Reports

 

Danvers Archival Center

 

Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report

 

This is the forty-fifth year of operation for the Danvers Archival Center! The Danvers Archival Center, a department of the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers, first opened in 1972 in the basement of “Memorial Hall,” designed by Lester Couch in 1930 for the Danvers Historical Society. Located at 13 Page Street, this space was loaned to the Town of Danvers free of charge for nine years. In 1981 the town completed the renovation and expansion of the 1892 Peabody Institute Library at 15 Sylvan Street. Through an all-volunteer effort, the contents of the Archival Center were moved to the newly created Archive rooms in the underground addition to the library. These new quarters included a large public research room, secure manuscript storage room, and a walk-in vault with a 6-hour fire-rated door.

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Our Archival Center Collection Policy describes what we preserve: “The Danvers Archival Center is a repository for information relating to the history and development of the geographical area encompassing Salem Village and Danvers, Massachusetts. The Archival Center performs its mission by gathering and collecting flat, informational materials through gifts and purchases and through permanent deposits in cases where the material is owned by functioning corporate organizations. Among items collected by the Archival Center are books, pamphlets, monographs, manuscripts, broadsides, periodicals including newspapers, maps, architectural drawings, photographs, prints, audio and video tapes, films, CDs and microfilms.” Our extensive collections are stored in a secure and stable environment, and are available to all who wish to use them.

The Danvers Archival Center is one of the largest and most important documentary resources of a community of its size in the country. Our commitment is to upgrade our collections continually through obtaining gifts, deposits and purchases. Our facility remains a seldom-found mix of diverse municipal, corporate and private research materials gathered together through the cooperative pooling by many organizations willing to give over their papers for careful conservation, preservation, and proper storage, and cataloguing them and making them accessible to researchers.

This report will summarize the operations of the Danvers Archival Center during fiscal year 2017, being from July 2016 through June 2017.

 

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Many thanks are given to Library Director Alan Thibeault, Assistant Director Jennifer McGeorge, Bookkeeper Susan Kontos and the nine-member Board of Library Trustees, for their interest and support of the Archives. Alan resigned as Director in June 2017, and Jen took over as Acting Director. She has been doing a very fine job, including assisting the Archives with any needs we have. Julie Silk has been working in the Archives since the summer of 2016, and has been a quick learner, with great secretarial and research skills. She works two afternoons a week for a total of six hours, and is a wonderful person and great asset to the Archives.

Thomas Marsella has been volunteering at the Archival Center since 2003. He works about three to three-and-a-half hours each Wednesday morning doing research, sorting and cataloguing our new acquisitions. He is a meticulous researcher and a good friend. This past year Tom volunteered 103.5 hours in the Archives.

In FY17 56 books were obtained, accessioned, processed, and catalogued for inclusion within our Public Reading Room book collections. Of this group, 29 were gifts to the Archival Center, and one was a deposit volume.

Our Ellerton J. Brehaut Witchcraft Collection is perhaps our most important collection within the Archives, used by both local school children and international scholars alike. The core collection was donated by Mr. Brehaut, a local resident and noted collector, who donated the witchcraft materials to the Library in the 1960s. We have continued to expand the collection since the creation of the Archival Center. It now represents the largest collection of Salem Witchcraft imprints in the nation.

Among books and monographs added to our “Ellerton J. Brehaut Witchcraft Collection” in FY 2017 were: Edward R. Brown, Beverly Bedeviled (2015); Emerson Baker, “A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials” (2016), appearing in The Essex Genealogist; Robert E. Bartholomew, “Public Health . . . and the Stigma of Mass Hysteria” (2016), appearing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; Mark Stervick, Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop (1992); Ginny Lane Connors, Toward the Hanging Tree (2016); Sam Baltrusis, Ghosts of Salem (2014); Marilyn Roach, “Gallows Hill Project” (Spring 2017), appearing in American Ancestor; and Richard F. Curran, Salem Three Hundred (1992), a fictional work.

We also acquired by purchase a beautifully printed and bound witchcraft work by Reginald Scott titled The Discoverie of Witchcraft. First published in 1584, this rare and special 1886 edition was bound with half-leather and marbled boards by Elliot Stock in England in a limited edition of 250 volumes.

A quirky book by Jason W. Oaker (pen name) titled, A Season With the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem Massachusetts was published in 2016. In it the author, his wife and two kids spend all of an October in Salem during the Halloween season, taking in all the sites and people attracted to Salem. He describes in an easy-to-read, funny and revealing manner the yearly events that make Salem such a well-known and sometimes weird place to visit. He also delves into the history of the real witchcraft events and sites of 1692. Several years ago he came to the Archives and interviewed me as to my experiences with witchcraft history. He was very gracious in giving me much of his second chapter, introducing me as, “There are a lot of Salem Witch Trial experts. A lot. But there is only one Richard Trask,” and going on to describe my exploits and projects including the Archives, the Parris homestead excavation, the movie Three Sovereigns for Sarah, etc. At one point, referring to my association with the remains of witchcraft victim George Jacobs, the author says of me, “And that was because of Richard Trask. I promise his name rarely comes up in the rest of the book.” It is my “unprejudiced” opinion that everyone should read this book!

Another major part of our book collection is books relating to Danvers history, family genealogies and biographies. This collection is shelved in the Public Reading Room.

