By Paul Hicks
The Rye Historical Society has embarked on a project to revitalize the Knapp House, the oldest residential building in Westchester, located at the corner of Milton Road and Rye Beach Avenue. More than twenty local volunteers are working on various aspects of the project, including a committee planning the future of the archives, which are preserved there in a fire-proof and climate-controlled area.
In addition to municipal records of the Town, Village, and City of Rye, the archives contain over 25,000 items pertaining to local history, including maps, photos, rare books, documents, manuscripts, and significant personal papers, such as letters written by John Quincy Adams to his son in college.
To aid researchers, the archive files cover a wide range of subjects, including:
“African-Americans-See also NAACP, Rye Council on Human Rights
Boy Scouts-Durland Scout Center
Clubs-See names of specific clubs
League of Women Voters
Wills-See Genealogy files, Rye Families files”
Recently, an experienced archivist, Jacob (Jake) Griffith-Rosenberger, was hired to work with Executive Director Sheri Jordan and the archives committee on plans for updating the physical and digital management of the collection.
Jake received a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh and served as a post-graduate teaching assistant in the program’s introductory archives course. Although he has been on the new job for less than two months, he has gained a good overview of the project.
He focused initially on the physical space of the Knapp House, especially on the area devoted to the archives. These include the limited-access storage area, a reading room for visitors, and a meeting room with a large-table workspace. He was pleased to find that entire house is covered by a sprinkler system that is the standard fire-suppression system for archival collections.
Although the archives are now in a good position in terms of access, organization, and preservation, there is a need for increased space. Several solutions are being considered, including the installation of more flexible shelving systems.
Various options for digitizing parts of the archives are also being reviewed. Jake has already identified ways to increase public access to the Society’s map and historic photo collections. One goal is to create a website where the public can search the organization’s collections catalogue.
Meanwhile, Jake is performing the regular duties of an archivist, responding to requests from researchers, including those who visit the Knapp House by appointment. The most frequent request, he noted, is for information about house and property histories. In a recent conversation, Jake described himself as “passionate about libraries, archives, museums, and historic houses.” He enjoys being part of a community like Rye, as well as working with volunteers.
It is worth noting that “archive” is derived from the ancient Greek word <archon>, meaning ruler, as in monarchy, oligarchy, and matriarchy. Traditionally, archives were the records kept by the rulers, which, in a democracy, are the people.