Thursday, May 19, 2011

Electronic Repository Software Being Upgraded

The library is in the process of upgrading DSpace, its electronic repository software. We expect this process to take 3-4 weeks. During this time, we will not be able to add new material to the repository and there may also be short periods of downtime.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Five Feet High and Rising

On a rainy May 16, 1874, residents of Williamsburg and surrounding towns were struck by disaster. Early that morning the Mill River Dam, which harnessed over six hundred million gallons of water, gave way, wiping out four villages, destroying homes and factories, and taking 139 lives early that morning. The explosive wave of water ranged between 20 and 40 feet wide, and was the length of a football field. It only grew larger as it barreled down the river bed, ripping sediment and trees out of the ground as it gained momentum. Survivors of the flood described it as an enormous cloud of dirt and debris (including furniture, farm animals, and even people) speeding downstream.

There was a coroner’s inquest to discover who was at fault. It was apparent that the mill owners who commissioned the dam construction in 1865 had no formal engineering training. After consulting with engineers on the potential project, the mill owners felt the proposals ranging around $100,000 were beyond their $30,000 budget. They instead decided to consult with a railroad engineer to write up an inexpensive and flexible design, and found contractors to do the work for a mere $22,000. After construction was complete, there was much speculation among professional engineers as well as villagers living around the dam as to its safety. These accounts of concern are well documented in the interesting and engaging book, In The Shadow of the Dam: the Aftermath of the Mill River Flood of 1874 by Elizabeth M. Sharpe.

In 1875 the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed an Act which would hold builders of dams accountable for the first time. Plans for building would now have to be approved by county commissioners before construction began, and inspections would continue to take place even after construction was complete, in order to assure the safety of the structures. You can view the State Library's copy of An Act To Provide For The Supervision Of The Construction And Maintenance Of Reservoirs And Dams online.

-April Pierce, Special Collections intern

Newspaper image taken from Hartford Daily Courant, May 18, 1874, Hartford CT (courtesy of Newsbank and the American Antiquarian Society, 2004).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Brown Bag on the Massachusetts General Court

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
On Thursday May 19th 2011
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442 State House
12 until 1:30 PM
Bring your lunch and join us to hear Neil Savage, historian and author, speak about the Massachusetts legislature. He will focus on the origination of the Great and General Court of the Governor and the Company At the Massachusetts Bay in New England. His presentation will also include discussion of significant legislation and about some outstanding members.
To register, RSVP to:
You may also let us know you will attend by calling the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or e-mailing to
Sponsored by the Friends of the State Library

Future Brown Bags will include:
June 14th, 2011- Michael Widmer, President, The Massachusetts Taxpayers Association
July 14th, 2011- Sean Murphy, reporter, Boston Globe, professor, Suffolk University
August 11th, 2011, Dr. John Warner, Archivist of the Commonwealth, Massachusetts State Archives
September, 2011, Noah Berger, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, (date to be announced)
October, 2011, Celia Wcislo, The Commonwealth Connector, (date to be announced)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Discovery of Five Brothers Serving in World War I

In the Special Collections Department we are nearing the completion of a large scanning project to digitize a collection of photographs of World War I soldiers. The collection was given to the State Library by the Boston Globe in the 1930s and contains approximately 9,000 photographs. So far we have scanned 8,180 photographs. There is also a corresponding collection of about 30,000 index cards that contain biographical information on individual soldiers, often with newspaper clippings glued to the back. The data from these cards has been entered into a spreadsheet along with the information from the photographs and their envelopes. This spreadsheet contains a wealth of information on New England soldiers who served during World War I.

Occasionally, when scanning the photographs, we come across interesting individuals and unique stories. A previous post by intern Samantha Westall describes the discovery of two men with the same last name who looked nearly identical. Just this past week, I came across the photographs of Paul G. Watts, Robert E. Watts, Seymour H. Watts, and William H. Watts, Jr., four brothers from South Boston who were all serving at the same time. In the folder for Seymour H. Watts' photograph there was also a newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe with the title "Five Sons in United States Army." The subtitle explains the story further: "Mr and Mrs William H. Watts of South Boston Have Another Boy Who Longs to Be of Draft Age." Besides the four sons whose photographs are in the collection, the newspaper clipping mentions another son in service and a 6th, a 16-year-old, who is waiting until he is old enough to join the army.

One might wonder how their mother feels knowing that she has six sons serving in the army. Having just one family member fighting in the war would be difficult to deal with, but according to the paper: "The mother is also very patriotic and did not hesitate to allow her sons to step forth to battle, knowing that the country expects every man, woman and child to do their bit." "Stand by Uncle Sam" is the motto of this family, according to the paper. I don't think anyone could doubt their patriotism!

This is just one of dozens of unique stories that have come to light through the World War I photographs digitization project. Stop by the Special Collections Department to view these amazing photographs for yourself!

- Katie Trexler, Special Collections Intern