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Grantees Announced in Second Round of Archival Assistance Fund

Grantees Announced in Second Round of Archival Assistance Fund

October 16, 2015
Article from the Fall 2015 Newsletter

The Archive Project recently announced the second set of grants from its Archival Assistance Fund, established to help not-for-profit organizations identify and maintain archival resources and organizational documents related to the historic preservation movement. This funding program is another example of outreach initiatives on the part of the Archive Project to provide practical assistance while also instilling a lasting archival mindset in the New York City preservation community.  

The number of Archival Assistance Fund applications was encouraging: many well-known candidates with significant preservation-related histories and important collections applied for grants, demonstrating that there is a need for this kind of funding and that the preservation community recognizes that the Archive Project is there to help. After evaluating the various proposals carefully, funding was provided to six applicants. Three of the recipients are historic house museums—the Bowne House Historical Society in Queens, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden on the Upper East Side, and the Merchant’s House Museum in NoHo. Two grantees are preservation-related not-for-profit organizations—the NYC Landmarks50 Alliance and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. And the final recipient helps preserve one of New York City’s final resting places, The Evergreens Cemetery Preservation Foundation. Each organization cited special needs for archival assistance, ranging from basic archival supplies and consultant expertise to digitization projects and the complete re-housing of collections. 

Given the Archive Project’s mission to safeguard and share the story of preservation in New York, each organization was required in its application to state how its archival collections are significant to the history of historic preservation. And in honor of the 50th anniversary of the passage of New York City’s Landmarks Law in 2015, preference was given to those applicants that clearly demonstrate their collection’s significance to the past 50 years of historic preservation in New York City. The varied responses reveal that despite their unique missions and the diversity of their archival holdings, every recipient institution boasts a record of activism in preservation and a demonstrated commitment to safeguarding the story of those preservation efforts. 

The Bowne House Historical Society in Flushing, Queens, was founded in 1946 by a group of local residents for the sole purpose of purchasing the Bowne House from the Parsons family and opening it to the public as a museum. Since it successfully did so in 1947, the Society’s mission has been to preserve the Bowne House, its artifacts, and grounds because of their educational and historical significance to the history of New York, especially the events that occurred there that helped to establish the important values of “freedom of conscience and religious liberty in America.” The building is the oldest house in the borough of Queens (1661), and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as being both a New York City and New York State Landmark. The Bowne House’s collections include important Bowne/Parsons family papers and documents dating from the mid-17th through the mid-20th centuries, as well as deeds, photographs, bibles, furniture, rare books and manuscripts, and other artifacts. Also included is documentation of repairs and modifications to the structure from 1669 to the present, and organizational records relating to the founding of the museum, Historic American Buildings Survey Reports, historic structure reports, interpretation plans, educational materials, paint analyses, and dendrochronology, archaeological, and architects’ reports.

The Evergreens Cemetery Preservation Foundation is the custodian of an historic cemetery located in Brooklyn that was founded in 1849. The Foundation’s mission is to preserve the grounds, plantings, monuments, and graves of the Evergreens Cemetery, to educate the public about the burial site through programming and educational materials, and to welcome the general public to the cemetery. The cemetery’s design is the only one that is linked to renowned landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing (who worked with Alexander Jackson Davis); other designers of the grounds have included Calvert Vaux. Because the cemetery is non-sectarian, a vast array of ethnicities and immigrant groups are buried here, as well as “social pariahs,” who were not allowed to be buried in other cemeteries. It has therefor become the final resting place of over 526,000 people who represent the diverse history of New York City. The Foundation’s archives date back to the cemetery’s establishment in 1849, and include burial records, various types of maps of the cemetery, and photographs of stained glass windows located on the premises. Also included are records of the Foundation’s work to preserve and restore historic monuments and significant sites within the cemetery’s grounds. These include the tract where African American soldiers from the Civil War lie buried, the Seaman’s Monument where thousands of merchant seamen have been buried over the past 150 years, an impressive Brewer’s Row of mausoleums built by the City’s brewery owners, memorials for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and General Slocum Disaster, and the site of displaced downtown Manhattan cemeteries such as The Brick Church’s (an elegant Georgian church on Beekman Street built in 1768 and demolished, despite outcry, for the construction of The New York Times Building in 1858).

