Blizzard of 1978
Blizzard of 1978 from Newton Free Library
Main St. after the blizzard of 1888
Main St. after the blizzard of 1888 from Lee Library Historical Collection

Every year there is a first substantial snow of the year.  As I type this, snow has just started falling in Boston.  Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, the prediction has gone from “up to 12 inches” to 6-12″, to 4-6″ to “wintry mix”.  I have no idea how much snow we’ll get in the end.  It definitely will make a difference if you’re in the Berkshires, Greater Worcester or south of the Pike.

Two things I do know: media forecasters will talk as if this is a never-seen-before event in Massachusetts and drivers across the state will drive like they’ve never seen snow before.  Come on, people.  We have snow every year.  Some storms are historic, like the Blizzard of ’78 or the Blizzard of ’88.  This time, though, the timing is everything.  The Blizzard of ’78 occurred in February, in 1888 it was March.

This time it’s Thanksgiving weekend.  One of the busiest travel days of the year.  No matter how much snow we get, it couldn’t come at a worse time.  So be smart, slow down, be careful and be safe.

Old-fashioned snow blizzard, Boston. Coldest snow blizzard at its height on Tremont St.
Old-fashioned snow blizzard, Boston. Coldest snow blizzard at its height on Tremont St. from Boston Public Library’s Leslie Jones Collection
House on Chester Hill
House on Chester Hill Granville Public Library

Too many people think history is as dry as dust.  All dates and wars and people in funny clothes with funnier hats.  Show them their street 100 years ago or a 50-year-old yearbook for their high school and you have their attention. Ask them if they can identify a house on their street or its former owner and you have a Watson and the game’s afoot.

With the Granville Public Library’s collection digitized, Dick Rowley took advantage of other services offered by Digital Commonwealth.  He took an Omeka workshop on creating online exhibits.   The Granville Historic Image Library is the result.  The images are the main attraction, but there’s also an ongoing project to upload the Catalog of Historic Document Collections and Books from the Granville Public Library’s Historical Room with links to already-digitized versions of the Historical Room collection on websites like Internet Archive.

Dick also started posting Mystery Monday and Flashback Friday photos to the Granville Forum on Facebook.  He encouraged Forum members to contribute information and photos.  He got both.  Posters identified one old house as the original Baptist church that was moved across the street, so the new church could be built.  Even better, this wonderful wedding photo shows multiple generations of Granville residents at the wedding of Helen Alvina Hansen and Charles Louis Drolett, Jr. Dick reports the photo owner had no idea who the people in the photo were.  By posting it, Granville’s “village elders” were consulted and able to identify everyone.  Amongst the “elders”?  One of the little girls in the photo.

Find A Grave is one of the most popular websites for genealogists and local history buffs.  Dick has used the website to spread the wealth of resources in the Granville collection.  A distant relation will be thrilled to find a photo of Nathan Fenn on his Find A Grave page.  Although, my favorite has to be the Weekly Report on the Conduct of… Melissa Phelps.  What a delight for any descendant of Melissa Phelps Gaines to discover this gem.

Some of the stories are more poignant.  In trying to locate the oldest house in Granville, Dick was sent a photo of a 1934 copy of the Granville Center News.  The News is a story in itself.  It was published by Newton kids who summered in Granville.  They report on a resident of the purported oldest building, Chapin Brown, who was “slightly crazy”.  A little research uncovered the man had served in the Civil War.  Post-traumatic stress disorder?  Perhaps.  We don’t always get the full story, but a lot more of Chapin Brown’s has been restored because someone asked about the oldest house in town.

Susan A. Phelon Barber, AEF, Army Nurse Corp
Susan A. Phelon Barber, AEF, Army Nurse Corp Granville Public Library

A more inspirational story comes as a result of Dick’s collaboration with the Woodlands Cemetery Association (WCA).  This is my favorite.  The Granville Historic Image Library, Historical Room, Granville Public Library provides the images and the WCA provides the profiles of the interred in their newsletter.  Susan A. Phelon Barber was born and raised in Granville.  She was educated in Westfield and became a teacher.  She moved to Maine to study nursing and joined the U.S. Army nursing corps during World War I.  She served in Europe until 1919.  She then moved to Los Angeles to serve as a private nurse. Eventually, she returned to live in Granville and work as a nurse in Westfield.  She married a high school classmate in 1930 at the age of 45.

