Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beholden to the Holdens

     I recently drove from Saratoga County to Warren County so I could research Washington County. Life would be so boring if it made sense.
     My destination was Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls. More specifically I wanted to spend some time in the Holden Room, located in the Folklife Center downstairs from the Glen Street entrance.
     Dr. Austin W. Holden was a Washington County boy, born in White Creek in 1819. He was a medical doctor while also spending time as an editor, teacher, school superintendent, soldier and cabinet maker! Did I mention he was also the area's leading historian. Following in these big footsteps his son James became the first New York State Historian. Their combined collection of some 2,500 books, maps and documents was donated to the library and forms the core of the Holden Collection of Americana. Further gifts from A. B. Colvin and A. W. Miller plus ongoing acquisitions have created a little slice of heaven for anyone interested in the region.
     The shelves are filled with an eclectic mix that defies description. There are cookbooks, phonebooks and yearbooks sitting beside family, community and church histories. There are 1840's era manuscripts from the first geological survey of New York State by the likes of Emmons and Mather next to a delightful new book titled The Hudson Valley  in the Ice Age  by Robert and Johanna Titus. Folk arts volumes ranging from basketmaking to blacksmithing to tattooing are here as well.
     The Washington County curious can read about a haunted house in Hartford, Bigfoot in Whitehall, Fort Ann's Shelving Rock Falls and the Welsh quarrymen of Granville. Even the map covered walls here are rewarding. Check out the 1884 Birdseye view of Sandy Hill (Hudson Falls) to see what's changed and what's stayed the same. Then there's the 1842 Geologic Map of New York State and an 1853 map of the county where Roger's Island was called Monroe's Island and Eagleville was East Salem.
     It isn't just the books that make the Holden special. Erica Wolfe Burke is here to help as archivist and special collections librarian and Todd DeGarmo is director of the Folklife Center. Todd has a Washington County connection: he lives with his family in beautiful downtown Shushan. He's currently working on a Battenkill River exhibit that will open in the Folklife Center early next year.
     Occasionally I'll visit the Holden with something specific in mind but most of the time I'm not that focused. I love to just browse the stacks, open to some serendipitous bit of information that will send me out into the Washington County landscape looking for a fossil site, an old mill ruin or an outcrop where Native Americans chipped arrowheads. It mirrors the pleasure some find in shopping (something I remember doing last, maybe 25 years ago). It's the thrill of that special find only here there's no sales tax!
     Nothing circulates at the Holden so remember to bring a notebook and change for the copier. Hours are Monday thru Friday 10 to 12 in the morning and 1 to 4 in the afternoon plus Tuesday evening from 5 to 8.

No comments:

Post a Comment