Gifts of books and pamphlets added to this Danvers collection included: Joseph E. Garland, The North Shore (1990); Street List of Persons (2016); Town of Danvers Annual Report (2017), being the first extensive report with illustrations published since the 1970s; J. W. Hanson, History of the Town of Danvers (1848); The Onion (1954), and Heritage (2017); being High School yearbooks; Betty Perkins, As I Remember (2010); Tom Brokaw, Boom! (2008), featuring a chapter on the experiences in Vietnam of Danversite Charles Desmond; Vintage, A Collection of Prose & Poetry (2002); Michael Ramseur, The Eye of Danvers (2005); Dr. Hart Achenbach, Tales of the Curious Traveller (1997); Todd Andrlik, Reporting the Revolutionary War (2012); Dr. Richard F. Curran, Please Come Back (1987); The Great Oak School Cookbook (1977), together with four other cookbooks sponsored by the Visiting Nurse Association, Family Festival, Holy Trinity Methodist Church, and Danvers Art Association (1984, 1987, 1983, and 1985).

Two rare and ephemeral booklets purchased for our collection centering on the American Revolutionary era in Danvers were Russell’s American Almanack for the Year of Our Redemption, 1781 and 1782. Famed 18th century printer Ezekiel Russell (1743-1796) published many interesting and now very important and collectible items, including broadsides, pamphlets and almanacs. Russell had his printing shop in Danvers near the Bell Tavern until 1782, and we have been able to collect a good number of his items, many including interesting woodcut engravings. The 1781 almanac displays on its paper cover a man using an astrolabe, with an inside woodcut illustration of Governor John Hancock, and a text including an early version of “A Constitution . . . for Massachusetts.”

Another rare item we were able to acquire this past year was a large folio volume written by Danvers native and botanist William Oakes (1799-1848). Titled, Scenery of the White Mountains: With Sixteen Plates, From Drawings of Isaac Sprague, this beautiful volume was published in 1848 by Little & Brown of Boston. Our copy includes the text in the original hardcover volume, while the 16 plates have been placed into a folio binder in clear sleeves. Paired with this rare book is a 1970 edition housed in a slipcase, with commentary by New Hampshire native and President Eisenhower intimate, Sherman Adams.

Other purchased volumes added to the local history collection included: Benjamin Wadsworth, An Eulogy of . . . George Washington (1800); Allen G. Breed, My Own Dear Wife (2016); Charles E. Davis, Jr., Three Years in the Army: Thirteenth Massachusetts (1894); Grenville M. Dodge, The Battle of Atlanta and Other Campaigns (1910); Ezra Ripley, A History of the Fight at Concord (1832 reprint); and Stacey M. Robertson, Parker Pillsbury (2000).

We also acquired several items relating to George Peabody. A beautifully bound and tooled black cover volume by Phebe Hanaford titled, The Life of George Peabody published by B. B. Russell in 1870, the year after Peabody’s death, was acquired for less than $25.

We often receive donated books and periodicals, copies of which we already have within our catalogued collection. These copies we use as extra back-ups. This year this type of material, often from more than one donor, included: Danvers, Massachusetts by Frank Moynahan (1899); six copies of Town of Danvers Annual Reports; six volumes of the Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society; 46 copies of The Holten Magazine from the 1930s to the 1960s; Danvers Vital Records Up To 1850; nine copies of the Essex Institute Historical Collections from the 1960s, and 21 volumes of Danvers Street Poll Lists. These items were not included as part of this year’s accessioned statistics.

New main entry, title and subject cards added to our union catalogue by subject include 143 in the Danvers History catalogue, and 48 in our Witchcraft catalogue.

Serially printed items, including newspapers and magazines, are a subcategory of printed materials, and are included in our “History” card catalogue. Among items purchased in this category in FY 2017 was an issue of the Columbian Centinel [sic] for February 6, 1799. The issue includes a lengthy report by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) to President John Adams concerning the political confrontation between the United States and France during what became known in American history as “The XYZ Affair.”

We continue to microfilm our backlog of Danvers Herald newspapers through World Archives out of Iowa and California. We ship out our newspapers to them for filming. This past year we had the 2016 issues of the Danvers Herald filmed, obtaining both the 35mm master silver negative and positive silver service copy.

Another class of printed documentation are Broadsides. Catalogue cards generated from these sheets are also kept within our History Catalogue. Our Archival Center deposit collections include many rare and valuable Town of Danvers Revolutionary War Broadsides, chiefly from Town of Danvers records, with a few coming from Historical Society deposit materials.

One of these rare Revolutionary War broadsides catalogued this year was a broadside sent from the Massachusetts legislature to Danvers concerning “. . . Resolves containing the Encouragement offered by the Continental CONGRESS, and by the State of Massachusetts-Bay, to such as shall inlist into the Continental Army.” The broadside is dated January 1777, and includes incentives, including bounty money and free land, to those who will join the military for three years or the duration of the war.

Another class of printed items we collect is known as “Ephemera.” These revealing point-in-time printed items generally do not warrant individual cataloguing. These items are collected within subject files and stored in a series of vertical metal file cabinets. Among ephemeral items acquired this past year via donation were: Biographical sketches put together by Douglas A. Bean on three important men buried at Holten Cemetery; Danvers Building Code (1965); Danvers Zoning By-Laws (2000); Danvers Chamber of Commerce newsletter (11/1955); Dedication of the Cornelius F. Dunn Academic Wing (1974); Program of Danvers High School production George M. (1976); Danvers Balanced Growth Policy Steering Committee Report (1986); By-Laws of Danvers (1951); Water Treatment Plant design (1977); Graduation Program of the Class of 1954; St. Richard’s 50th Anniversary Bulletin (5/19/2013); Happy Hours Kindergarten diploma for Brian Fearer (1968); Danvers Mothers’ Club Year Book (1963-64); 21 issues of the “Danvers Library News,” (1978-1980); Danvers Public Schools Directory of Personnel (1967-68); Danvers High School Commencement Program (1967); a file concerning the Peabody Institute Library Childrens’ Room Dial-A-Story taped programs (1975-1980); Falcons Football Program (1972); Holy Trinity Methodist Church Directory (1966); 12 issues of “Trinity Times” (1960-1964); several hundred cut newspaper articles on Danvers subjects (1970s); Holten High School listing of courses of study (1943-44); a copy of the score of Haydn’s Sacred Oratorio, The Creation, in Vocal Score inscribed and owned by Sarah E. Hunt with programs of Salem concerts (1869, 1870, 1871 and 1879).