The Merchant’s House Museum at 29 East Fourth Street, just off Washington Square, educates the public about the life of the Tredwells, a prosperous merchant family, and their four Irish servants who lived in the house from 1835-1865, during a time when New York City transformed from a merchant’s seaport into a busy metropolis. This house is the only family residence in New York City to be preserved virtually intact from the 19th century, complete with its original furnishings and personal possessions of the Tredwell family.  The individuals essential to the establishment and refurbishment of the Museum were founder George Chapman, and restoration architect Joseph Roberto, who left critical archival materials that tell the story of the transformation of the house to a museum in the 1930s and its major refurbishment in the 1960s and ‘70s under Roberto.  His records provide essential information indicating what elements were present in the house when he began his work and what he added, thus helping ensure historical accuracy for work done in the Museum in the future.

A witness to the long-established commitment of Greenwich Village grassroots preservation efforts, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has worked since 1980 to safeguard the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, NoHo, and beyond through research, education, and advocacy. GVSHP holds in its archival collection a wide range of materials that reflect the role of the Village as an icon in local and national preservation movements. GVSHP’s image collection, just one part of its archival holdings, consists of 300 photographs, prints, slides, and negatives that chronicle the preservation struggles of the Village. GVSHP received a grant from the Archival Assistance Fund in 2013 to digitize these images and create a website that has made them publically accessible. This visual trove is complemented by GVHSP’s oral history series, in which Village preservation pioneers tell their stories for posterity, and a collection of preservation-related manuscripts featuring leading researchers in the field. All are of critical importance to the history of the preservation community.

Originally built as a carriage house in 1799 and converted to a hotel in 1826, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, at 421 East 61st Street, is a site steeped in preservation history. Purchased by the Colonial Dames of America (one of the earliest societies involved with historic preservation) in 1924 to prevent its destruction, the site was originally interpreted as the Federal-era home and garden of Abigail Adams Smith, who owned the surrounding property briefly in 1795 but never actually lived onsite. Research for a 12-year National Endowment of the Humanities-funded reinterpretation project in 2000 led the site to change its name to the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, and to exhibit the site’s unique historic function as a day hotel for travelers in Jacksonian-era New York City. The site’s extensive permanent collection of paintings, furniture, ceramics, prints, glass, and other decorative arts and material culture objects was organized in 1977 by a professional curatorial staff. The collection also contains photographs and negatives, newspaper clippings, architectural renderings, and manuscripts relating to the building’s extensive history of uses, as well as the preservation and interpretation of the building and garden in the late-19th through the 20th centuries.

The NYC Landmarks50 Alliance was formed in July 2012 to plan the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of New York City’s Landmarks Law in 2015 by encouraging the preservation community and New York City as a whole to reflect upon and embrace the importance of historic preservation in shaping the City. Their goal is to both broaden the appreciation of and commitment to the admired architectural heritage of the City, and to help develop a new audience and preservation community who will take up the responsibility of preserving the cityscape in the future. The Alliance has grown to 180 member organizations and institutions (including the Archive Project, a founding member), and each has planned a special project or program for the anniversary. The Alliance’s archive documents the formation, development, and activities of the organization from July 2012 through the present, and includes correspondence, operational records, photographs, video and audio recordings, press clippings, and ephemera, all significant records of the ongoing history of this “landmark” anniversary celebration.

The variety and depth of these collections, which cover nearly 350 years of New York City history, remind us of the importance of the materials that can be found in discrete New York City locations, and how important these collections are as valuable sources of information for scholars and activists. All of the Fund recipients have noted that they wish to increase public access to their archival collections and intend to make their collections available to researchers in the near future, furthering the Archive Project’s mission to make archival materials available for research and educational purposes. The Archival Assistance Fund has been most satisfying for the Archive Project as it engenders interaction with organizations seeking to improve the condition and organization of their archival collections. Helping to make this possible, even on a modest scale, makes this effort a “win/win” for all those concerned.

Above: Bowne House c. 1850; Courtesy of the Library of Congress