Love to Long Island

The memories of Tropical Storm Irene of August 2011 are all too familiar here in Vermont, so when the mid Atlantic was struck by Hurricane Sandy, Vermonters knew exactly how people felt. Roads washed out or blocked, infrastructure damaged, homes washed away, entire towns flooded, people stranded, people wondering what to do, communities coming together – yes, we do know how you feel. I remember being more worried about Long Island than Vermont before Tropical Storm Irene, and this time praying that both places would be spared. Fortunately Vermont was spared. Not so fortunately, Long Island and the entire tri-state area was pummeled. Having lived through a flood and worked personally and professionally through the aftermath of the storm’s destruction, I can say it is a long road to recovery. But everything will be okay.

Sadly, this time, my favorite place in the entire world flooded – Point Lookout, NY, about which I’ve written many times. As with many other homes, my family’s home flooded. Though an old house, it is not historic; it’s significance to us derives from family memory and emotional importance rather than characteristics of historic integrity qualifying it for the National Register. Though, to us – to our family history – it might as well be a national landmark. So when you say your house or that place is important to you, significant to you though not historically significant on the local, state or national level, I completely understand what you mean.

And our house will be fine in time, though it’s going to require complete renovation. The silver lining is that we were eventually going to get to that point.

If you or anyone you know was affected by Hurricane Sandy, I share your pain and I lend my support. Historic or not, we can all appreciate that every place matters to someone. Historic preservation isn’t only about historically significant buildings; it is about your community and having pride where you live and being a part of the greater story. Stay strong everyone and lend a hand to those in need.

Those Unknown Photograph Subjects…

Quite often in my Overhills research, I find myself desperately seeking historic photographs of people and buildings. While photography was not widespread in the early decades of the 20th century, I always have this feeling that there has to be a photograph in existence of what I need.  I had that feeling while Jeff and I worked on the Overhills book and as we continue to work on the oral history project: as soon as it goes to press and is available to the public, people will come crawling out of the woodwork with photographs. These won’t be just any photographs, but incredible, never-before-seen photographs. So far, that has not happened with the Overhills book, but it always seems like a possibility.

Currently, I’m searching for photographs of James Francis Jordan, of the Kent-Jordan Company who founded the Overhills Country Club. I have seen a photograph of him, but it’s in a book and I have yet to track down the owner of the photograph. I’m working on it. If you have any idea who James Francis Jordan is and know what I’m talking about, please let me know.

Along the same lines, I often imagine the boxes of unlabeled photographs in attics and basements and archives and offices. It’s quite possible that these boxes contain the exact information you and I are seeking, yet no one will ever know because too much time has elapsed between the photograph’s date and the present. So while the photograph exists, it is not doing us any good. It can happen in families. I have photographs of family members and no one knows who they are. How sad is it to have a photograph of an unnamed subject?

With this matter, I plead: label your photographs. You never know who in your family is going to be historically significant (read: not famous, just important to history in some way), or who will benefit from the dates and names of people in the photographs. Nowadays, we take hundreds of digital photographs in a span of days. Talk about being annoying to label, especially if you’re traveling and you try to label those photographs weeks later. Sometimes the task is impossible.  

For posterity, do your best to organize photographs and family documents and pass them from generation to generation. Many historical societies receive family collections, which in turn benefit researchers near and far. Local history has previously been just that – local and reaching no further. In this digital age, we are able to share local history on the internet. It’s time consuming, but the greater the audience for the documents, the more meaningful they become. You never what someone is researching. 

The Washington State Library has begun the Washington Rural Heritage Project under a similar philosophy: to create a statewide digital repository that will enable rural and small communities to share their unique histories. Evan Robb (my cousin) is the Project Manager.  I’ll feature the project on another post in the near future. In the meantime, I applaud the Washington Rural Heritage Project.

…and I’m going to label more of my photographs.