Museum working to digitize archives

7 years ago

Effort would preserve history

HOULTON, Maine — Jason Howe, a member of the board of trustees at the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum in Houlton, has always had an appreciation for local history.

His family first came to the community in 1820, so he grew up studying the area and become interested in genealogy a few years ago.

Now, as a board member at the museum, he has joined fellow board member Henry Gartley in a project to protect and share some of that local history by digitizing the massive archive of photographs and documents belonging to the facility. That includes experimenting with glass plate negatives to scan and invert them to produce higher quality images.

Both men said the project has allowed them to learn more about the community while sharing additional glimpses of local history with others.

Gartley said during an interview late last week that scanning the glass plate negatives has allowed the museum to make some of the pictures captured on glass plates “a bit clearer.”

“We have been able to dress them up using Photoshop a bit,” he said. “Of course, there are some that are so old or were just taken so poorly that it is impossible.”

Some of the images include exterior and interior shots of The French House, an older Victorian dwelling which stands on the corner of Pleasant and Elm streets in Houlton.

Howe said he has spent a great deal of time in a room of the museum dedicated to Ricker College, which operated in the community from 1848 to 1978. Howe said he has been unearthing pictures and documents in a closet.

“There are lots of pictures and other stuff in there that due to space issues, they were just put in there and forgotten about,”he said. “So I am unearthing it and rediscovering the material as well as items that many people have never seen.”

Howe said that a number of pictures are from Camp Houlton, a former German POW internment camp that operated in town during World War II from 1944 to 1946. Relics of the camp still remain near Houlton International Airport.

“Those are really interesting,” he said. “Also, we have some great pictures from the Edward B. White photo collection, and tons of architecture and agricultural photos. Between Henry and I, I believe we have scanned more than 1,000 photos.”

Gartley said that the two men have been sharing three or four photos on the museum’s Facebook page each day to attract a wider audience to the page and generate more interest in the museum. But he said that they also did not want to “overwhelm” the public with pictures.

Howe agreed.

“When you do that, people get bored,” he said. “I also don’t want to keep putting too many old pictures up. I have been putting several newer pictures of Ricker College up, and that has generated a lot of interest. People recognize the buildings and it brings back memories. I’ve also been putting up some of [local photographer] Michael Clark’s pictures, which has been nice.”

Both Gartley and Howe plan to attend a training soon to teach them the best way to preserve the photos and documents in the museum’s archives.

“Neither one of us are professional curators,” said Howe. “And it is important for both of us to preserve this huge amount of material for the future.”