So archive your postcards with care—and never glue them into scrapbooks!

“Pasted by Mrs. Charles Jones:” Saving Stories in a Scrapbook

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee MemberSilver Special Collections Library, University of Vermont

For one hundred years, the Summit House welcomed day hikers and overnight visitors to the top of Mount Mansfield. The hotel closed in 1958 and the owners auctioned its furnishings before the structure burned in 1964. The Summit House business records, including boxes of correspondence, guest registers, and account books, as well as one large scrapbook, now sit on shelves in Silver Special Collections at the University of Vermont.

In 1866, Mattie Whiting Bailey wrote of the Summit House, “a miracle of beauty it must seem to unaccustomed eyes, a gem in the wilderness, if one can imagine such a thing as a brown gem.”

Scrapbooks can be challenging to preserve and use, and the Summit House scrapbook is no exception.  The large book was “pasted by Mrs. Charles Jones in 1950,” according to a note on the back of the front cover. While most of the items that Mrs. Jones pasted and stapled are still firmly attached, the scrapbook pages themselves are extremely brittle and have mostly broken away from the laced binding. The simple act of turning the crumbling pages can be intimidating.

The first two items Mrs. Jones pasted into the scrapbook include a 1929 letter from Mrs. Mattie Whiting Bailey of Johnson, Vermont and a typescript of a newspaper article that Bailey wrote in 1866 about a visit to the Summit House. She sent the article to M. C. Lovejoy, manager of the Summit House, as “a contribution to your table of reading matter.” It is likely that Mrs. Jones started the scrapbook in 1950 to preserve visitor accounts, newspaper clippings, photographs, postcards, menus, pamphlets and other documents that had accumulated at the Summit House over the decades.

All of the items pasted on 81 pages provide a remarkable, if random, look at how visitors engaged with the natural scenic attractions and the comforts offered by the Summit House. Many of the visitor accounts are detailed and include commentary on the same topics: how they traveled up the mountain, trails walked and scenic attractions visited, companionship with friends and strangers, and meals eaten. One mid-day dinner included pea soup, roast beef, pork, boiled salmon, pies and rice pudding.

A portion of a page devoted to photos of Mary Sweet and friends at the Summit House in 1921. Sweet worked as assistant manager and hostess for the Mt. Mansfield Company from 1949-1957.

The scrapbook contains several first-person stories about visiting one of the mountain’s unique attractions, the Cave of the Winds, including a humorous account that involved five hotel employees in 1932. “The eventful trip,” they wrote, “is the first to be made at night as far as the record shows and will be long remembered and talked of.” They made sure to record the challenges they faced in the cave, such as descending over a 25-foot ice slide “in sitting position.”

The exploits of Summit House employees who made an evening expedition to the Cave of the Winds are recorded on hotel stationery. The letterhead highlights the healthful conditions (no hay fever at 4393 feet above safe level) and the easy access (auto road to summit safe for any car.)

One intriguing group of documents suggest that some visitors actively studied the mountain environment. There are lists of birds and plants of Mount Mansfield, undated and dated (1870, 1928, 1935) that include information about type of bird or plant and its location on the mountain. One handwritten list, “Plants of Mt. Washington observed on Mt. Mansfield,” suggests a scientific investigation.

“Save for record for Mt. Mansfield’s Summit House centennial celebration” is scrawled across a brown envelope holding 8 x 10 black and white photos. The Summit House hosted a centennial celebration in July 1958 attended by 1,200 people (including Mary Sweet, featured in the photo above). Perhaps the scrapbook was set out during the festivities.

Read more about scrapbook preservation: Preserving Scrapbooks

Read more about the Summit House: Historian Dona Brown analyzed data from the Summit House guest registers for her article, “Accidental  Tourists:  Visitors  to the  Mount  Mansfield  Summit  House in  the  Late  Nineteenth  Century.”

Researching the Camel’s Hump Plane Crash

-Brian Lindner, Archives Month Committee Member, National Life

This month marks the 77th anniversary of Vermont’s most famous airplane crash.  It wasn’t the worst in terms of lives lost but it remains the one most often remembered.  Flying in perfect weather, on the very cold night of Sunday, October 16, 1944 an Army Air Force bomber barely nicked the western summit of Camels Hump.  The impact was just enough to send the 30-ton, 110’ wing-span bomber into a spectacular cartwheel around the south face of the summit.  Nine young airmen died instantly and the tenth barely survived but lost both hands and both feet.

Since the crash, there have been tremendous advances in how government (and private) files get archived.  New legal requirements and adherence to generally accepted recordkeeping principles, new technological advances, new appreciation for preserving history, new archival buildings, more highly trained archivists, and better guidelines on what must/should be archived all will serve future researchers very well.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been so.  But what has survived is often enough to provide a solid basis to seek other sources to complete the research at hand.  The Camels Hump crash story is a perfect example.

