Longtime Fort Wayne community groups now fading away can take steps to preserve their legacy

Mike Fromholt, a New Haven Area Heritage Association board member, has been cataloging items in the group's archive, including this box of old and newer tools. The organization plans to transition out of existence and hopes the history it has collected will be preserved for future use. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Items in the archives of the New Haven Area Heritage Association include this historic photo of the 1922-1923 New Haven High School girls basketball team. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Local historical items collected by the New Haven Area Heritage Association include these two call books once used by local doctors to keep track of patient visits and charges. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
The New Haven Area Heritage Association's collection of artifacts, documents and photos currently are stored in a closet in a historic building in downtown New Haven. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)

The New Haven Area Heritage Association has worked for more than 30 years to preserve New Haven-area history, so members hope that history will be preserved after the association disbands.

It’s a challenge faced by many older community organizations, said Curt Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center and special collections at the Allen County Public Library.

“A lot of 20th century organizations have had trouble rebranding or rejuvenating for a 21st century audience,” Witcher said.

As organizations prepare to transition out of existence, many have turned to the library in hopes of preserving their documents, photos and legacy, he said.

The New Haven Area Heritage Association has found a home for its biggest asset, the historic Wabash Railroad Depot, which was built in the late 1880s and stands in the 500 block of State Street in New Haven.

The New Haven-Adams Township Parks and Recreation Department board of trustees agreed at their October meeting to take over management and maintenance of the depot for five years and then re-evaluate the situation, said Mike Clendenen, New Haven parks superintendent.

The parks department plans to use the building for nature center programs because the nature center building in nearby Moser Park is located in an area that floods frequently, Clendenen said. The parks department also will rent out the depot for private events.

The heritage association asked the parks department to take over management of the depot because the association has only a small number of members, and some of them are older or travel frequently, Alison Adams, association chair, said late this summer. So the group has difficulty keeping up with operation and maintenance of the depot.

Adams also said the association hopes to find entities, such as the Allen County Public Library, willing to preserve the group’s artifacts and archive of documents and photos.

The items include historic tools found at the depot, old photos, documents and more, said Mike Fromholt, an association board member who has been tagging and cataloging items in the collection.

The library would like to preserve all of the history of every organization — including those that still are going strong — but how that is done may vary, Witcher said.

To conserve storage space and to make items more accessible, the library’s special collections area wants to scan documents and photographs to preserve them as digital computer files, Witcher said.

The library doesn’t accept three-dimensional artifacts, he said, so it often refers organizations to The History Center if they have historic items they also want to see preserved.

Preserving photos and documents takes time and money, however, so it helps the library if the organization can assist either with a monetary contribution or by having its members volunteer to scan items, he said.

It’s also possible the library will choose not to save some documents, Witcher said. Letters and documents containing the signature of an organization leader or a prominent citizen, for example, typically are more valuable to keep than a spreadsheet of just numbers, he said.

WHAT YOUR GROUP CAN DO

Witcher said groups seeking to have their archives preserved at the library can help that process by taking the following steps:

* Contact the library’s Genealogy and Special Collections area at 421-1225 or via email at Genealogy@ACPL.Info before the group disbands to discuss the transition and the process of working with the library to preserve the group’s history.

* Organize your material as much as possible, with documents grouped together and identified by type or subject matter.

* Provide the identities and locations of people and places in as many photos as possible.

* Organize volunteers from your group to go to the library to scan documents and images as digital files so the library can store them easily and make them available to the public.

* If the organization doesn’t want to do any of the above, member still should contact the library about possibly preserving the group’s archives, Witcher said. The library may be able to save some of the items, but it can do a better job of telling the organization’s story if members partner with library staff, he added.

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