Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Historic Mohave County records rescued - but why did they need saving?

Decades of documents were abandoned at Kingman Airport

Mohave County records that the Mohave Museum of History and Arts took care of for decades are seen here stored in what used to be part of the old Mohave County Sheriff’s Office on Beale Street. (MOHAVE COUNTY/Courtesy)

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Kingman Daily Miner

KINGMAN - Nearly 100 years of Mohave County records would have disappeared into the desert dust if it had not been for the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

On Sept. 16, the museum was recognized by the Board of Supervisors for holding on to more than 400 books and several plastic tubs of county records dating back to the 1800s from the Mohave County Assessor's Office, Treasurer's Office, Courts, Board of Supervisors, School Superintendent and Recorder's Office.

The story of how the records came into the hands of the museum is nearly as interesting as the information contained in the books, according to Museum Board President Bill Porter.

It all started with a raiding party, he said.

"Some time in the early '80s, someone, I don't remember who, called the museum and told us that there were all these county record books just lying around in a dusty hanger out at the (Kingman) airport," Porter said. "So, we went out to look."

Porter said museum staff found piles of county record books piled everywhere in an unlocked hangar without any air conditioning or heating. Nothing was being done to preserve them.

"We were absolutely horrified," Porter said. "These are important to the county's history. They should have been lodged with the state years ago."

Arizona law states that all state, county and city records belong to the state and are supposed to be turned over to the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records division on a regular basis.

Porter said the museum contacted the county, but no one at the county at that time seemed interested in taking the records in and no one seemed to know how the records ended up in the hangar in the first place.

"We made an arbitrary decision to take the books," Porter said. "We couldn't just leave them there."

Once the records were safely transported to the museum, staff cleaned them up as best they could, Porter said.

Pawing through some of the piles, the museum staff found records from nearly every county department: tax records, assessor records, court records, mining claim maps, cattle brand books, Board of Supervisors records. The books ranged in size from about the size of today's school notebooks to huge 3.5 foot by 2.5 foot, 40 pound portfolios.

According to County Records Manager Robert Ballard, the oldest record books date back to the 1860s and the newest ones to the 1960s.

"It's really an incredible find," he said.

Porter said the museum organized the records and stored them in the museum basement, which is as close as the museum could come to a climate-controlled area.

Porter said that tax and assessor records don't seem that interesting, but the information contained in the books was fascinating.

"They're really, really interesting books. They paint a pretty good picture of daily life," he said. "We found a 1936 or 1937 bill from the Assessor's office, written up in this very formal language, saying a man had paid his property taxes by giving 24 live chickens to the county hospital. 'But after considering the price for chickens on the current market' the man still owed $5.60 in taxes."

The books are also historic works of art, according to Museum Director Shannon Rossiter and County Recorder Carol Meier.

"The handwriting in them is just beautiful," Rossiter said.

Meier agreed and pointed to a cattle brand book from the 1800s.

Each page of the book contains the name of the rancher, a six-inch hand drawn copy of the rancher's brand, a drawing of the notches the ranchers would cut into their cattle's ears and the time and date the information was recorded, along with the signature of the county recorder.

Another interesting record found in the piles was a book from a mechanic's garage, Rossiter said.

"It had the names, addresses, phone numbers and the work done and how much it cost for each of his customers," he said.

Over the years, many people have asked to look at the records in order to track down the history of their family or make a claim for compensation from the federal government.

For example, a group from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled from Salt Lake City to peruse the books in search of information about family members that may have lived in the area, he said.

Several county residents have used the records as proof that they lived in the county during the nuclear testing in Nevada in order to make compensation claims against the federal government, Rossiter said.

Others have asked to look at the mining maps, Porter said.

"You get these really interesting journeys into the past," he said.

As the years passed the museum started running into a couple of problems with storing records, Rossiter said

The museum couldn't make certified copies of the records for people, he said. Only the state archives can do that. And 400 books take up a lot of room.

Porter said the museum contacted the County Assessor's Office, since most of the records belonged to them, several times over the years, but was told the office just didn't have the space to store the records.

About a year ago, the museum contacted Arizona Archives Director Melanie Surgeon and asked her if the archives would take the records, he said.

"She was very excited about it, until she found out how many books and records there were," Porter said. "There was no way the archives could handle all that material at once."

So, the museum contacted the county again and they were put in contact with Meier at the County Recorder's Office.

Meier and Ballard were also excited to hear of the records find. Meier, who was elected to office in 2008, said she had no idea the museum had the records.

"We wanted to get them back. They are the county's history. We just can't thank the museum enough for what they did for us," Meier said.

Ballard started immediately contacting the other county offices about the records and researching storage space in the county's buildings.

The county finally settled on storing some of the records in an old branch of the Mohave County Sheriff's Office on Beale Street known as the Armory, he said. Each county office has its own storage area in the building and it was easier to transport all of the records to one location and then divvy them up.

Ballard said the county considered storing the records in the old county jail behind the Mohave Superior Court building on Spring Street in Kingman, but the building has a host of problems, including a leaking roof, that would cost too much to fix.