Colorized photograph showing the main wreckage three days after the crash.  Two days after the crash, the sole survivor was found seated with his back against the star.  The small bush on the right still stands on the mountain.  (Author’s collection)

You would think with a wide variety of official organizations involved (see below) there would be an abundance of files for any researcher to locate and review.  It just isn’t so.  Here is the list of organizations that were involved:

  • U.S. Army Air Force  (Before the Air Force became independent.)
  • Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles  (Served as State Police before 1947.)
  • Vermont State Guard  (Not the National Guard.  The VSG was/is a well-regulated militia.)
  • Office of Civilian Defense
  • American Red Cross
  • Westover Army Air Field, Massachusetts
  • Presque Isle Army Air Field, Maine
  • Grenier Army Air Field, New Hampshire
  • U.S. Army Arctic Search & Rescue Team
  • U.S. Civil Air Patrol
  • Vermont Department of Aeronautics
  • Vermont Council of Safety
  • Waterbury Police Department

Guess what?  Of all these agencies, only tiny portions of a couple files still exist.  What once consisted of several files and probably hundreds of pages has been whittled down to a dozen or two pages…and not a single photograph.  What happened?

Let’s start with the Army Air Force Report of Aircraft Accident.  This is the document that is supposed to summarize the findings of the Board of Investigation pertaining to the cause, the blame, the plane, the crew, the wreckage, and literally anything to do with the crash, recovery, and rescue.

Until the 1994 closing of Norton Air Force Base in California, that base was where all crash files for the “Air Corps” were housed going back to the beginning of flight.  Norton had the original paper files with the original photographs.  Somebody/somehow made the decision to archive only the reports themselves without the supporting documents or photographs.  The reports were microfilmed (often poorly because of old technology and spotty quality control) and the supporting paper files and photographs were subsequently destroyed.  The microfilm ended up at Maxwell AFB in Alabama where it remains today – easily accessible to researchers.  Gone were weather records, witness statements, maintenance notes and nearly all those priceless photographs of the crash scenes.  However, that basic report is always enough to provide the names and locations of the people and places involved so that any researcher can pivot and head in those directions looking for information, photographs, personal records, etc.  Often the most important part of the archived report is the list of the crewmen and their next-of-kin – with addresses.

Until 1996 all those microfilmed U.S.A.F. crash reports were legally classified and not available to any researcher.  (With good reason; it was to ensure witnesses could always testify without fear their testimony could somehow be turned against them.)  As a result, nothing could force the Air Force to release any report on any crash.  In 1976 I attempted to obtain a copy of the report for the Camels Hump crash.  I was thinking it would a very thick file and packed with witness statements, photographs, etc.  No luck; my request was denied.  Even a formal appeal failed – the witnesses must be protected. 

However, in response to a request about the general history of Westover Army Air Field (near Springfield, MA where the bomber was stationed) the U.S.A.F. sent a fantastic 16mm microfilm that provided several quarterly histories covering that airbase during World War Two.  And what do you suppose was accidentally included on that microfilm…it was a series of classified Report(s) of Aircraft Accident(s) that involved Westover Field bombers – including the one on Camels Hump!  They charged me $6.00.  What a deal!!!!  I now had the official report with the names of the investigators and the next-of-kin of all the crewmen.  This familial information had been archived and provided the basis for the next major step in researching the full story.

Page 1 of the Army Air Force official report.  Notice the “secret” classification.  This was declassified in later years.

The report was two pages.  Two pages.  Nine men died in a spectacular bomber crash and there were two pages to tell the entire story.  The information contained was truly excellent but – two pages?  I lived with that until the late 1990s when a fellow called me from New Jersey looking for info on the crash.  It seems his father had seen the wreckage in the late 1940s and he was just curious.

He casually mentioned the survivor’s official statement.  What?  “Oh,” he said, “it’s in the crash report.”  He had ordered a copy of the crash report from Air Force archives and (unknown to me) the U.S.A.F. had declassified crash reports (from prior to 1996) after I had made my request and unsuccessful appeal.  “Yea,” he said, “there are several pages after the first two.”  The next day, I ordered a copy of the now declassified report from the U.S.A.F. archives.  When it arrived, the report did indeed have several more pages and they provided excellent new information.  There were several new leads on what archive to check next.

So….ten airmen were involved.  They each would have had an Army Air Force personnel file, right?  Well, sort of.  In 1973 the National Archives Records Center in St. Louis accidentally burned taking almost all World War Two air force personnel files.  Of the ten files for this crew, only one page of one file was ever recovered.  (Although burned around the edges, this document described the condition of the copilot’s body.)  Fire has always been a dreaded threat to any archive and in this case, fire won.  Modern archives are generally far better protected from fire (and water) than in the past.

Searches for the Department of Motor Vehicles files, Waterbury Police, Red Cross, Civil Air Patrol, etc. etc. etc. all came up entirely dry.  Nothing.  Zero.  (Some officers remembered filing formal reports but never saw them again.)  But, once again, a few names on the crash report and from archived (microfilmed) newspapers provided the critical information that allowed me to track down and interview the folks who were there…..almost all with remarkably detailed recollections.

