Archival Assistance Fund: Grantees Announced in Special Round of Archival Funding
October 14, 2013 | By Elizabeth Rohn Jeffe, Vice-Chair
Article from the Fall 2013 Newsletter
This past August, the Archive Project announced a set of grants from its Archival Assistance Fund, established to help historic preservation-related not-for-profit organizations identify and maintain their archival resources and organizational documents. This funding program is another example of new outreach initiatives on the part of the Archive Project to provide practical assistance to the preservation community. Last year, the Archive Project launched its Archival Outreach, Education and Technical Assistance Initiative, providing New York City history organizations with workshops offering professional expertise on how to save their collections.
The response to the Archival Assistance Fund project was heartening: a number of well-known organizations with significant preservation-related histories and important collections applied for grants, demonstrating that there is definitely 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 applications carefully, funding was provided to five institutions for a total disbursement of $10,000.00. Three of the recipients are historic house museums—Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum in Washington Heights, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx, and Merchant’s House Museum in Greenwich Village. The remaining two grantees are neighborhood preservation and education organizations—FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Each organization cited special needs for archival assistance, ranging from climate control equipment and basic preservation material to digitization projects and the 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. 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.
Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum, a National Historic Landmark in Washington Heights, can point to its efforts to document the history of the Jumel Terrace National Historic District surrounding the mansion, which was built in 1765 and served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Harlem Heights in the fall of 1776. The historic district, known for its gracious wood and brick row houses as well as apartment buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, showcases the Queen Anne and Romanesque styles. Appreciating the importance of this residential component of the story of New York, Morris-Jumel archivists created a significant photographic record of Washington Heights and also recorded interviews with longtime residents so as to capture the area’s history through first person recollections.
The very existence of Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx testifies to the dedication of a New York City preservation group that fought to rescue the c.1840 Greek Revival Bartow mansion from what would be an eventually fatal state of deterioration. The International Garden Club (IGC), today the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, saved the home, now the only remaining example of many similar estates that once graced the Pelham Bay area in the 19th century. In 1914, IGC hired the noted architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich to restore the Bartow mansion and create a formal sunken garden, and many years later, in 1993, the original carriage house was also restored. The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum is a National and New York City Landmark, and its archives relating to this major preservation victory constitute an inspiring and instructive chapter in New York preservation history.
Merchant’s House Museum on 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. The house is the only family residence in New York to have survived virtually intact from the 19th century, complete with its original furnishings and personal possessions of the Tredwells. Two individuals who were essential to the creation and refurbishment of the Museum, founder George Chapman, and restoration architect Joseph Roberto, respectively, 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.
The lifeblood of FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, founded in 1982, is active participation in public debates that affect the historic and cultural resources of the Upper East Side. Therefore, the organization’s archival materials related to various preservation battles and initiatives from the past 30 years are of great importance to the preservation community. With a mission of acting as vocal advocates for the architectural legacy, livability, and sense of place of the Upper East Side and New York City, FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts possesses archival records documenting important chapters in preservation history. Whether testifying at Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings or fighting for the designation of new Upper East Side landmarks, this organization has produced a valuable compendium of ongoing preservation battles and victories; these records relating to public education and outreach activities are of great interest to both researchers and activists.
Bearing 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 the local and national preservation movements. GVSHP’s image collection, just one part of its archival holdings, consists of 300 photographs, prints, slides, and negatives, chronicling the preservation struggles of the Village. 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 preservation community.
Of course, the five organizations receiving archival assistance funding from the Archive Project house treasures beyond the materials directly associated with preservation. Indeed, reading through the organizations’ mission statements and descriptions of their holdings provides a mini-lesson in New York history—the variety, depth, and uniqueness of their collections remind us of the importance of the materials that can be found in discrete New York locations, and how important these collections are as valuable sources of information for scholars and activists alike. In total, the organizations safeguard diverse items covering 350 years of New York history. Holdings range from letters, maps, newspapers, photographs, manuscripts, recordings, ledgers, scrapbooks, invitations, and mementoes, to furniture, paintings, decorative objects, books, textiles, and clothing. All of the Fund recipients have noted that they either wish to increase public access to their archival collections, digitally and/or physically, or 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 concerned.