Several ephemera items purchased through eBay included: several colorful, unused seed envelopes for the packaging and selling of “Danvers Half-Long Carrot” seeds (c. 1940s); a business card advertising a tourist camp on Route One (c. 1930s); and a booklet advertising “The Fuller Manufacturing Co. in Danvers,” makers of hoes and hand weeders.

Gift acknowledgement forms were drawn up, signed, and sealed with an old Library blind stamp, and sent to 38 individuals and institutions; these forms reflect gifts to the Archives of from one to hundreds of items each. The forms acknowledge the items given to the Archival Center as unconditional gifts.

Items found within our collections or within recent donations that, due to their point of origin or content actually belong elsewhere, are sent to appropriate sister institutions. This past year we have sent off such items to the Peabody Historical Society, and the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

Few weeks go by without a request from an author for an interview, for assistance on a book, or from an institution that is requesting information or materials.

The new periodical Danvers Magazine, a slick, glossy magazine devoted to Danvers subjects and people, included two new issues that we catalogued during the present fiscal year. Its most recent publication for the summer of 2017 included an article about the Danvers Archival Center and my role in it. Titled The Keeper of Yesterdays by Alan Burke, the article begins, “As town archivist, Richard Trask has the responsibility of preserving all things Danvers. But his passion for history doesn’t stop there.” Nice color photos of some of the archive collections are included. Another article in this issue is, An A-Team from Start to Finish, featuring Danvers High School Principal Sue Ambrozavitch and Assistant Principal Mark Strout, both retiring this year after very successful tenures.

The City of Beverly Librarian and City Clerk visited with several others to discuss establishing an archive in one of their municipal buildings. I was also in contact with representatives of Marblehead town government concerning their establishing archival facilities. The pastor and members of the church board of the Maple Street Church also met with me to look through their deposit collections and for ideas on their upcoming church anniversary. The Archivist for the Town of Bedford also visited for a tour and to discuss policies and procedures I use here. Also visiting for discussion on our archive setup was a student from Simmons College. A class from The College of New Jersey visited in June to discuss witchcraft studies.

I have met several times with Danvers Chief Assessor Steve Poulos and assisted in researching the land history of the Danvers State Hospital. Every once in a while Town Manager Steve Bartha and his gracious secretary Ann Freitas challenge me with some interesting little research project. And not a week goes by without patron visitors and email questioners asking me general or very complicated research questions. Though I now receive few reference letters compared with 20 or 30 years ago, I am virtually drowning in emails from around the country.

The Waitt Grave

One project, the conclusion of which will appear in next years’ report, was a reference question sent by Brian Atwood of Pennsylvania concerning the grave of his ancestor Jonathan Waitt, a Revolutionary War veteran. There were two soldiers from Danvers named Jonathan Waitt, and it took some detective work to find the correct one and for me to locate the grave of his ancestor at the High Street Graveyard, as Waitt’s flat gravestone was unreadable due to long wear and acid rain.

Always fascinating are various local and national media and broadcast outlets that occasionally come forward for assistance, and upon which I am often invited to participate. Our Danvers Cable Access Television (DCAT) is very active in town, taping interesting events and meetings, and occasionally producing special programs. One was put together in July 2016 by Gayla Bartlett. The program was titled, A Lifetime of Memories, with six Danversites, including former town manager Wayne Marquis, Maryanne (Caruso) Kowalski and me recollecting stories of Danvers in the 1940s-1960s. I also provided photographs from the Archive photo collection to illustrate the interviews. The 20-minute program first aired in September 2016.

I also participated in November 2016 through a guest appearance on the DCAT program on Veterans’ Issues hosted by Richard Moody. I talked about 19th century Danvers native Francis Dodge. Dodge, following service in the Civil War, was commissioned a Captain in the Ninth Cavalry. In 1879 Dodge, on his own initiative and leading his Black “Buffalo Soldier” troopers, went to the rescue of a beleaguered white trooper unit caught in a trap and under siege by hostile Ute Indians in Colorado. For his gallantry, Dodge received a Congressional Medal of Honor. I showed several items relating to Dodge from among our Archive collection, along with his Medal of Honor, which the Historical Society allowed me to borrow for the program.

In late February 2016 Greg Wayland, former television reporter for WBZ-TV and now a freelance producer, interviewed me at the Archives for a quirky story broadcast on WBUR-Radio. The subject was a local businessman’s idea in the 1950s for a nuclear bombproof motel to be built in Danvers, and with space available for 40 essential persons to continue civilization after the nuclear holocaust.

Fascinating Nouns is a popular weekly national Podcast hosted by Daniel J. Glenn, and heard at www.fascinatingnouns.com. In October 2016 I was requested to be interviewed on the subject of the Salem witchcraft events. The interviewer had really read up on the subject and asked thoughtful questions, getting deep into the subject. He introduced the subject of Salem witchcraft and me as “The man who holds that history in the palm of his hand,” and we spoke for an hour and 18 minutes. The program is available under my name or “Salem witchcraft” for listening.