A call in 1976 to former Waterbury resident Alton Wheeler got some serious results.  He had been the officer in 1947 who shut down post-war operations of the Vermont State Guard’s Company B in Waterbury.  (The Vermont State Guard was not the National Guard.  The VSG was a home defense militia organized to replace the National Guard that had been mobilized and sent off to the world war.)  Wheeler told me he had wrapped their files in an old paper shopping bag, tied it with string, and placed the package on the bottom of a red end table in the attic of the Waterbury Public Library in 1947.  What are the chances?  Guess what was still in the exact same “archived” location 29 years later.  These files contained a report about Company B’s activity related to the recovery operations on Camels Hump including an exact list of every Guardsman who had participated.  That list allowed me to start finding and interviewing many of those men.  This was an archival treasure. 

Company B of the Vermont State Guard report of the men involved in recovery operations on Camels Hump following the crash.

In the official Army Air Force history microfilm for Grenier Army Air Field in Manchester, NH there is no mention of that base’s work in recovering valuable pieces from the Camels Hump bomber although archived newspapers made it clear that airmen from Grenier were handling exactly that task.  They were a tad sloppy.  They left at least two of the machine guns in the wreckage for civilians to find and remove…and the complete body of the Tail Gunner.  His remains were found by civilians the following spring.

Using the information I had on the next-of-kin from the Report of Aircraft Accident, I tracked down this airman’s last surviving brother.  He sent copies of his father’s “archive” related to the crash.  Here again was an archival treasure.  In the ¼” thick material was total confirmation of the identity of the body found months after the crash.  This personal “archive” solved an enormous mystery for me but, far more importantly, it explained to the brother all of the “strange” events his father dealt with six months after the crash.

In the Army Air Force history microfilm for Presque Isle Army Air Field in Maine there is a copy of Captain William Shearer’s report of his team’s (U.S. Army Arctic Search & Rescue Team) work in rescuing the sole survivor.  This is a well-written report with many critical details except it lacks names of some key individuals. This too was an archival treasure.  Without this report in the U.S.A.F. archives, I would never have known of Shearer or his team.  (I tracked Shearer down when he was in his 90s.  He very clearly remembered the entire mission and was able to add many details that were not in his 1944 report.)

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was the key agency that ensured the sole survivor was found and lived to tell his story.  They have not a single page of any report.  This is understandable.  The CAP is/was a “civilian” organization underneath the Air Force.  In this case, the key CAP participants were high school kids (CAP Cadets) and they were the ones who saved the sole survivor.  It was not very likely any of these kids were going to write any report to anyone.  However, their exploits and comments were well captured in the newspapers, which were archived on microfilm.  When contacted, they all graciously granted interviews and/or wrote down their recollections.  They were all remarkably consistent in their memories of that very scary night on the mountain with a badly injured crewman.

Page 1 of the Vermont Aeronautics report.  The ink was badly faded by the mid-1970s when this photocopy was made.

Richard Hurd was the long-time, post-war, Director of Operations at the Vermont Department of Aeronautics and always helpful in all my inquiries.  Ironically, he had also been the 1944 Army commander of the squadron to which the Camels Hump bomber crew had been assigned.  Hurd was even in charge of the recovery operation on the mountain in the days following the crash.  He once showed me the ½” thick file Aeronautics had maintained on the crash.  Hurd wouldn’t let me see it.  However, one day he relented and said, “I’ll make a photocopy of just the summary report on the condition you don’t tell anybody who gave it to you.”  He made the copy and I still have it.  Dick is deceased and I am now breaking my promise.  That report was packed with information that explained several mysteries surrounding the first search missions sent out to look for the missing bomber.

There is a lesson in this story.  The original paper files may have mostly vanished but just enough pieces survived in various archives to provide the names of individuals who participated.  In this case, the memories of those folks proved to be the primary source that replaced the missing files.  Sometimes material in an archive marks only the beginning of a research project.

Thankfully, because of all the improvements in archiving records since the Camels Hump crash, the likelihood of this situation ever happening again in Vermont is tiny.  I sleep well knowing professional archivists are working everyday to preserve Vermont history and that we have all learned lessons from the past.

Researching and Documenting Environmental Issues in the Archive

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member, Silver Special Collections Library, University of Vermont

Archives and libraries are increasingly acquiring archival collections that address environmental issues and making them accessible through online finding aids and digital collections. This post profiles nine selected collections held by Silver Special Collections at the University of Vermont that document twentieth-century environmental politics and legislation, advocacy, research, and conservation and management.

Politics and Legislation

George Aiken represented Vermont in the U.S. Senate from 1941-1974. In the 1960s, as a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Aiken fought for legislation that created badly needed public water supplies in rural areas. Correspondence and documents in the George D. Aiken Papers demonstrate the serious situation in the Champlain Valley, the political wrangling and bureaucratic barriers that slowed solutions, and the celebrations that marked the opening of rural water districts.

Letter to Senator Aiken from Bridport Selectman Stephen Cooke included in June 18, 1965 hearing on S. 1766, Water Supply Systems and Insured FHA Loans.

