I'm feeling guilty about not posting for a while. I have been working on my post on the historical content of Sante Graziani's murals. If you could see my dashboard you would see that there is a posting in the editing phase but it isn't finished quite yet. Perhaps I'm too verbose for this format and should really consider finding another format to present my thoughts - like a book- and believe me there is a book in my brain somewhere- I just have to find the time to sit down and write- in between managing the history room, going to meetings and working on my needlework.
So instead I am going to post my speech given at the Rotary Club yesterday to tide you over until the next historical post.
Saving Holyoke's Heritage through Historical Documents
The Holyoke History Room documents the history of Holyoke, a city whose industrial developments during the late 1890's and early 20th centuries played an influential role in the paper and textile industries both nationally and internationally. These collections document the history of Holyoke's businesses, social and charitable organizations as well as that of Holyoke Public Library itself.
The Holyoke History Room has a great variety of items, covering an extensive span of time, but when viewed through the eyes of a researcher many sizable gaps appear. For one thing, there is a distinct dearth of populated photographs. Flipping through the photograph boxes in the History Room would lead one to believe that Holyoke was a ghost town for a good portion of its existence. I am hopeful that community-wide call for photographs will allow us to rediscover the vital Holyoke described in all of our histories. Wistariahurst has begun an initiative called Sharing Our Photographs. Please contact them for more information regarding this very important project.
Another highly noticeable gap in the History Room's collection is the lack of documentation of the immigration and daily lives of Holyoke's Hispanic population. While the stories of Holyoke's other immigrant groups are widely told through documents, photographs, books and other items in the History Room, I am sad to say that this group is not well represented in our collections. I am working hard to fill this gap so that we may tell their story as well.
While these gaps can easily be filled with hard work and help from the community, there are others that are not so easily filled. Some of these gaps were created when collections were allowed to slip away from Holyoke. An example of such a collection is that of the Hadley Falls Company and Lyman Mills. When the Lyman Mills went out of business, repositories such as the History Room did not exist. Instead, this collection, which includes the records created by the very company from which Holyoke springs, went to the Baker Library at Harvard University. Thus, while these papers are available for researchers, and while they still remain in Massachusetts, the researcher suffers from having these records ripped from their original context. I believe that they would have benefited from the ability to visit Open Square, the former Lyman mills, while studying these records. Now, they may not realize that the mill still stands on the Holyoke Canal. I hope to get copies of these records, and of other Holyoke-related record groups that have been scattered to the four winds, but they will never have the same significance outside of their original formats. For nothing is more powerful than the feeling you get from holding a ledger created by one of the founding fathers of Holyoke. I know, because I feel the same power holding the records created by Holyoke Water Power. The Hadley Falls Company and Lyman Mills gap will never be fully filled as far as I'm concerned, yet at least it could be partially filled.
The most worrisome gaps that exist in our collection are those that may never be filled, or are only filled by stopgap measures that could disappear, leaving us with gigantic holes in our history. One such collection is the Holyoke Transcript. As many of you well know, the Transcript Telegram was Holyoke's Daily paper for more than one hundred years. After it closed in 1993, the photograph collection disappeared and the volumes containing the physical papers were taken out of Massachusetts. This left Holyoke with an aging collection of microfilm copies that is beginning to show its age, a few examples of the paper that were saved because they covered important topics and a tiny selection of photographs from that vast collection which would have filled the History Room with so much life.
We are also left with many questions. To this day we are unsure of who owns the copyright for the Transcript. Our hands are tied when patrons ask about publishing photographs and articles that clearly were from the Transcript and we cannot be sure about the legality of digitizing the failing microfilm. And as in the case of the Lyman Mills collection, the copies are only a paltry replacement for the originals.
But it is not my intention to end on such a negative note. Let me instead tell you about a success story. Last summer, while watching 22 News, I learned that the Parsons Mills building, home of the first and last working paper manufacturer in Holyoke, was being viewed by potential buyers. I immediately began negotiating with the caretaker to ensure that this historic company's past would be preserved. Because I was quick, I saved many items from being either thrown out or auctioned off. We thus have a detailed map of the mill, a Nurse's ledger from the 1940's and many other important documents and Heritage State Park has many artifacts, all of which may have otherwise disappeared.
Photographs, objects and documents are important. They speak for those who no longer have voices, letting future generations know who they were and how the Holyoke of today came to be. Without them, their memories will be lost in time, and what remains will lose its meaning.