A major foreign production was accomplished in July 2016 by Westend Film & TV Produktion of Frankfurt, Germany. The production Company wanted to create a one hour documentary titled, The Salem Witch Trials. I corresponded with producer Mariana Schneider and director Wolf Truchsess in Germany till they arrived in the U.S. with their German film crew. The program was to be for the French and German TV channel ARTE and was filmed in German and English. On July 15 the crew arrived at the Archives and took an hour moving furniture, setting up lights and sound booms to record the interview with the use of two cameras. Sometimes these interviews are done with a handheld camera with integrated mike, and using available light. Other times much preparation goes into creating a mood. This was a moody production. The interview was freewheeling, allowing me to ramble. They filmed for 2½ hours, which is the longest film interview I have ever given. By the end I was stiff, my mind a bit mushy, and my eyes tired from bright lights. They interviewed other “experts” during their stay, and back in Germany did reenactments using costumed actors. They sent the Archives a final cut of the one-hour program.

Beginning in April 2017 Lone Wolf Media of Portland, Maine, and the Smithsonian Network contacted and met with me about another video production concerning Salem Witchcraft for broadcast on the Smithsonian’s cable outlet. I had previously worked with producer Lisa Wolfinger on a very good documentary several years back, and also with independent cinematographer Tom Philips, who created the film shown several times a day at the National Park Visitors’ Center in Salem introducing Salem witchcraft to visitors, so I knew the production would be of good quality. Pre-production continued past the end of the archive fiscal year, with filming commencing in July.

Pictorial images are another major area of collecting within the Archival Center. These include photographs, prints, and artwork, as well as audio-visual media such as films, videotapes, DVDs and CDs. This year we brought into our pictorial collection 379 items, including 1 CD and 3 DVDs. Of these pictorial images 39 were purchased items, and 1 a deposit photograph.

Among photographic items purchased for our collections were: a DVD of the Warner Bros. film Home Before Dark made with scenes shot at the Danvers State Hospital (1958); 34 historic 6½” x 8¼” mounted photos taken by Frank Cousins of Danvers buildings and scenes (1890); a diesel train engine on a flatbed truck being towed up Hobart Street (1970s); seed envelopes for Danvers half-long carrots featuring a lithograph of the carrot (c 1940s); a stereograph photograph of the George Peabody funeral train arriving in Peabody (1870); and an Associated Press wire photo of the driver of the Brinks Truck robbed in Danvers (March 25, 1952).

We obtained a lithograph by E. Sachse & Co. of Baltimore, Maryland showing “Camp Andrew, 17th Regiment Mass. Volunteers.” The hand-colored 1861 lithograph is a bird’s-eye view of the Civil War Union camp layout of tents including Company C, being a unit composed of Danvers soldiers.

Photographic items donated included: a 10” by 36” photograph of the Boston Braves vs the Danvers Twilight League at Danvers Park (September 24, 1931), donated by Janet Brown in memory of Stanley F. Brown; long roll photographs from various donors of the Holten High School Class of 1951, 1954, 1956, 1959; ten 4”x 6” color photos of the Memorial Day Parade (ca. 1968); nine 5” x 7” color prints of the Hottwatt complex of buildings at 128 Maple Street; an 8” x 10” photograph of the Endecott Pear Tree (1920s); 200 pages of photocopies of photos and news clippings of service records of Danvers men who served in the Civil War from the records of the Lynn Massachusetts Grand Army of the Republic Post #5; 13 b & w photos of the dedication of the Danvers Archival center at 13 Page Street (1972); copy of a sketch of Water Street from Endicott Hill by Scott Wiley (1964); 36 photos of the interior of The Lindens (1890s-1910); 19 color transparencies of renovation of 1750s 132 Sylvan St. (1978); and 3 sepia photos of the Danvers High School Band and football team (1940s).

Among audio-visual items we collected were: a story featured on Chronicle by WCVB-TV in Boston concerning the Endecott Pear Tree and a short interview by me (2016); a Blue-Ray disk of the feature film The Witch directed by Robert Eggers for A24 Films (2016); “An Oral History of Danvers” with videotape, by Ted Wilson of Troop 67; and a DVD “Passing the Torch,” by St. Mary of the Annunciation School.

Mr Howlett

A lovely photographic volume, Peabody’s London in Pictures (2016) was donated by Stephen Howlett, Chief Executive of The Peabody Group of England. Mr. & Mrs. Howlett visited the Danvers Library and Archives a year ago. He is the director of what was originally the extensive 19th century Peabody Apartments donated by George Peabody, and now part of an immense not-for-profit corporation in England. The book includes beautiful color prints bound together in a lovely presentation binder.

Our photographic collection is often used for book illustrations. We allowed a photograph I had made of our Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial to be used at a witchcraft memorial site, the Historische Recherchen in Switzerland. Several of our images of the Danvers State Hospital will be used in a new State Hospital book to be published in a forthcoming book by Arcadia Publishing. Also an image of General Moses Porter is being used at the Mackinac State Park in Michigan.

Though we do not collect objects per say, if the object is chiefly in the printed media, we do collect this. Two unusual and quite attractive advertisement items in this category were obtained by donation this year. The first was a ca. 1930s round wood sign 23” in diameter in the form of a wagon wheel with spokes touting “Marston’s Express Co., Inc.,” while the second sign is 14” tall by 72” long with black background and gold lettering reading “Marston’s Express Co., Inc.” This express company dates back to the 1820s and as Marston’s Express was located from the 1920s on School Street.

Manuscripts are the raw material of history and the type of primary source documentation most revealing of the past. Manuscripts and public documents make up the largest part of our Archival Center collections. Added this year to the “Manuscript” card catalogue were 238 cards.

