NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

October 11, 2013

Archive Center a treasure trove of information

To the editor:

It’s gratifying to see so many recent articles and letters about one of our little-known historical gems here in Newburyport. The Archive Center, hidden away in the basement of the Newburyport Public Library, is an amazing place.

Don’t miss the show of historical Newburyport photos now at the Maritime Museum. They’re big and they’re beautiful, but if that whets your interest, go look at the collection in the Archive Center. They are conveniently cataloged with photocopies in a large set of binders, categorized by subject and location, and you can freely browse through them. If you see something interesting, like your own house many years ago, the staff will pull out the original for you and you can copy it.

Of course, genealogy is a specialty, including access to Ancestry.com for free. And if it’s Newburyport genealogy, there’s likely to be an expert at hand to help.

One of my great interests has been the history of our house and the immediate neighborhood. The Archive Center has amazing things to help besides the photos categorized by street. They have all of the City Directories, published every two or three years ever since the city was established in 1851. The directories tell who lived in each house and ran each business. You can easily follow a house along almost year to year. Just one caution: The whole city was renumbered about 1918. To help with that, the Archive Center has a fabulous collection of detailed maps, including the maps from 1851, 1872, 1884, 1900 and, I think, 1910 that show every house and who owned it. The maps are old. Please handle carefully.

A couple of my special interests are the local glacial geology, since we live at the foot of a moraine, and the history of recent local flooding. The Archive Center turned out to have amazing resources in both of those categories, too. Did you know that the High Street ridge is part of an old moraine, called the Newington moraine, that runs from southern Maine to Old Town Hill, and that the ice was pushing from the Common Pasture side? And did you know that, in March 1936, water was 3 feet deep on Graf Road and the railroad track was under water both north and south of town? All the bridges were shaking and some were closed. We briefly became an island.

Next time you’re in the library, drop down to take look at what it’s all about. No appointment necessary. The Archive Center is open 9-noon and 1-4 Monday-Friday, plus 9-noon on Saturday. It’s also open 5-8 most Wednesday evenings. Have fun browsing.

Tom Horth

Newburyport

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