Robert Stafford, Vermont senator from 1971-1989, was a member and then chair of the Environment and Public works Committee. The Robert T. Stafford Papers document his efforts to ensure toxic waste cleanup, clean air through reduction of acid rain and automobile emissions standards, and protections against water pollution in the face of colleagues and a U.S. president who favored deregulation.

At the local level, Lilian Baker Carlisle decided to run for the Vermont legislature when she realized that legislation was required to control the air pollution produced by a coal-burning electric generation facility on the Burlington waterfront near her home. The Lilian Baker Carlisle Collection includes her “Legislative Notes” on electric power plants and correspondence during her 1969-1970 legislative term, as well as her “scrapbooks” on energy and air pollution.


Environmental advocates include nonprofit organizations and citizens. Sylvia Knight waged a vigorous campaign to ban or reduce the use of lampricides to control lamprey populations in Lake Champlain that is documented in the Sylvia Knight Papers. Her papers also include documents related the Earth Care ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlington. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, founded in 1972, is committed to protecting the health of people and the environment by sharing information and mobilizing citizens. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group Collection Includes documentation from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s on environmental issues such as energy (global warming, energy efficiency, climate change), radon, toxic waste, solid waste and water quality.


The University of Vermont Archives collects faculty papers that include research data and reports. Hubert Vogelmann was a botanist at UVM from 1955-1991. His groundbreaking research on the effects of acid rain on high-elevation Vermont forests influenced Senator Stafford’s 1980s work for federal clean air legislation. Vogelmann also identified and helped conserve important natural areas around the state. The Hubert Vogelmann Papers include research data, results, reports and files on natural areas. The vast Maple Research, University of Vermont collection includes the papers of UVM researcher Mariafranca Morselli, who investigated the impact of acid rain on maple tree health and sap production.

An acid rain researcher checks a mountain test plot in 1976.

Conservation and Management

Albert Gottlieb began his long career in Vermont in the 1933 overseeing Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects. He served as assistant state forester and then state forester from 1935-1960 and headed the Vermont Department of Forests from 1960-1970. The Albert Gottlieb Papers provide detailed records of CCC activities as well as information on conservation, fire protection and forest management. The papers include a large number of photographs taken by Gottlieb and Charles Lockard.

 The Emporium Lumber Company Records document nineteenth and early twentieth century logging operations in southern Vermont, first by a local company owned by Silas Griffith and then by Emporium, a large firm that operated branches in several states. The records include timber data from the 1950s, long after Emporium ended logging in Vermont. The records also document the transition of the former commercial forest to conserved public land as part of the Green Mountain National Forest.

Finding Environmental Collections

Other Vermont repositories hold collections that address a range of environmental issues. The Forest History Society (FHS) offers a searchable Guide to Environmental History Archival Collections. Searching for Vermont in the “Subjects” box turns up collections held at the Vermont State Archives, the Vermont Historical Society Library, UVM Special Collections, and the Sheldon Museum, as well as Vermont collections at repositories located outside the state. The FHS guide indicates that records from the Emporium Lumber Company mentioned above are available at UVM, the Adirondack Museum in New York, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Division of Archives and Manuscripts, reflecting the geographic distribution of its operations.

Work crew photo from the Gottlieb Papers.

Archiving and Newspaper Articles: Pain and Persistence

-Beth Kanell, Archives Month Committee Member, Waterford Historical Society

It happened again earlier this year: A donor contributed a folder of material relevant to our small Connecticut River town, with dozens of newspaper clippings on marriages, retirement parties, and more. The material was interesting and detailed, and there were photos of people long gone but still appreciated.

But the person who’d clipped out and saved out those wonderful articles hadn’t included the dates on them. Many of them came from halfway down the newspaper page, where the date of publication doesn’t show. I cringed. I recalled all too well my previous marathon session with a similar collection, struggling to add the dates that would weave those articles into the flow of town history.

Dairy farmer Leonard Goss’ 1979 obituary from a scrapbook.

People who haven’t wrestled with dating newspaper articles are often optimistic about how it will happen. “They’re all online,” they’ll suggest. “You just have to look them up.”

Alas, that’s not the case. Take our regional newspaper, the Caledonian-Record, as an example. The Library of Congress offers scans of its pages for the issues (under three different names) from 1833 to 1867 and from 1920 to 1922 ( Access is free! These are searchable pdf files, but even a well-planned search with an unusual keyword may turn up hundreds of “hits.” March through them one by one, and that’s your morning gone.

A librarian at the Vermont Historical Society kindly dipped into the subscribed resources she has, to find me three articles on Waterford gold mining in the 1800s that I couldn’t access on my own. Obviously, that won’t work every day! So by spending $59.90 every six months, I gained a personal subscription to, where both the search function and the image quality are much better than in the Library of Congress version. (Sometimes, you do get what you pay for!)  At this site, the images of the Caledonian-Record run from 1837 to 1956—and that later “end date” helps a lot with relatively recent stashes of newspaper clippings from our residents. Since I’m on the site several times each week, often for an hour or longer, the price feels very reasonable. So far, one of us core Waterford Historical Society researchers buying access has been enough to get what we need.