Each year we try to devote time to continue to catalogue the backlog of Danvers Historical Society manuscripts on deposit at the Archival Center. Tom Marsella does much of this research and cataloguing. Among Historical Society papers processed and catalogued this past year included: a poem written by minister and first Historical Society President Alfred Porter Putnam titled “Our Heroes of 1775 and Our ‘Boys in Blue’” (1891); an historical monograph by Nathan Bushby titled, “Old Fashioned Lection” (1893); and a report to the Danvers Historical Society by Mrs. Evelyn Masury concerning the society library (1909).

The family of well-known Danvers banker and collector John Storm, who passed away recently, donated a large collection of Mr. Storm’s collections to the Danvers Historical Society. In September we processed this deposit collection including sorting, storing and cataloging the thousands of items. Among this newly catalogued material is: Village Bank records (1858-1884); promissory note of George Ellis (1869); school department return of scholars (1845); First National Bank of Danvers stock certificates (1871-1891); Village Bank promissory notes (1856-1859); Danvers National Bank stock certificates (1904-1946); Carrie Estella Ray mortgage document (1900); Danvers National Bank stock certificates (1941-1964); warranty deed of the Danvers National Bank (1905); and a book of blank stock certificates (1904). Over the years Mr. Storm had given the Archival Center a number of gifts, and we are pleased that the Society and we, through deposit, were given the remainder of Mr. Storm’s collections.

Town Clerk deposits of town records catalogued this year included: “Report of a Special Committee of Town Meeting” to look into public welfare and the unemployment situation in Danvers, with recommendations (1932); and miscellaneous Town Treasurer’s accounts (1880s-1920s).

Manuscripts that were actually donated to the Archival Center this past year by generous individuals included: a deed to property sold by Jeremiah Page to Andrew Putnam in what is now the “Danvers Square” area (1773). This item was purchased by former selectman David P. McKenna on eBay, and which he then donated to the Archival Center. Thank you David!; a typescript 1st edition of the book, Danvers Fire Department 1800-1991, signed by author Chief Leland Martin, Jr. (1991); a three-ring notebook titled, “St. Richard of Chichester Historical Documents Founded February 27, 1963 Including Anniversary Celebration Books, Information, Pictures and Articles,” collected and compiled by Betsy Geheb on the occasion of St. Richard’s Churches 50th anniversary (2016); a great collection of over 500 Danvers business records from Marston’s Express Company (1918-1954); a nautical policy of assurance taken out by Samuel Fowler on cargo (1806); and a deed for land and a wharf in Danversport for Eliza Page (1816).

We also attempt to purchase manuscripts about Danvers we find through catalogues, eBay, auctions, or private dealers. Items purchased this year included: a business letter with integral leaf sent to William Sutton (1829); a preprinted post card signed by Danversite Clarence Huston to Congressman A. Piatt Andrew concerning the repeal of the Volstead Act (1932); a writ sent by Judge Samuel Holten to Thomas Piper concerning complaints of Piper’s excessive drinking and idleness (1807); an autographed letter from George Peabody at Castleconnell, Ireland, concerning an invitation (1860s); a letter with a very interesting stampless cover with routing and rerouting markings sent by Rufus Preston Tapley to friend Benjamin F. Hutchinson concerning legal studies (1846). Tapley was a Danvers native who eventually became justice of the Maine Supreme Court; a writ of execution on a debt taken out by Samuel Ropes against Isaac Reed demanding payment, “else to commit him to the Salem jail” (1774); an envelope addressed to Alfred Porter Putnam in which the hand stamp has been modified from “North Danvers” to “Danvers” in acknowledgement of the independent town of South Danvers being created (c 1857); a pay warrant for Jeremiah Putnam’s military service in the Continental Line for 1781-1784 (1783); and a letter from Dr. George Osgood to Dr. Samuel Holten informing him of the pitiful death of Holten’s grandson, Capt. Samuel Webster (1812).

A major acquisition to our manuscript collection was the auction sale of 23 documents by or to Dr. Samuel Holten, Danvers’s most famous native son and “Founding Father.” The manuscripts include letters and draft letters by Holten while in the Continental and early Federal Congress, receipts, reports, and legal documents spanning the years 1751-1814. Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. contacted us months before about this collection, and we won the lot by absentee bidding on the auction taking place in Cincinnati, Ohio.

This year we were also able to purchase two Whittier manuscripts for inclusion in our extensive “Dr. Richard P. Zollo Whittier Collection.” The original core collection was donated by Professor Zollo a number of years ago to include books, manuscripts and photographs of the world renowned 19th century poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, who resided in Danvers for 17 years. Purchased from separate vendors, the two autographed letters signed (ALS) date 1877 and 1887. In the 1877 letter Whittier comments concerning the recent controversial Presidential election to American poet and collector of autographs, Lewis Jacob Cist, “Hoping with thee that the result will show that Gen. [Rutherford B.] Hayes has been fairly elected.”

The Archival Center also has a significant collection of maps and plans which are catalogued separately. The only map we received by gift this year was a 1989 townwide promotional map of Danvers produced by Century 21.

Our website www.danverslibrary.org/archive continues to be useful to researchers. As time allows I try to put together new text and articles, which Director of Reference Jim Riordan uploads to the website with appropriately sized illustrations. This past fiscal year we added the “Archive Annual Report for 2016,” and an article titled “George Augustus Peabody and his Urn,” concerning the large, decorative 1895 cast bronze urn on its granite pedestal located near the library entrance.

Though some of the activity on our web site is quite brief, we do get hits from around the globe. The last week of July found the following countries represented looking at our site: Ukraine, Israel, Japan, France, Greece, Chile, China, Argentina, Italy, Uruguay, Nigeria and Netherlands. Many of our illustrations can also be found in numerous Google illustration searches.

