Archivists are responsible for the care and preservation of historic records – the documents, photographs, and ephemera that keep our community’s history alive for future generations. At the Greenwich Historical Society, we’re lucky to be the stewards of thousands of records documenting the history of our town. For Ask An Archivist Day, an annual celebration of archivists and the work they do organized by the Society of American Archivists, we asked our amazing archival staff a little bit about their work in the Archives and the incredible historic records that they interact with.
Question: What is one thing you wish people knew about the Archives and your responsibility as an archivist?
Answer: I wish more people understood that the Archives is a resource for everyone, not just those who may be involved in research for academic or other professional purposes. I think sometimes when people hear of an “archives” they think of a restrictive place where records may only be handled by a special few. Of course, we work hard to assure proper care and handling of collection material, but this does not mean that most material is off limits. On the contrary, the Historical Society’s archival collection is a community resource that can help people better understand everything from the history of their home to the role Greenwich residents played in issues of international importance. Please let us know what you are interested in and we will try to help.
Visit Christopher’s History from Home post to learn more about Greenwich’s part in the first Trans-Atlantic shortwave communication.
Q: John, you were born and raised in Greenwich. What is it like working in the Greenwich Historical Society Archives, with all of your personal connections to the town?
A: Yes, I was born and raised in Greenwich 70 years ago! Yet, I had never visited the Bush-Holley House-Museum until I arrived for my interview for a docent position six years ago!
Bush-Holley House, like many “hidden” treasures natives of Greenwich may have never explored, continues to kindle my curiosity. By working as a Research Assistant in the Library and Archives, I have been given an opportunity to combine my love of Greenwich, art and history while fulfilling our mission “to strengthen the community’s connection to our past, to each other and to our future.” One-on-one contact with inquirers from around the country who have an interest in their personal, their family’s or their company’s connection to the town dovetails with my own. In fact, one of the first actions I took working in the archives was to add to the photograph collection by sharing a piece of family memorabilia with Christopher. The photograph below shows my grandfather, John Bridge (after whom I was named), as an Irish immigrant farmhand working circa 1900 on the Oliver Mead farm that became Belle Haven. In the photograph you can see the original E. C. Benedict mansion on Indian Harbor Point over his shoulder.
Q: As the project archivist, you’re processing collections to organize them and make them available for research. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen so far?
A: I think as archivists, we consider a lot of different types of objects really interesting. The number of times I’m going through a collection and call out “look at this cool thing I found” is high. But my personal favorite so far is an original George Wharton Edwards drawing of St. Basil’s Cathedral, along with some handwritten text on butcher paper in charcoal giving us some more description of the piece and its period. It’s a beautiful drawing that was tucked in among other collected drawings and caricatures that had been sitting unseen for who knows how long. Finding little gems like that hidden in collections is always a joy, especially something we think people might want to actually see and use.
October is American Archives Month, and we’ll be highlighting our collections and the work our archival team does every day. Join us all month long to learn more about how the Greenwich Historical Society Archives make your history accessible to you! Follow us on social media and share your archives stories using the hashtag #ArchivesMonth.