But even identifying the years of these clippings takes us only halfway to what we want to see. The point of gathering our archives is not to fill boxes, bins, and cabinets (although we are good at that!). It’s to share information: to help fill the gaps in local history, to complement family histories in process, to reach out and show others how exciting the detection work can become, and how rewarding.

So what should we do with our newspaper clippings? There are three basic ways to preserve and share them, besides the slowly but surely aging paper versions in the (hopefully archivally stable) storage: photograph them, scan them, and find online links to them.

Here’s an article that has a role in the histories of Lyndonville, Vermont; if communications tycoon and philanthropist T. N. (Theodore Newton) Vail; and of Lyndon State College (now NVU-Lyndon). The mailing stamp at the top indicates, fortunately, that it came from the files of Lyndon State College collector Robert “Bob” Michaud. The “Wall Street Journal” heading is a deceptive tease—this is actually a reprint in the Caledonian-Record, February 2, 1964, which the paper clipping can demonstrate, on its flip side. A quick photo of the page is better than nothing, but clearly a flatbed scan image is better. Alas, there will be no link online for this, for a while. The Caledonian-Record website at present offers access (for subscribers) to only 1837-1926 (free search but a fee to download) or from 1997 forward, but it’s patchy, and the Vail article doesn’t show up. Well, two out of three is a promising start.

Vail article, captured in a cellphone photo.

Just as I was starting to feel I’d put together enough resources to track down what I needed for newspaper articles, I saw a 1979 obituary pulled from where it had been taped in a family scrapbook—and I needed the information in it for some work on local dairy farmers. The owner said “Oh, you can get that online,” but I already knew I couldn’t. Not for 1979! I snapped a photo with my cellphone and considered I’d been lucky to see the piece at all. I may yet re-type it, just to make sure I can share the information with those who don’t want to squint at the photos!

I do have one more option for this 1979 article: The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum maintains a microfiche collection of the Caledonian-Record. Director Bob Joly confirmed: “We have from 1837 to 2015 on film. There is no index and [they] have to be searched page by page.” From painful past experience, I know the photocopies that the machine there will print are probably less clear than the torn scrapbook article I photographed. Still, it’s a backup that I’m glad to keep in mind.

Vail article, captured on a flatbed scanner. Note the improved readability.

Most importantly for my own aim—interesting community members in sharing their memories and their scrapbooks—I’ll soon post my pair of photos of the scrapbooked article on social media. In my experience, that’s often the start of community contributions, as well as research projects ahead. And isn’t that what an archive of local history is really meant to do?

Historic Gems Discovered During Research

-Brian Lindner, Archives Month Committee Member, National Life

Have you ever been to a flea market and come home with a remarkable find for which you paid next-to-nothing?  We’ve all heard of people acquiring some object only to discover much later that it has some amazing historic or monetary value – have you seen at least one episode of Antiques Roadshow?  It happens.  Researching in any archive has the same potential.  You may discover the most amazing story only because you stumbled across it while looking for something entirely unrelated.

A few years ago, I was at the Vermont State Archives and Record Center in Middlesex.  While waiting for the newspaper microfilm I needed to research a decades old, cold case homicide, I stopped to look at the contents of a bookshelf I had walked by roughly one or two million times.  After rummaging through a few books on the shelf, I spotted a binder labeled “Houston Studios.”  Holy Cow!!!! 

E.T. Houston was a Waterbury fixture for decades. For years I had half-heartedly searched for his photographic collection.  Had any of his works survived?  I had even looked for his collection while researching old train wrecks in/around Waterbury.  Although his photos appear with some regularity on e-Bay, they are mostly formal portraits of (now) nameless persons.  For years this historic collection remained elusive, but thanks to shear dumb luck, here was a large collection of his oversized negatives of extremely detailed images.

I quickly focused on Houston’s photos showing the early stages of construction of the Waterbury Dam built by the Civilian Conservation Corps 1935-38.  There were views up the river, down the river, over the massive CCC Camp Charles Smith and under the ledges where the dam would begin to seriously leak during the 1980s.  There were views of the conduit under the dam where the Little River was rechanneled, the rock quarries, the steam shovels, dump trucks and rock crushing gear used by the C’s during construction.  Even my mother’s one-room schoolhouse, which had been moved downstream for use as a CCC building during the dam’s construction, was visible!  This was remarkable documentation of how the (then) world’s largest earth-filled dam had been built from local materials.

One of Houston’s photographs of the early stage of construction of Waterbury Dam. This view is looking downstream toward the Winooski River valley. CCC Camp Charles Smith is in the distance. When completed, the flood control dam filled this entire valley from left to right. Courtesy Vermont State Archives & Records Administration.