During FY 2017 we were open for 49 weeks during which we were able to keep statistics. 725 patrons visited the Archives to use our resources, while 670 telephone calls were answered, and 816 letters and emails sent out in response to patron queries. Four talks were given to civic, town, and school groups, with a combined audience of about 455 people.

In addition, in May I was asked by the Danvers Veterans’ Council if I would be the keynote speaker at the outdoor Danvers Memorial Day Commemoration Exercises in front of Danvers Town Hall. On May 29, 2017, following the traditional Memorial Day parade, I had the honor to talk about my recollections of how Memorial Day has been remembered in Danvers and of the various monuments erected to memorialize those Danversites who sacrificed for our liberty. It was a humbling honor, as I myself never served in the United States Military.

Richard Trask giving Memorial Day address

Supplies purchased for our use this year included acid free letter and legal file folders, polyester sleeves of various sizes for photographic and manuscript storage, large format newspaper storage boxes, acid free manuscript boxes, and acid-free letter-size paper for copying. I also was able to acquire a new chair for my desk through the assistance of the Danvers Police Department.

One in-house project we did this year was to redistribute the cards in our Union Catalogue to free up very tight drawers filled to the gills with catalogue cards. We redistributed the large, multi-drawer floor unit, adding 9 new drawers to each of our three major cataloguing areas, and redistributing other cards elsewhere.

We subscribe to various popular preservation periodicals including: Early American Life, and Preservation News, as well as some genealogical subscriptions that reflect upon local families, including Essex Society of Genealogy, New England Historical Genealogical Register, New England Archivist, American Archivist, The Manuscript Society, About Towne, and the Endecott-Endicott Family Association. As a courtesy we give storage space to the Towne Family Association for their four-drawer file storing the records of this genealogical organization.

If someone is actually reading this and the last few previous Archive reports, you probably recall my written frustration with obtaining a new fire suppression system for the Archive area. Back in 2010, on two separate occasions, sprinkler heads within the Library’s water sprinkler system failed for no apparent reason and seriously damaged library equipment and collections. Seeing this as a potential devastating situation if it ever occurred in the Archival Center with our valuable collection of manuscripts and rare books, it was determined to seek an alternative system. At the May 2011 Danvers Annual Town Meeting $18,000 in initial funds were voted toward this project. Unfortunately, the town did not quickly follow-through on the project.

Following meetings with DPW and the Fire Chief, and a 2013 consulting report by Firepro, Inc., commissioned by the Library Board of Trustees, we were able to recommend that the two Archive Rooms and the Walk-In-Vault be installed with a Novec 1230 Fire Suppression System composed of gas canisters. Meanwhile, the original 1981 heating system for the library broke down. As part of a total replacement of the Library environmental system Town Meeting appropriated money in 2014 for the replacement of the Library HVAC system, and updating the “fire suppression system for the archive section.” Unfortunately the project was under-funded. The town decided, against my strong objection, to break off the Archive Fire Suppression System implementation, and pursue this project after the other library work is accomplished. Library Director Alan Thibeault always recognized the need for this new system and continued to advocate for it to Town Hall and the DPW.

At the May 2017 Annual Town Meeting, under the warrant article calling for improvements to town properties, $100,000 was voted for an “updated fire suppression system for the archive section.” It is hoped that this long-deferred project will take place so no potential disaster occurs to our multi-million dollar asset and to our community memory.

As Town Archivist I serve as a commissioner for the Essex County National Heritage Area. Since its inception in 1973, I have been a member of the Salem Village Historic District Commission. The Commission holds its public meetings and hearings here or in the Gordon Room monthly.

Relations between the Archival Center and the Danvers Historical Society by nature have always been close. I serve in the Society as a member of its Executive Board and as its Honorary Historian. Reference questions to the Society are typically sent along to me at the Archives for answering, and I am pleased to serve as a resource to the Society wherever needed. The Society in recent years has felt a severe constraint with its finances. For more than a year the Society has been discussing the disposition by sale of several of its properties, with an active consideration of selling the Israel Putnam Birthplace on Maple Street, at Route One. Given the historical importance of this property, its architecture, and huge and significant collections, I have been consistently opposed to selling what I consider the most significant property belonging to the Society, given its unique combination of assets. By April 2017, the 12 other Society Executive Board members were agreeable to begin the sale process. Complicating the situation were relations with relatives of the three now deceased family members who donated the property to the Society in 1991, and other byzantine factors. As the Society membership had to agree to the sale by vote, I sent out a personalized and illustrated letter to all Society members stating my case. On April 6, 2017 we had a large Society meeting at the Senior Center, the resulting vote of which was that by a vote of 163 to 40 the membership voted not to sell the property. I consider the vote a victory for preservation. Since then the Society has been struggling with assisting our finances, finding solutions to preservation considerations, and staving off a suit filed by some members of the Emerson Family against the Society. In June I sent out another personal letter soliciting donations from among Society members and others I know to financially assist the Society. To date the request has been better than a 10% return, with over $24,000 donated.

During this past fiscal year the Archival Center brought in $70 in reference fees and certified copies as part of my responsibilities as an Assistant Town Clerk. Six house markers were ordered by Danvers homeowners bringing in $270. We research the sign information for homeowners, and have a 12” by 18” marine plywood painted sign made by talented sign painter Robert Leonard of Rhode Island, all for a bargain price of $45 by the homeowner.

Other monies were generated from the sale of books, maps and other items on our gift shelf, a donation for a talk I gave to a visiting group, and use of images in two new commercially published books. These fees and donations amounted to $376, bringing our total of income this year for the Archival Special Fund to $716. This fund was established years ago in order to have money available in case important but expensive items came to our attention and would overwhelm our regular budget. The fund has been utilized several times in the past when there was not enough money in our budget to cover the cost of special items. Our fund now stands beginning with a balance for the new FY2018 of $17,700.

