Museum archives program making strides
BENNINGTON -- Bennington Museum has joined a large group of public institutions that has received funding to archive, digitize and catalogue many of its historical artifacts.
In 2009, the museum received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to initiate an archives program, train staff in archival processing, create policies and procedures for processing the collection, and bring to the museum a consultant to guide the process.
"This process took many of the valuable resources from Bennington Museum’s ‘hidden collection,’ and made them accessible to the general public," said Callie Stewart, museum collections manager. "We are seeking another grant from the NHPRC to continue this important work, and are hopeful to continue preserving the history of our region."
Collectively, Stewart, project archivist Bill Budde, and consultant Phil Eppard, processed the archival material. All the paper documents were examined, assessed and categorized into groups by topic: geography, people, subject, or timeframe. Records were created in the museum’s collections management database, while items were re-housed in archival acid free folders and filed in Bennington Museum’s secure climate controlled storage.
One of the most important efforts involved the Hall Park McCullough Collection -- a large, complex and nationally significant group of materials touching on many aspects of early American political, military, social, and cultural history.
Prior to the grant project, the Hall Park McCullough Collection was an unstructured grouping of individual documents whose contents were difficult to access. This collection has now been organized into 40 series constructed around appropriate subjects.
One of the strengths of the Hall Park McCullough Collection are papers dating to the American Revolution including an original report of the Baum-Hessian Regiment found on the battle field of the Battle of Bennington, a letter from Samuel Adams regarding a prisoner exchange for Ethan Allen, and a letter from Jonas Fay dated 1777 on behalf of the Council of Safety to Major General Lincoln relaying intelligence on the British forces at their headquarters and on Benedict Arnold’s capture of prisoners and a canon.
The Hall Park McCullough Collection also includes original town charters illustrating the conflict between New Hampshire and New York over land in Vermont. Bennington’s founding families are strongly represented and include the Robinsons, Fassetts, Henrys, and Fays. Correspondence during the Civil War written by soldiers relating their experiences in the Union Army are among the papers processed. The collection contains rare broadsides, early records of the Old First Church, illustrations from the first Bible published in Vermont, legal documents, records relating to the earliest Bennington schools, and information on the railroad industry.
Many of the highlights of the this collection will be on view in "Founding Documents", an exhibit at the Bennington Museum from Jan. 30 through May 30.
A sizeable collection of papers relating to the Cushman Co. of North Bennington was also processed, and included catalogues and promotional materials from 1933 through the 1960s documenting the company’s famous Colonial Creations furniture line. Also included is an earlier catalogue from the late 1800s, together with some advertising material from that same time period, as well as catalogues on the company’s popular line of smokers of the 1920s.
Another group worked on was documents relating to Gen. Edward H. Ripley (who will be the focus of an exhibit at the Bennington Museum slated for 2012). Ripley served during the Civil War and commanded the Ninth Vermont Regiment. Complimenting the museum’s object and photograph holdings of Ripley is the vast collection of documents which are organized into four series: Correspondence, general military affairs, ordinance department records, and personal and family papers. Included in the series are recruitment papers from 1862 for Rutland County which recorded the current residence, place of birth, age, complexion, eye and hair color, height and occupation for each individual. Still other military material includes muster rolls, a large number of ordnance reports, papers on arms, and Ripley’s capture at Harper’s Ferry.
Finally, some of the more significant documents were scanned making them more accessible to the public and professional researchers.
Many of the archived items were submitted to Vermont’s archive catalog (arccat.uvm.edu/) and the National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections which posted them to WorldCat (worldcat.org) making them accessible worldwide.
For more information, visit benningtonmuseum.org or call 802-447-1571. Caption: Carte de visité of Edward Hastings Ripley. Photograph taken in Richmond, Va., in February, 1865.
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