In 2021 the U.S. Corps of Engineers was working to determine the next steps in a rehab of the flood control gates at the far end of the dam.  They discovered the engineering plans were no place to be found in government archives.  The plans had vanished.  Low and behold – I was able to send them to Middlesex where they could see, in full detail, the early stages of construction.  In many ways, the Houston photographs were better and more informative than the original blueprints could have ever been.

Another historic gem that rates high in excitement – at least for me – happened in 2018.  I was working on a project to document the deadliest automobile crashes in Vermont.  I discovered one in Newbury from December 11, 1952 when Doctor Stanley Dwinell and his three young sons had died after he drove in front of an oncoming train.  It turned out there had been an earlier head-on train wreck at this same crossing on October 30, 1948.  I wondered if the earlier wreck had any pertinence to the doctor’s crash.  At the Archives, I ordered the newspaper microfilms to see how the earlier train wreck story had been reported in 1948.  However, the spectacular, head-on, multiple-fatal, train wreck was NOT the banner headline.  What?  The headline instead was “Russians Kill East Hardwick Man.”

From the Caledonian Record, November 1, 1948.

Off I went on a new project.  Why would the Russians murder someone from Hardwick, Vermont?  The story turned out to be one of international importance. 

At the time Irving Ross was killed in Vienna, the Cold War was going strong.  The U.S. Army, the State Department and even the White House got dragged into the case that was reported in nearly every newspaper in America.  The Russians shut down the investigation, prevented the Austrian police from participating, and blocked every attempt by U.S. authorities to determine what had happened, late at night, in Soviet-controlled territory when Ross had a former Hungarian princess with him in a remote area of Vienna.  She barely survived.  At the same time the Russians were beating Ross to death with the butts of their rifles, Ross’s young wife and three daughters were finishing packing for their scheduled transatlantic voyage to join Ross in Vienna with departure intended on the next day.  Instead of leaving, their house filled up with state troopers and men in dark suits.  The daughters were even split up and taken by troopers to separate locations.  Nobody knew if the Russians might also be after Ross’ family.

The full story is too long to tell here but declassified Army and State Department documents in the U.S. National Archives tell of Ross working on the Marshall Plan (America’s effort to pump millions of dollars into rebuilding Europe following the Second World War) while unofficially tinkering in the dangerous world of spying.  He ventured into the black market and repeatedly ventured into Soviet-occupied areas where he was pointedly told to never show up again.  He showed up again and it cost him his life.  Approaching the 70th anniversary of the murder, in 2018 Austrian newspapers, television and magazines began to recall one of the more famous unsolved murders in their country’s history.  The answers probably reside in some obscure Russian archive.  Ross is buried in the Sanborn Cemetery in East Hardwick.

And lastly, there was the history “gem” I discovered at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, MD.  I was there researching the most famous aviation photographs taken of American bombers over Germany during World War Two.  A pile of binders under one table was a bit of a nuisance, but I didn’t pay much attention despite my bumping into them repeatedly.  An archivist was assisting me with a question when I off-handedly mentioned the binders that had been slightly in my way.  She asked, “Do you know what those are?”  “No,” I said.  “I have no idea.”  “THOSE,” she said, “are Eva Braun’s personal photo albums.”  (Actually, these are high-quality copies for researchers to use.  The original albums themselves are not on display.)

A rather graying and dumpy looking Hitler in one of Braun’s photographs. He would never have allowed a photo such as this to be published. Courtesy the U.S. National Archives.

That would be the Eva Braun, as in Hitler’s mistress who became his wife in the final hours of their lives.  The next day I dropped my own research and slowly looked through all those albums.  If you want to see an unguarded Adolph Hitler, this is where to look.  He is seen tying his shoes, blowing his nose, and in many other moments that would never have seen the light in any Nazi press.  All the Nazi elite appear in Braun’s albums along with photos from her childhood. 

When you head into any archive to research Topic #1 – the only reason you are there…….be prepared to stumble across another historic gem that might spin you off into an entirely new and potentially more exciting direction.

Stormy Weather: How Floods Shaped Vermont’s Landscape

-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee, Vermont Historical Records Program. This is a revised version of an article that appeared originally in the History Space Column of the Burlington Free Press, printed June 5, 2016. 

Roads and bridges washed away.  Railroad lines destroyed.  Farmland devastated. And worse, 84 deaths – including Vermont’s lieutenant governor.  The aftermath of the storm that ravaged Vermont on November 3 and 4, 1927 created an unprecedented disaster for the state.  Heavy rains and high water deposited layers of mud and slime in homes and businesses, with losses estimated at about $25 million dollars.   

Telegram from President Coolidge to Governor Weeks following the flood, November 10, 1927. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

Extraordinary action was necessary to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude. A meeting was held at the Vermont State House with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, and among his suggestions for relief was the involvement of the Red Cross, headed by President Calvin Coolidge. On November 30, legislation was passed to issue bonds for $8.5 million of reconstruction. Within three years, the State Highway Board considered flood damage repairs to be nearly complete. But the flood of 1927 had left Vermont open for major changes in its landscape. With the national push for hard-surface roads and flood control, and Vermont’s budding tourist economy, the state embraced the idea of coming back “better than before.”   

