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Pittsfield Historical Commission OKs Historic Photo Project for CPA Funds
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
01:09AM / Thursday, November 19, 2020
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The Historic Commission meets on Monday. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Athenaeum is looking to digitize and preserve more than 300 oversized historic photos through a Community Preservation Act grant. 
 
But it first needed the Historical Commission to endorse its eligibility.
 
Local History & Melville Collections acting Supervisor Ann-Marie Harris told the commission on Monday that the photos are a visual display of Pittsfield's history dating from mid-1800s to the 1970s. These photos were donated to and collected by the Local History Department staff over many years and are too large for scanning in the library's in-house environment. Many photos range to more than 20 inches by 18 inches.
 
They include a large collection of very early class photos from before the time of yearbooks, famous Pittsfield people, Berkshire County landscapes, and other historical photos and events that are useful for research, especially in genealogy.
 
Harris said these photos are "huge" when it comes to local history and genealogy because people have access to pictures of distant relatives and past families.
 
Once the photos are digitized and metadata is entered, the library's website will host a gallery section of the images. This website will be a gateway to a public photo website that patrons have free access to.
 
"If there is anything we've learned with the proliferation of media, it is the power of photos," athenaeum Director Alex Reczkowski wrote in his letter the Community Preservation Committee. "This project represents the CPA goal of historic preservation and is sure to be engaging for the community."
 
The Berkshire Family History Association, a non-profit group established in 1975 to foster the study of family history among beginners and experienced genealogists, is also in support of this project.  
 
President Janet M. Rogge wrote:
 
"The historic oversized photos in the Special Collections are important to researchers, but access is difficult. Digitization of these photos will make them accessible and will ensure that they are preserved for future generations. This project will greatly enhance the holdings of the department and encourage researchers to more fully use the large photos in their research."
 
Harris explained that these photos include celebrations of businesses that were done in Pittsfield, historical neighborhood pictures, skiing and skating at Bousquet, and a large photograph of Henry L. Dawes, a Cummington native and Pittsfield resident who served Massachusetts in Congress as both a representative and a senator and an editor. He 
 
"It's not that you cant find photos of Henry Dawes in other places," Harris said. "It's the Pittsfield connection to him."
 
Harris said the library has a quote for the digital archiving from Chicago Albumen Works in Housatonic, which has done projects for the library in the past.
 
They would first focus on digitalizing the photos from the 1850s, as they are deteriorating. Once digitized, these photos will be placed in archival folders and put away in the vault for safekeeping.
 
The Historical Commission agreed the project is eligible under the historic preservation portion of the CPA, which also funds open space, housing and recreation. On Nov. 23, the Community Preservation Committee will meet to make the final determination of eligibility.  
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