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Saving pieces of area history: Volunteers dig into recovered boxes of records dating back to the 1800s
For two weeks, the unmistakable smell of well-aged books permeated the old Wells Fargo building in Maxwell, as volunteers from the Sacramento Valley Museum and the Colusa County Historical Records Society dug through 19 gargantuan boxes to clean and catalog record books from as far back as the mid-1800s.
"They've been in storage since the old hospital was torn down," said Colusa County Clerk and Recorder Kathy Moran, referring to the old Colusa Memorial Hospital building, built in the 1930s and demolished in 2004. At that point, the building was in a serious state of disrepair and used solely as storage facility.
Almost nine years after being removed from that building, the dust-covered record books housed there finally saw the light of day. "It's like a really dirty Christmas," said Sacramento Valley Museum Director Kathy Manor.
The project began on Jan. 11, and in just two weekends, volunteers had cleaned and catalogued somewhere around 1,000 record books. The last of the records were cleaned and catalogued on Jan. 19, and the vast majority of them are waiting to be transported to their new home at the Sacramento Valley Museum in Williams, where they will be readily available to the public for the first time in many, many years.
"We have a freshly painted room ready, but we don't have enough shelving yet," said Manor. "We are seeking donations for the shelving. For every $100 donation, anyone who contributes to the shelving will get their names displayed on the shelves."
"(These records) wouldn't have been available. This way, it is totally available for people and for researchers. It's really amazing how people are digging into these things now. With TV shows like 'Who Do You Think You Are?' these kind of things that can be useful to the public who are doing research for family history are really coming to light. In a lot of places, the information just isn't there. We're lucky and we're unique to have what we do," Moran said.
Some of the records will be kept in the clerk's office; others will have to be segregated due to mold, which can spread, said Moran.
"Not all of these are in great shape," Moran said.
Apparently, the records were stored in the hospital for quite some time before it was torn down.
"(The records) were not considered historical at the time they were put in there. They were left there, and by the time they tore it down, they were considered historical," said Moran. "All of them have some sort of legal or historical value to the county and the cities and communities within the county."
Among the most historically valuable records are those from schools, because they could not be found anywhere else.
"The names of the school districts that are long lost, names of teachers, names of janitors, what teachers were being paid — it's something I've never seen before," Moran said.
The project marked the first cooperative effort between the Sacramento Valley Museum and the Colusa County Historical Records Commission.
"The county is lucky. It has its own Smithsonian, albeit on a smaller scale. It features things from our county's history that our ancestors actually used in their everyday lives. The Sacramento Valley Museum is a huge draw for this area." Moran said.
"I want to work closer with the museum in the future, and certainly, the Historical Records Commission will. We have mutual members between our groups, but we've never had the opportunity to do something like this. I knew who a lot of (the museum volunteers) were, but I didn't really know them. When you are throwing dusty books around with people, you really get to know them. That was neat. It's just a great opportunity."