Sample of a Vermont State Flood Bond, 1927. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

The increase in tourist traffic and the challenges of road and bridge maintenance called for the creation of a state-controlled system of highways, and in 1931 Act 61 authorized the construction of a state highway system. The State Highway Board proposed the construction of about 550 miles of hard surface over the next decade to meet demands. With improved infrastructure, a bustling tourism economy, and revitalized families, farmers, and business owners, there was the natural desire to protect assets from further flood damage. State advisory reports recommended reservoirs as the most feasible and effective method of reducing this threat. In the 1930s, the nation’s New Deal was underway, which included large scale public works projects. On July 19, 1933, the Vermont legislature formally approved the cooperation of Vermont with the federal government, creating the Board of Public Works. By 1936, and after another significant flood in Vermont, the federal government was advancing flood control proposals all across the country. 

Creating reservoirs meant building dams, but not all Vermont residents were eager for an extensive program of dam-building. While dams offered protection from future floods, as well as the benefits of more power and more jobs, the costs were more than monetary. Towns were irrevocably altered and individual properties affected by the construction of these dams. There was also the concern that not all Vermonters might benefit from the proposed flood control projects. As time went on, these issues continued to be battled out amongst Vermont lawmakers, leaders, and citizens. 

Poster advertising public auction for properties at the Wrightsville Dam Site, 1933. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

Ten years ago on August 28 and 29, 2011, heavy rains fell from Tropical Storm Irene. Destruction was eerily evocative of the 1927 deluge, with nearly every river in Vermont flooding.  Four people drowned.  50,000 Vermonters were left without power.  There were over 260 road closures, with thirteen rural towns completely cut off. As with previous disasters, the initial response was first to take care of storm victims’ immediate needs before tackling the more costly, longer-term rehabilitation.  But repairs commenced quickly.  Over 500 miles of damaged roads and bridges were rebuilt in four months. 

The major difference in financing relief efforts between Irene and 1927 was the existence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), created in 1979 following pressure by states for centralized federal emergency functions. Vermont received its first post-FEMA presidential disaster declaration in 1984 and one month after 2011’s Irene, FEMA had approved more than $16 million in assistance to individuals and families. 

Dealing with floods and their aftermath has been an ongoing challenge for Vermonters throughout our history, and over the decades we have looked to our government for support and relief.  Advisory reports from 1928 and 1936 both indicated that storms with the potential for causing great damage have the probability of occurring every fifty to seventy-five years. The 1984 Interagency Flood Hazard Mitigation Report declared flooding to be the greatest natural hazard found in Vermont. 

Section of a map depicting road damage following Tropical Storm Irene, September 5, 2011. Courtesy of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

But if one constant is the fact that flooding will continue to occur in Vermont, the other is the resilient spirit of Vermonters in the face of adversity.  After the 1927 flood, Governor Weeks repeatedly spoke of the courage of Vermonters in facing the greatest disaster in the state’s history, saying “the faith and valor of Vermonters has turned catastrophe into opportunity.” Governor Shumlin echoed the words of his predecessor when, in January of 2012, he stated that that Vermont “has demonstrated over the course of the past year what it means to be united as one community to overcome tragedy.” 

The Little Archive That Grew Strong

-Beth Kanell, Archives Month Committee Member, Waterford Historical Society

As local historical societies go, Waterford, Vermont, is on the small side. A well-attended meeting is a dozen people; a public event that draws 30 is a striking success. And the treasury is healthy for the group’s needs, but modest. Annual dues are $5 per person.

However, this Connecticut River town embraces a complicated and rich history, with abundant documents that provide details. From the land records in the town vault, to recent newspaper clippings from one of the few remaining daily newspapers in the state, and from old photo albums discovered in residents’ belongings, to unusual notes and photos found via online markets, there’s a lot to save!

“Upper Waterford,” that is, the original town center of Waterford, is under the waters behind Moore Dam (completed 1954), part of a three-dam hydroelectric facility on the Connecticut River that began to tame the region’s Fifteen Mile Falls in the 1930s. That awareness of a “drowned village,” where even the local church was burned to the ground to make room for progress, may be one reason that this little local group embraces its archives so enthusiastically.

But it also reminds us that the waters of the river and local streams that have fueled the town’s growth in past centuries can also sweep away the paper evidence of its inhabitants and their stories. So can fire, which is locally managed with a volunteer department and mutual aid from nearby towns. Preserving our archives requires strong, deliberate choices.

Fortunately, those aren’t expensive, other than in terms of volunteer hours.

We strengthened our initial archival effort with an invitation to VSARA (Vermont State Archives & Records Administration) professional Rachel Onuf. She joined the board and other interested members around a set of tables covered with materials. Excitement rose as people began to talk about individual items. Conversation ranged across the usual reminders to each other of how to preserve and protect paper—getting rid of staples and paper clips, storing under low humidity, even protecting from sprinkler systems, as well as from sunlight.

A lockable metal cabinet protects the document archives of the Waterford Historical Society.