These remarkable people lived in a small town, but hardly had small lives.  If they were lost for a while, they have now been restored.  You can do the same for your small Massachusetts town and Digital Commonwealth can help.  Give us a call.  Let’s restore some more stories.

Tintype portrait of unknown man from Unidentified People and Places (Granville Public Library)
Tintype portrait of unknown man from Unidentified People and Places (Granville Public Library)

March came in like a lion and then refused to leave like a lamb.  Can we get a refund from Mother Nature?  Perhaps a few extra days of fall?  Digital Commonwealth never sleeps, though; witness the many additions to the collections last month.

My personal favorite proves that bad hair days are not a 21st century phenomenon.  This unidentified gentleman (left) comes from the Granville Public Library’s Unidentified People and Places collection.  I am sure he is happy to be unidentified.  Wouldn’t you be, with this look?

The remaining collections are from some old reliable contributors and some new ones.  Kudos to the newbies who added large collections and the vets who added to existing collections.  I personally know some folks who will be delighted that the Medford Historical Society is adding to its Civil War photo collection.

I admit my taste runs more to the Art Nouveau cover for Beverly’s Balance (see below), a play given by the Waban Women’s Club on May 4th 1917.  Which only goes to show that Digital Commonwealth always strives to provide something for everyone.

I hope to see you at the Annual Conference tomorrow in Worcester – another instance of Digital Commonwealth providing something for everyone!


Boston Public Library
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection – 6 items added to existing collection

Granville Public Library
Barlow Album – 110 items
Churches – 6 items
Countryside and Scenes – 47 items
Houses and Other Structures – 29 items
Noble & Cooley – 6 items
People, Portraits and Groups (Identified) – 68 items
Schools and Class Photos – 30 items
Unidentified People and Places – 28 items

Historical Society of Old Yarmouth
Historical Society of Old Yarmouth Archives & Local History Collection – 1,157 items

Jamaica Plain Historical Society
Jamaica Plain Historical Society Photo Gallery – 3 items added to existing collection

Medford Historical Society & Museum
Medford Historical Society Civil War Photograph Collection – 906 items added to existing collection

Beverly's Balance from Waban Historical Collection (Newton Free Library)
Beverly’s Balance from Waban Historical Collection (Newton Free Library)

Needham Free Public Library
Needham Historical House Collection – 2,989 items added to existing collection

Newton Free Library
Frank A. Day Junior High School Class of 1954 – 1 item
Mayor Howard Whitmore, Jr. collection 1929-2008 – 1 item
Meadowbrook Junior High School Class of 1963 – 1 item
Newton Free Library Branches, Auburndale, Newton Centre, Newton Corner, Newton Highlands, 1930-1959 – 24 items
Waban Historical Collection – 470 items

University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives
32 new collections – 6,771 new items re-harvested

Wayland Historical Society
Wayland Historical Society Collection – 23 items

Written by Patricia Feeley, Interlibrary Loan Librarian, Boston Public Library

Photo case for Portrait of a man
Photo cover

Historic Newton’s Early Photograph Collection has something for everyone who loves photographs: daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, hand painted miniature portraits and cartes de visite.  You can see the fashionable cases of the day as well.  Many of Newton’s historically prominent families are included.  The poses struck range from the straightforward, all business portrait of Charles Redding, an African-American sailor who served on the famous USS Kearsage during the Civil War, to the dandified Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson in his fur-trimmed coat – and with a name that reads like the genealogical profile of a Boston Brahmin.

