Historical Society celebrates eighty years

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 2:00pm

The Block Island Historical Society is celebrating two major wins this year. First, we are marking the eightieth anniversary of our founders chartering the organization in 1942. It will be celebrated with a Gala on Saturday August 20 (visit our website for more information). The founders, who included such island residents as Gladys Steadman, Lester Dodge and Paul Hodge, all attended the signing of the founding document. After the signing, these three and a host of others, worked for decades in the gathering and protecting of the history of Block Island.
Second, the Historical Society is in the midst of a significant digitization campaign. I would like to thank the Annenberg Foundation for the two years of funding to begin this quest of digitizing our entire collection of paper-based materials, including photographs, land deeds, hotel ledgers, postcards, and personal correspondence. To date, we have cataloged over 1,700 photographs, including the fantastic image above, from the summer of 1942 (which happens to be the year of our founding).
Six figures stand dressed in impressive clothing. Five are connected to long-standing families in the history of Block Island. From left to right, these include George Sheffield, Frank Payne (Sr.), Robert Champlin, Adrian Mitchell, and Florence Ball Madison. On the far right, in the nifty two-tone wingtips, is Dr. Charles Perry, the island physician for decades. When this photo was taken, the United States was nine months into World War II, which the nation would fight for an additional 36 months. Much would change on Block Island in the wake of the war. Where the 1950s would average just five newly constructed homes, the decade of the 1960s would average twenty. During these eight decades of transformation on the island, thanks to the founders’ vision, we have sought to protect the history of Block Island. Now, thanks to the Annenberg Foundation, this protection will include the incorporation of the digital realm.
The digitization process made possible by the Annenberg Foundation is three-fold. First, a historic photograph is scanned at a high resolution. Second, the photograph is measured and checked for overall condition, then placed in an acid-free folder and archival box. Lastly, the digital scan is uploaded into our new software, CatalogIt. The benefits of this process yield a number of positive future outcomes that include public access, assisting future genealogical researchers, and the design and fabrication of future summer exhibitions. Over the months ahead, the process will be expanded to include a range of paper documentation, including hotel registers, graduation announcements, tourism
brochures, and historic restaurant menus. We will be sharing Annenberg updates in future issues of The Block Island Times.