The Archives has always attempted to act as a resource for other town agencies needing information. Among town departments assisted in research this past year were the Town Manager, Town Assessor, Town Clerk, Town Counsel, Preservation Commission, Historic District Commission, School Department, Superintendent of Schools, Public Works Department, and Planning Department.

In 1970 as a young man, I took on a project to find and excavate the 1681 Salem Village Parsonage site located somewhere behind 69 Centre Street. I invited archaeologist Roland Wells Robbins, who had uncovered the remains of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, and excavated the Saugus Ironworks, among many successful excavations, to participate. With a wonderful group of volunteers, we were able to excavate the parsonage site and retrieve thousands of artifacts. The property owner, Alfred Hutchinson, Jr., allowed the site to remain exposed for visitation. In 1989 the Town purchased the site and executed a number of site improvements, plantings and signage to make this a town mini-park. Given the out-of-sight location of this mini-park, it often gets forgotten for clean-up and maintenance.

Two years ago the DPW removed several trees, and we were able to install two new interpretive signs. I had wanted to place two granite markers at the east end of the original house which did not have a cellar under it, to delineate the original location of the entire structure. Historic District Commission member Josh Clark, a landscape professional, secured for us two six foot rectangular granite posts, picked them up, and delivered them to the site. Money for these reused posts came from the Preservation Commission. The Danvers DPW, through Lee King and Chuck Farrell, went over the improvements needed with me, and a crew installed the posts, mowed the property, got rid of refuse, tree-fall, several unnecessary bushes and small trees, cleaned up the cellar hole bottoms and re-raked the washed stone. This was accomplished prior to a July scheduled shoot at the Parsonage Site by a camera crew under contract with the Smithsonian Institution. This modest and obscure site gets more national broadcast exposure than any other site in Danvers, due to its being “Ground Zero” for the 1692 Salem Witchcraft events.

Three major town preservation issues in which I participated as Archivist, related to the finding of a home for the 1868 Danvers Plains Railroad Station, the Demolition Delay By-Law, and the Community Preservation Act.

The Massachusetts Community Preservation Act has been in operation since 2000, whereby communities can, through prescribed procedures, choose to add a surcharge of, in our case 1.5%, to be added to the property tax bill in order to raise funds for open space, historic preservation, and affordable housing, with the state also giving to the town an additional amount for the fund. About half of the communities in Massachusetts, including every community touching Danvers, have voted to participate, and their accomplishments as a result of their participation are impressive. None have opted out and all see great benefits in participating. Cost to an average Danvers homeowner would be in the range of $50 to $75 per year, and the money made available to town projects would be somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000. Though the Danvers Archival Center would probably not need, nor compete over that money, it would be a godsend to the many preservation and other quality-of-life issues facing our town.
The Selectmen and Finance Committee voted to support the CPA article, which passed Town Meeting on May 19, 2016, with a healthy majority. The question was then placed on our local ballot for citizens to vote during the November Presidential election. A local committee, “Community Preservation Danvers,” was formed to support efforts for CPA, while at the same time a vocal group against the proposal was also formed. The opposition centered on the fact that this was another tax and that Danvers was taxed enough. There was a lawn sign battle that ensued, with the opposition touting “No new taxes.” Both local newspapers came out in support of CPA, as well as many local preservation, and conservation organizations, the Trust for Public Land and other regional organizations. In a letter to the editor I wrote of CPA: “Such revenue carefully spent after the authorization by our own Town Meeting would help keep those characteristics and places we townies have loved and appreciated for generations, and which newer residents found so charming as to want to raise a family here. Have no illusion, much of our heritage, our built environment, our open spaces are disappearing each year. Think of the controversies waged and losses incurred in our neighborhoods in recent years; the landscapes ravaged, the buildings destroyed without the benefit of viable options for preservation or adaptive reuse.”

Sixteen communities throughout the Commonwealth voted on the CPA question, 11 passing the local act, including Boston, Springfield and Watertown, and 5 failing to pass it, including, unfortunately, Danvers, with a vote of 9,000 to 6,000, the widest margin of defeat in the state.

We can never regain the lost projects and monies we could have acquired had we participated in CPA earlier, or through the vote on November 8, 2016. It seems very bad logic and foolish action to me that the Town rejected participating due to a relatively small individual monetary sacrifice, the result of which would have given our town and all its citizens such immediate and long-term benefit. In July 2017 the City of Salem used over $150,000 of CPA monies (and no other municipal funds) creating a Witchcraft Memorial on City land just below Gallows Hill.

During FY2016 into FY 2017 three important Danvers buildings were endangered — 29 Elm Street, 5 Water Street, and 78 Liberty Street. I had previously researched the history and significance of these buildings for a report and follow-up attendance at Danvers Preservation Commission meetings to explain their significance. All three were designated historically significant by the Commission, and a 6-month delay was instituted to see if there could be a solution to save these structures.

The c. 1836 vernacular house at 29 Elm Street with Greek Revival features was built by Danvers Selectman, State Representative, and brick manufacturer John Page. The house had exposed, though boxed, corner beams, and summer beams throughout the front rectangular dwelling, so the dwelling may be earlier than the 1836 date. It also had numerous early 19th century features. The new property owner, Beverly Bank, wanted to demolish the dwelling for a branch bank with a vehicle drive-through. We pointed out the success of the mid-19th century award-winning Northshore Bank diagonally across the street, which was adaptively reused for bank purposes. I attended and spoke at several Planning Board meetings relative to the house. In July the board voted 3 to 2 to allow the bank to use the property with a new structure, and in September 2016 the house was torn down for a phony colonial bank.

“Goodbye Old House.”