Sara Leavitt Goldberg, Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts and Photographs for Historic Newton (HN), took up her position about seven and a half years ago.  Always interested in photographs, she did a concentration in archives at Simmons College.  She then interned and consulted at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown.  Sara’s predecessor at HN, Susan Abele, began the photo project 10 years ago.  With assistance from Ron Polito, co-author of Massachusetts photographers, 1839-1900, she created a comprehensive inventory of the photograph collection that Sara has found invaluable.

Charles Redding
Charles Redding

Inventory and collection in hand, Sara wanted to make it more broadly accessible while protecting her materials.  HN is a small, public/private collaborative and did not have the budget to digitize on its own.  Sara

went looking for a few good partners.

Digital Commonwealth (DC) had been on Sara’s radar since Simmons.  Sara knew she wanted to talk to DC.  She also knew about Simmons College’s internship program.  Here were two sources of free, professional help for her project.  Sara recommends both to small cultural institutions with limited budgets and big digitization dreams.

The photo inventory done by previous staff was an essential part of the process.  Kelsey Sawyer, the Simmons intern, handled all of the HN metadata based on the data in the inventory.  Sara is convinced the more prepared your institution is before you send your collection to digitization, the easier – and faster – it will go.  She characterizes her experience as “remarkably flawless.”

 Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson
Stephen Winchester Dana Jackson

Sara contacted DC in January, DC visited in February, she dropped off the collection in April, the imaging was done in June and uploaded in August.  She got her collection back in September.  It “truly could not have been easier.”

Sara sent HN staff a link to the collection and everyone was impressed.  She is eager to show the images off to her trustees and museum council.

Her advice to anyone still on the fence about digitization: Take the time to get your descriptions done and done right.  She gives full credit to HN staff for their work on the inventory and metadata.  Next, find yourself a few good partners.  She can recommend two.

In summary, Sara says it was “well worth the price of membership” to have DC digitize her collection.  HN owns some collections in partnership with the city, so Sara has some negotiating to do before she can send more collections.  But send more she will.

 from the Public Works Department Photographs collection
105 State Street, Boston from the Public Works Department Photographs collection

Strike up the band, fire the confetti cannon and release the balloons!  Digital Commonwealth is celebrating the half million item mark.  Thanks, in part, to the large and small collections below, Digital Commonwealth by the end of August was able to offer access to 529, 444 items.

On August 23, you could commemorate the 90th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution by perusing the 285 additional items added to the Boston Public Library’s Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.

Or you could remember your summer vacation trips around Massachusetts by comparing your GPS maps to the more than 400 1794 town plans in the Massachusetts Archives’ Town Plan Collection.  Wait, school is starting and your brain is working and you know Massachusetts only has 351 cities and towns.  What gives?  In 1794, Massachusetts still had a province in what is now Maine, so be careful when you look for Falmouth.  There are two of them.

Or you could play the “then and now” game with the City of Boston Archives Public Works Department Photographs Collection, one of twenty and including over 1,000 photos by itself.  My how you’ve changed, 105 State Street.

So whether you are partial to the early daguerreotypes included in Historic Newton’s collection or the Town of Rockport’s maps, there’s something for everyone in the 85 collections added in August or the over half million total items on Digital Commonwealth.  Enjoy!

Boston Public Library

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) – 3 items added to existing collection

Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) – 285 items added to existing collection

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Prints, Drawings, and Paintings – 577 items

Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection
Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection


Cape Cod Community College

Cape Cod Association Collection, 1851-1969 – 80 items


City of Boston Archives

20 collections – 3,750 records harvested


Historic Newton

Historic Newton Early Photograph Collection – 279 items



Plan of Greenwich from the  Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection
Plan of Greenwich from the Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection

Massachusetts Archives

Town plans, 1794 – 403 items


Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

Laws, Regulations and Commerce Collection – 3 items

NCCHP Museum Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Business Correspondence Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Employee Collection – 7 items

Trade Catalog Collection – 4 items


Town of Rockport

Rockport Town Clerk, Street, Roads and Maps – 228 items


University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

53 collections – 26,759 records re-harvested