A shopping list at the end of the session included archivally stable folders, boxes, and tissue paper, available online. Using these, we housed materials in a six-foot-tall lockable metal storage cabinet, with access controlled by a partnership of the Waterford Historical Society and the Town Clerk. Importantly for our location, the seller provided delivery of the parts. The Town Clerk shared space in the vault for a few Items too large for the cabinet, and less rare books and town reports stayed on shelves in the adjoining town library for easy access.

After that, the biggest cost turned out to be time: hours and hours of volunteers, sorting, separating, labeling. It wasn’t simple to raise enthusiasm—it meant weeks of photos, blogging, research, sharing enthusiasm, and directly inviting people to become involved.

Yet that process turned out to be exactly what gave the most strength to our archive development, as we shared town history in widening circles and scaffolded people’s interest in the buildings, families, and changes in this small town.

The result: Each November, and often in other winter months, the Waterford Historical Society announces archive work days, whether in the library, the church fellowship hall, or the lobby of the town office. With a laptop, our cellphones, and most importantly, a few older residents bringing in material and helping to identify faces and families, we make discoveries and deepen our understandings of how times change and how families survive.

Waterford Historical Society board members (from right) Donna Rae Heath, Roberta Smith, Helen Pike, and Craig Brown and historian Nola Forbes sort donated materials into archival boxes and label binders (alphabetical by family name). Photo by WHS board member Beth Kanell.

“Small but mighty” has become the tag line for this group. It’s surely a subtitle for the state’s own sense of how to get things done and hold onto our history: We are Vermont Strong. And we’re strengthening our archives daily.

Thank You for a Great Archives Month!

This year’s Archives Month is a wrap, and we’ve had a month full of activities and blog posts to commemorate the voices of Vermont’s past and the importance of records with enduring historical value. But you don’t have to wait until next October to engage with Vermont’s archival institutions! Throughout the year, look to your local historical societies and research institutions to see what they’re highlighting and working on. Check out some online archives such as the Green Mountain Digital Archive or Vermont’s various music archives. And search for #vtarchives on your favorite social media platforms to see what’s happening in the Vermont archival world! 

The 2020 Archives Month Committee thanks you for your participation this year, and looks forward to gathering together again in 2021. 

Sally Blanchard-O’Brien
Prudence Doherty
Mary Ide
Beth Kanell
Gary Shattuck 

Green Mountain Digital Archive

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member

We often read about exciting documents discovered in dark and dusty archives. However, these days researchers are just as likely to make those discoveries online. To make the process of finding digital materials from Vermont repositories easier, the Green Mountain Digital Archive (GMDA) brings over 72,000 items from eight partners and four contributing institutions together in one searchable database.

The GMDA partner institutions, including Middlebury College, Norwich University, the Rockingham Free Public Library, St. Michael’s College, the University of Vermont, the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Historical Society, and the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, collaborate to support a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) service hub for Vermont. Contributing libraries and archives include the Bixby Memorial Library (Vergennes), the Brooks Memorial Library (Brattleboro), the Stewart-Swift Research Center at the Henry Sheldon Museum and the Vermont Folklife Center. GMDA participation in the DPLA is supported through generous funding provided by the Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Vermont Department of Libraries.

The materials represented in the GMDA include photographs, documents, maps, recordings and other resources, mostly related to Vermont but also extending beyond the state.  At the GMDA site, you can search by keyword. The results appear as a list of thumbnail images, accompanied by brief descriptions and a link to see the item at the contributor’s site. You can refine the results by subject, date, language and contributing institution.

To explore the site, we searched for items related to two subjects of current interest: Halloween and elections. A search for “Halloween” produced 55 results from three institutions and included a great group of vintage holiday cards, photographs of parties held for children, and groups in masks and costumes.

Halloween greetings from a collection of holiday cards at Special Collections and Archives, Middlebury College. The postcard was mailed from Syracuse, New York to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1909.
Child decorating a pumpkin at a Big Brother/Big Sister Halloween party sometime between 1989 and 2005, from the St. Michael’s College Archives.
L. L. McAllister photographed this costumed and masked group in 1947-1948. From Silver Special Collections, University of Vermont.

Not surprisingly, GMDA contains many photographs, documents and other items related to political campaigns, elections and voting from the early nineteenth century to almost present day from many of the participating institutions.

Calvin Coolidge took advantage of two innovations during the 1924 presidential election: the automobile and the radio. With radio broadcasts, the Coolidge campaign reached millions in their living rooms. This August 1924 photograph shows Coolidge standing next to an automobile equipped with radio equipment. From the Vermont Historical Society’s collection of Coolidge portraits.
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy with St. Michael’s College President Bernard Boutin during a 1960 campaign stop. The poster on the wall proclaims, “He has served all New England with distinction!” From the St. Michael’s College Archives.

The GMDA is a rich resource for research and discovery that can be explored not only during Archives Month, but all year long! Stay tuned as the Green Mountain Digital Archive continues to grow and change – including a newly designed web portal to be launched later this year.