Ballard and Meier's ultimate wish would be to have all of the county's record books rebound and preserved in a climate controlled room, but with the cost of rebinding one book running about $2,000 and more than 1,200 books in the county's records, it's just not feasible, Meier said.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The people behind Pioneer’s Museum preserving the Imperial Valley’s history

Tractor at Desert Museum: A rare tractor sits in storage at the museum. It is one of a few left in the world and is in working condition. (Erick Miller, Staff Photographer)

By ALEXIS RANGEL, Staff Writer
Imperial Valley Press

IMPERIAL — Lynn Housouer had heard stories as a young girl about her great-great-grandfathers both fighting against each other in the American Civil War but she never really paid attention until she was old enough to do her own research.

As the Chief Executive Officer and Archivist at Imperial County’s Pioneer Museum, she said oftentimes when we are young we don’t always pay attention to the stories our elders share with us.

“So you just hear it,” Housouer said, “until you are old enough to do your own research because now that my grandmother is gone I can’t call and ask her (questions) like I should have asked her when she was telling me the stories.”

Which is unfortunate, but makes Housouer’s work in preserving the Imperial Valley’s history for future generations all the more important.

She speaks from personal experience, as she says that after her grandparents passed she began cleaning out her grandmother’s sewing room.

To her surprise she discovered a box high above a shelf.

Climbing to reach the box she found an old picture of her great grandfather during the Spanish-American War with his uniform below the photo.

Having worked on the archives for the past 20 years Housouer has handled hundreds if not thousands of artifacts with the help of the museum’s curator Leanne Rutherford.

Both Housouer and Rutherford agree that they have always had an interest in history and working at the museum feels like a treasure hunt.

With more than 6,000 artifacts at the museum everything you see on display is tied in to the history of the Imperial Valley.

Housouer’s role at the museum as the archivist is preservation, she says.

Preserving artifacts, cataloging them into the computer, and making sure they are in an acid-free file folder or bag is an instrumental part of an being an archivist.

“We do what we can to preserve them for our future generations,” she said.

The museum runs on the help of volunteers, willing to give their time in preserving the county’s history.

One of those volunteers, Rutherford helps Housouer research the thousands of artifacts that go into their database.

Rutherford sees her position as the curator a bit different than one might at other museums.
“I help raise funds to keep the museum doors open,” Rutherford said.

Along with fundraising, Rutherford said her strength is in helping Housouer research the artifacts they receive.

Rutherford said she can spend weeks researching an item.

“Because you get to a point and you can’t find the answer you were looking for,” she said, “and you need to know what is going on.”

As curator and archivist at the museum it can be tedious work but Rutherford and Housouer say it is a passion of theirs.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New displays take center stage as Needles Museum opens for season

This is one of several new displays at the Needles Regional Museum on Front Street. This display focuses on a scene from a 1930s beauty shop and what it may look like to get hair done. There are curlers and hair drying machines on display. The museum recently reopened for the season and is open 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. (JENNIFER DENEVAN/Needles Desert Star)

Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES — New displays and additional binders with historical information are part of what’s new at the Needles Regional Museum this year.

The museum, 929 Front St., reopened for the season Sept. 3. The museum is open from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Flora Hill, president for the museum, said the large display at the back of the museum features a couple of mannequins depicting a scene straight from a 1930s beauty salon. Getting a ‘perm’ for a woman was a task back then.

Hill recalled a time when, as a child, her mother tried one out on her. The permanent wave machine looked like a tentacled beast with heated clamps at the ends in order to “permanently” curl hair.

It turned out to be a bit of a traumatic experience as it wasn’t easy to get curls at that time, Hill said laughing. She never tried it again, she continued.

The large display also includes other equipment and devices someone might have seen at the time including old clippers for men and a hair dryer. There is even a photo of Hill with her curls and her two siblings.

Not all the display cases have been changed yet, but most have been, Hill said. One such case that’s been rearranged to display items features old toys.

Hill said there are several dolls including an original “Dennis the Menace” and a Ricky Jr. from the “I Love Lucy” show. There are also several toys at the top of the case featuring heavy equipment made of iron which used to belong to Ed Perry, she continued.

One display case will be changed to show off old hats and some gloves, Hill said. There are several old hats exemplifying what would have been worn in an era gone by.

Along with new displays, there are new binders with Needles history featured, she said. There were already several binders discussing certain families and their histories, but there are more now including a couple showing old articles from several publications through the years, she added.

Hill said there are also new books for sale in the shop area.

The museum volunteers are doing a lot of work in being involved with the city’s Centennial Celebration, to be held Oct. 4, 5 and 6.

The calendar, a popular annual fundraiser for the museum, is coming out early this year because of the celebration, Hill said. Volunteers are also planning on having a special display for the centennial that will include several oral histories the museum has permission to play, she added.

In addition to new displays and books, the museum is always seeking donations of items that are in fairly good condition, Hill said. While space remains limited, having new items to be able to display at different times is a constant goal for the museum, she continued.

Volunteers are also always needed, she said. There isn’t a set amount of time someone has to commit to, she continued, but any time offered would be accepted.

Anyone interested in being a volunteer can call Cheryl at 760-326-4008. For more information about the museum call Flora at 760-326-2687 or Jackie at 760-326-4273.