Albion, Oh, Albion

Neil Johnson

Albion Village Historian

No. 1293—What do Municipal Historians Want?

Photographs, arrowheads, cemetery records, potsherds, deeds.  I have spent most of my life poring over these relics of a dead past, trying to make them speak.  I thought of them last Friday, as I narrated the vignettes that the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Museum Committee presented at the once upon a time Barbary Coast, now the summer cottage adventure of Joey and Gene Haines. 

Dick Anderson had found period photos that he projected on a rear-projection screen.   Photographs of life at The Point in the early 1900s flashed by—boats, people, hotels, all telling us that people really lived then, really went fishing, went boating.

The committee has been striving mightily to build a replica Oak Orchard Light House to replace the one at the end of the west pier at the mouth of Oak Orchard River built by the United States in 1871, abandoned in 1905, and swept away during a December storm in 1916.  The vignettes were a fun way of raising money.

The theater was the brainchild of Dick Anderson, the president of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Museum.  Last year’s fundraising dinner had been a success.  This year, why not have a series of vignettes about life at Point Breeze in the 1900-1910 era?

Therefore, Dick, an energetic fellow, sent out letters to all the municipal historians, asking if they had pertinent information.  Lysbeth Hoffman, the Carlton Town Historian, contributed what she knew.  Dick consulted me, since I am on the board of directors as the historical consultant.  I had just joined the museum committee and was more confused than helpful.  However, we municipal historians all rummaged around in our memories and collections to see what we had to recreate life at Point Breeze, ca. 1905.

He then appealed to the other cottagers on the lake.  He received photographs.  He received clippings from the local newspapers, copies of articles, written reminiscences.  How could Dick find all this stuff, which brought the dead history to life?  Because people had treasured all that junk.  And saved it.

Why do I say junk?  Because many people consider old photographs, newspapers, diaries, letters, business journals, calendars, and church records junk, and throw it out.  I know this in a very personal way.  When my grandmother died, we all gathered in her house to disperse her goods.  One of my aunts had already started cleaning, and had taken all the family photographs to the dump.  Luckily, my youngest uncle had found out about it and retrieved them.  We almost lost three generations of memories.

So, while I was narrating I thought about how this material must be systematically saved.  It is all worth saving.  But the obvious place to start now is photographs.  Scanning is easy; storage is so efficient; and making copies is a snap.

So I am offering, and will be asking, to scan people’s photograph albums (or shoeboxes) to preserve our life.  And I mean life from 1824 to the present.  We sometimes forget that today will soon be history and in very little time--ten years?—fifth graders will be wondering what life was like in 2008.

Albion is the county seat, so has connections to the whole county.  More specifically, it is the focus of the four central towns—Barre, Albion, Gaines, Carlton.  So I will concentrate on photos from those four towns and, of course, the Village of Albion.  But I warn you, scanning is minor.  I also want to go over each photo and identify who is in them, or what is going on.

And I want to save all the other things too.  I generally use the Swan Library as my repository.  Each town, moreover, has a historian, and I will share with them, as they share with me.  But the main thing is to make sure that all these items that illuminate our past are kept safely where people can look at them and be amazed at how strange things used to be.

FREE CEMETERY TOUR—County Historian C. W. Lattin and I will lead a cemetery tour of Sandy Creek Cemetery at 7:00 PM tonight, Thursday, August 21.  The cemetery is on the south side of Route 104, one mile west of the hamlet of Murray (formerly Sandy Creek).  The tour will last about an hour and a quarter.