This is the first in a series of articles to explore the
various repositories around Vermont that will be of interest to genealogists. I
will try to cover facilities from all parts of the state. The obvious one to
start with is the new Vermont History Center.
The Vermont History Center is the new home of the Vermont Historical
Society’s (VHS) library, located at 60 Washington Street, Route 302, in Barre. VHS was
founded in 1838 by the Vermont legislature as an independent organization
(though it also receives state aid). Its new building is the former Spaulding
School, a historic building built in 1891 that overlooks the downtown area of
Barre. Renovation began on the original structure in 2000 and the library on the
second floor opened for business in July 2002. The updating of the interior
spaces makes the library handicapped accessible. Some free on-street parking is
available next to the building. Entrance is free to Society members while others
will be charged a modest $5.
The Society’s library is located on the second floor in
spacious quarters – about triple the area the library had in its former home on
State Street in Montpelier. The grandeur of days gone by is still apparent in
the library rooms, which have many period details such as American chestnut
wainscoting, original pressed tin ceiling, and some stained glass windows. They
also have an integrated modern feel with functional furniture and working spaces
for staff and patrons.
The first room you enter is the access point to all the
collections. The reference desk is here so you can reach it easily from any
library room. The card catalog can be found in this room as well. This catalog
was closed in 2000 and all new acquisitions are only found in the online version
of the catalog, found on computer terminals next to the card catalog. The old
catalog is still a handy place to start. If you are interested in manuscripts,
the Brigham Index contains names and places found in the Brigham “Calendar
Sheets,” the old finding aids for the manuscript collection. If you elect to use
the online catalog, it does include all acquisitions since 1987. The word
“online” may be a bit misleading. The electronic catalog is an in-house DOS
catalog system, though it will be converted when the funds become available. It
contains about 10,000 records. About two percent of the library’s manuscripts
are found in the statewide online catalog called ARCCAT. The call numbers for the
books are classified by Dewey Decimal System, but are modified in the local
history section to mimic the Library of Congress alphabetical arrangement of a
state’s town histories.
The main library stack area is to the left of the reference
desk and catalogs. The library has the state’s largest collection of genealogies
and local New England histories. Besides their own acquisitions, the library
hosts the book collections of the Vermont chapters of the Colonial Dames and the
Daughters of the American Revolution. Some years back, the Genealogical Society
of Vermont (GSV) gave its collections to the library. The review books that GSV
receives are routinely donated here. With the additional open space and taller
shelves, these various collections have been integrated into one. The first
level of oversized books (the old “X” series) is also now intershelved.
This main stack area has tables in the middle of the room.
Off to one corner is a small meeting room and next to that are some private
research carrels. The patron can find more research space in most every room.
Continuing around the exterior of the building is a reference room for
non-genealogical material. The vertical and folio files are found here. The
comfy stuffed chairs by the windows are especially inviting to sit in and read.
Any manuscript material that you request is delivered to this room.
If you leave this room and go by the reference desk to the
other side of the building, you will enter another library stack area. All
non-New England and non-genealogical periodicals are found here. VHS has started
a new collection of town reports from across the state, and they welcome
donations. If you have any that you do not need, let the library know. I will be
donating my long run of Springfield town reports to the cause. There are a
couple of carrels in this room, too. These are envisioned to be used by visiting
scholars, as it is a quiet space. VHS is a member of the New England Regional
Fellowship Consortium that offers at least nine awards to one of sixteen
cultural institutions in New England.
In three rooms behind and to the left of the reference desk,
you will find computers with Internet access. The library has a small collection
of genealogical CD-ROMs, mostly of census indexes to various states. There are
about twenty CD-ROMs of Broderbund data disks and the state’s new Historic
Preservation – State Register of Historic Places CD-ROMs. Behind this room is
another that holds a small collection of microfilm. It may only be one cabinet,
but it holds the statewide Barbour Index to Connecticut vital records; the
entire published and manuscript Vermont Historical Records Surveys done by the
Work Projects Administration in the 1930s and early 1940s; an assortment of
various Vermont church records; the Vosburgh Collection of New York church
records (that includes some in Vermont); a newspaper clippings file; and many
other interesting items. It is a collection that should be browsed. The last in
this series of small rooms holds a collection of oral history tapes and the
equipment used to hear them.
The room immediately behind the reference desk houses all the
graphics materials. VHS is known for its wonderful collection of photographs
documenting life in the state since 1850. The Archival
Image, a company in Brownsville, has teamed up with VHS to offer a
selection of images from the VHS collection for sale to individuals. The
library’s large collection of stereographs is kept in this room as is an old
library card catalog unit containing a collection of postcards arranged
geographically. The room also houses a large flat drawer filing system for its
maps and broadside collections.
The greatest improvement for VHS is one that patrons do not
get to see – the manuscripts storage area. It is in the basement of the
building, though this basement is dry and not in a flood plain. The room is kept
at a constant 60ºF and relative humidity of 30%. As a trained archivist, this is
state of the art. The material itself is housed in acid-free boxes of various
sizes put on compact shelving. There is ample room in which to grow the
collection. There are few historical societies that can make that claim. The
manuscript collection includes personal and business papers, account books,
diaries, and many other types of material. VHS has a large collection of
material that relates to the Civil War. Much of it was identified in 1997 and an
index to that work is available online. The more recently processed manuscripts have finding
aids, which serve as guides to the contents of each individual collection.
VHS publishes books on many aspects of Vermont history. They
also maintain an online book store, which includes many items they do not publish. Their
Museum Store at the History Center also sells books and gift items. In an effort
to assist researchers who cannot visit the Vermont History Center, the Society
provides a list of
researchers that specialize in Vermont. I have not even touched upon the
museum run by VHS, located at the Society’s former location in Montpelier. It
will soon expand to include the old library space and have a satellite space
here in the Vermont History Center. That is part of the future plans for the
Center. I have only discussed the things you can find in the original
building that currently houses VHS. There was a large addition made to the
school in 1914 that is still under renovation. In short, it will include museum
space, an auditorium for lectures, and many meeting room spaces that can be used
by other groups.
So let’s recap here. The Vermont History Center is home to
the library of the Vermont Historical Society. Its collection is strong in New
England local and family histories, scholarly journals for New England, and a
large manuscript collection of original material. To put it in numbers: VHS has
more than 42,000 book and serials titles; 1200 linear feet of manuscripts;
30,000 photographic images; 1000 maps; 8700 broadsides; not to mention CD-ROMs,
microfilm, audio tapes, and the 20,000 artifacts in the museum collection. The
Vermont History Center is a first rate research facility, the best in the state
for non-governmental records. A visit here will surely be rewarding.