"Historic Highlights" for Gilford Steamer’s 16 August 2004 issue
Gilford’s citizens have entrusted the organization and care of the collections of the Thompson-Ames Historical Society to us since 1943. Although, as with many small historical societies, we are a company of "amateurs", it is a trust that has not been taken lightly. In the case of T-AHS, much research, effort and many hours have been spent both by professional and volunteer workers to make our buildings safe to properly house these collections. Funds to finance the necessary repairs and changes to the buildings came from grants and donations, small and large. In 2000, a major step forward was taken when the citizens of Gilford generously voted to fund a collection management position designed to inventory, accession, catalog and organize our scattered and diverse holdings into a coherent whole and place this information into a museum computer program. This and occasional future articles will explain how T-AHS is managing the society’s collection for the community. From time-to-time we will focus on specific collections, such as The Lakes Region Playhouse.
An early step involved taking a careful look at the breadth and variety of what~we already had in our possession and what we thought we wanted the collections of I-AIlS to represent to the community. Together with the curators, a collection policy that would define the scope of our collection and establish a consistent plan for the acquisition, organization and preservation of our collections was created.
In June of 2000 the work of inventorying began. This involved trying to reconcile early accession records - some very sketchy - with materials. We ended up, as might be expected with records for which items could not be found and items with non-existent documentation. This proved to be a challenge. Volunteers read the society’s minutes beginning in 1943 looking for clues —some of these puzzles have unfolded themselves in the years since this began and some remain unsolved. Also in 2000, Past Perfect, a museum collection management program was purchased.
By mid 2001, accession records from 1943 to 1997 had been added to Past Perfect. In many cases the provenance was vague, little was known about the donor, its history or when it was acquired. At best, if we knew who the curator was who recorded the item, we might be able to assign an approximate date as to when it was received within the range of years in which he/she served. We began to collect a library of books on tools and trades, old farm implements, early crafts, museums of early Americana, etc. to help in the identification and description of items. Immensely useful was the 1897 and 1927 Sears, Roebuck catalogs which we acquired. People who farmed Gilford in the early to mid-1900s, such as Pete Labonte, Arthur Weeks, Elmon Phelps and several others, were helpful in establishing the names and use of a number of items. Their anecdotal information was interesting and invaluable — community members are our most treasured resources. In July of that year, Gary Francke gave T-AHS books from Kathy Francke’s collection on art, architecture, antiques, and history. This collection has become the nucleus of our library research collection.
As records accumulated in Past Perfect, we began to create a hard-copy index of items located in each of our collections areas. To date, an index has been created for The Homestead Room, The Store, The Meetinghouse Exhibit Areas - including, Farm, School, Church, Victorian Room, Winter Sports, Town Government and Military, the Grange Hall Exhibit Areas which includes The Grange, Lake Winnipesaukee, State Government, The Lakes Region Playhouse, Music and Cemeteries. Indexes are also, available for the Library Collection, Photograph Collection, and Oral Tapes. We are now at work on the Archival Collection, including documents, photographs, glass plates, postcards, scrapbooks, ledgers, etc. This has involved the acquisition of archival preservation materials to insure that papers and photographs are safely preserved for years to come. Still to be addressed are a collection of maps, Bibles, and the T-ALIS records covering our years of existence and some miscellaneous unidentified materials.
A vast collection of secondary source material was accumulated prior to the publishing of the society’s history of Gilford, The Gunstock Parish by Adair Mulligan. This collection of material has come to us from the files of Adair Mulligan, Kathy Francke and Ray Wixson and constitutes a wonderful windfall of material - a large cataloging task encompassing approximately 40 archival file boxes of papers and photographs including deed research, family histories, town history, etc. It makes one appreciate the immensity of Adair’s task in sorting, organizing and incorporating this information into the history. Much of the detail never made it into the book, of course, so it is a rich asset for I-AIlS and the community.
Although nearly 1500 materials have been cataloged and recorded in Past Perfect, this does not begin to speak of the individual number of items held. For instance, the Playhouse Collection, received from a number of sources over the years reveals that we have 5 albums of photographs of stars and performances each of which contains about 150 separate photographs. In addition, we have a number of folders containing many individual photographs of the playhouse, stars, programs, posters, tributes, scrapbooks, oral tapes, etc. covering the years of operation beginning in 1950 through 1983 when the playhouse was burned.
Although much has been accomplished, much remains to be addressed including the monumental task of cataloging the Rowe House contents and addressing the question of the maintenance, conservation and preservation of items. Another item the historical society is currently considering is the creation of a website with the eventual capability of public access to the Past Perfect files.
On Saturday, August 21st, Diane Mitton will speak about the work being done at I-AIlS to catalog and preserve our collections. The "Lakes Region/Gilford Playhouse" will be a featured exhibit. You are invited to come to the society’s Grange building at 8 Belknap Mt. Road in Gilford Village at 10:00 a.m. Light refreshments will be served.