The c. 1847 Edward T. Waldron 1½ story Greek Revival cottage on 5 Water Street has been abused for a number of years, though the interior includes a beautiful grouping of original features. The house demolition was delayed and due to the nature of the site, the plan had to be submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals. I spoke at three different meetings of the ZBA and supported the owners when they changed plans to preserve the house. It appeared that the original house would survive, though the owner was unable to fund it. At this point (July 2017) the house still survives, but the jury is still out as to its future.

The c. 1856 John Withey 1½ story Greek Revival house at 78 Liberty Street is the saddest case. The house had a fine 19th century exterior and a ready-to-move-in, modern interior with a beautiful contemporary kitchen. The house was the home of a patriotic father and three children, including a 15-year-old son, Samuel P. Withey, who joined the Federal Army to serve in the Civil War. John Withey, the father, did not survive the war. The house was owned by Kaplan Family Hospice, which has a large facility hundreds of feet away from the house and street. Their intention was to destroy the building to make their street frontage clear. In a time when housing is at a premium in Danvers, and when conservation of materials and energy is a watchword in our society, the destruction of a very well kept house seems an absolute, almost criminal waste. No matter the suggestions proffered, Kaplan was uninterested, sat on their hands, and after 6 months had the viable structure with a great history simply torn down in November 2016.

A waste of resources, a destruction of history!

It has been clear for years within both our town and in other communities that have a local Demolition Delay By-Law of 6 months, that such a delay is too short. Developers simply put the delay within their development plan, often applying in the fall or winter when demolition is difficult, so that by spring or summer they can proceed. A number of Massachusetts communities have switched to 1-year or 18-month delays to give pause to developers to avoid historic structures covered by the by-law, in favor of less important local buildings not protected. It also gives the local Commission more time to come up with solutions or advertise availability in national periodicals. Preservation Commission member Kathleen Ciman took on the effort to change our local by-law from 6 month delay of structures determined to be historically significant to 18 months, and I enthusiastically supported the Commission in this endeavor. The Selectmen, in considering a warrant article for Town Meeting, cut down the delay from our suggested 18 months to 1 year (a not-unexpected move on their part). Kathy and I attended and spoke at the Selectmen’s Warrant Article Meeting, Finance Committee Hearing, and at the Annual Town Meeting held May 15, 2017. The Town Manager Steve Bartha was also of assistance. Town Meeting gave a resounding yes vote for the delay, and we sincerely hope that this change will help in slowing down the destruction of Danvers’s historic assets.

The other critical issue in Danvers preservation is the final disposition of the high style 1868 Danvers Plains Railroad Station located on land now owned by Townsend Total Energy Company off Cherry Street. Townsend has been willing since the early 2000s to donate this, the last surviving and most important of the original nine Danvers railroad stations, if it could be moved to a new site. Many people in Danvers, including myself, have been working on this since 2003, though we have confronted roadblocks all along with groups opposed to having it on every suggested location. Amid controversy, advocates of the preservation of the station determined that the town parking lot on Hobart Street is historically and visually the best location, adjacent to the original tracks. According to engineering studies, a reconstituted parking plan would only lose one or two parking spaces.

State Senator Joan Lovely proffered an Environmental Bond Bill with a $750,000 appropriation for the relocation and preservation of the station at the parking lot. Though a public meeting was held at Town Hall in November 2015 concerning the proper placement and possible use of the building, the Selectmen did not choose to follow through with a recommendation. The Planning Board in December recommended this Hobart Street location as well. With action seeming to stall, Preservation Commission chairperson Ellen Graham wrote and circulated a citizens’ petition for Town Meeting to instruct that if the town accepted the gift of the station, along with a legislative grant obtained through our State Senator Joan B. Lovely, that it be located at the Hobart Street lot. Along with others, I spoke at the Finance Committee hearing of Town Meeting warrant articles, and then also at the Annual Town Meeting itself on May 19, 2016. The article passed to move the station to Hobart Street. Unfortunately the state money, which we had always been led to believe would be appropriated once positive action by the town had been accomplished, was in 2017 not available. We felt that the assurance of this money was made to us somewhat disingenuously, and we had been relying on what turned out to be the absence of clout with the State.

To make matters worse, in 2017 a fire in a truck parked next to the station caused some fire damage to the exterior of the building, though our Fire Department’s quick action avoided what could have been a total destruction. Then in May 2017 Townsend, tired of their being strung along for 15 years, made application to the Preservation Commission for the building to be torn down!

My concern has always been for the preservation of the exterior of this building located in an appropriate railway site. Use of the structure, be it governmental, cultural, or commercial, is not important to me, so long as the building survives. The Hobart Street location would afford a beautiful visibility to the project, making the restored station a signature property of the community. It is adjacent to the original rail line, and the highly popular Danvers section of the Rail Trail pathway. If preserved and restored, this station will soon be regarded as a jewel of our community. If destroyed, its demise will reflect a continuing downslide of the historical and cultural built environment of our town, which only has so many assets that make it a unique, cherish able community.

 

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It has been a very mixed year for historic preservation in Danvers, with the loss of so many places of local heritage, and a citizen rejection of the Community Preservation Act. I take seriously the role of the Danvers Archival Center as being the institutional memory and manuscript repository of the history of Salem Village and Danvers, and of those thousands of residents who have in large or small ways impacted our American society, culture and history.

My fear is that in the future we may still have a wonderful repository to show a visitor, through documents, maps, prints and photographs, what our town was like and its influence on the greater United States, but when residents or visitors want to see in the natural environment the uniqueness of Danvers today, they will be underwhelmed, finding few buildings, sites, or streetscapes left reflecting our heritage and uniqueness.

Richard B. Trask
Town Archivist
August 2017

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