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NYS Gets $20K To Conserve 1911 Fire Documents


New York state is getting $20,000 to support the conservation and digitization of Colonial-era documents that were burned in the 1911 fire at the State Capitol. 

The money, gifted by AT&T will go to digital preservation of records  dating back three centuries were damaged or destroyed when a fire broke out inside the Capitol on March 29, 1911.

AT&T’s New York President Marissa Shorenstein:   “We’re proud to be able to support the New York State archives to ensure that these documents are preserved for future generations.”

The digitized documents will then be available to students and scholars researching New York's pre-Revolutionary War history.

The 1911 Capitol Fire destroyed most of New York’s Revolutionary War era records and almost one quarter of English colonial documents. The records that survived are significantly fire damaged. Although the written texts of the documents are somewhat legible, the edges are charred and so vulnerable to damage that researchers are not allowed to use the originals.

From the State Archives’ collections, a variety of unique documents from the British Colonial era will be conserved and digitized. The documents shed a new light on life in the Hudson Valley in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Topics include:

  • Counterfeiting in the Hudson Valley, 1745 - Counterfeiting of paper money and other documents of monetary value was prevalent in the eighteenth century. During the 1740s, a strip of land along the Connecticut border in Dutchess County was a refuge for New England counterfeiters because of its remote location and disputed legal status. Documents contain information about Dutchess County counterfeiters and provide striking evidence of an underground economy and difficulties of law enforcement in the 18th century. The documents remain largely intact but in extremely fragile condition.
  • First licensed ferry between Poughkeepsie and Kingston, 1752 - Although the Hudson River was the great interior highway of New York Colony, the river was a barrier to commerce between the two shores. Ferries appeared in the Dutch period and Jacob Kip started running a ferry between Poughkeepsie and Kingston around 1700. In 1749, Jacob’s son Abraham petitioned the Governor and Council for a ferry patent, and in 1752 the patent was issued. The petitions, related documents, and the patent tell a story of investment and enterprise in improved transportation in the mid-Hudson Valley. Some documents are intact while others require conservation before they can be used.
  • Indian War in Orange and Ulster Counties, 1755 - During the French and Indian War settlers in New York suffered attacks by Indians allied with the French. The impact of those raids and unsuccessful attempts to resist them are documented in records. The documents require conservation before they can be used.

Photos of burned documents and conservation techniques are available here: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/a/news/PRkit/2015/conserve/.

The New York State Archives is a program of the State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. For more information about the State Archives and its collections, programs and services, visit http://www.archives.nysed.gov/. For more information about the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, visit www.nysarchivestrust.org.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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