Return to the Archives

Continued from part 1

This morning I decided to take a chance and return to the Houghton Archives even though I hadn’t yet received confirmation from the archivist thereby breaking the lesson I learned from last time.

When I arrived at the door of the archives it was still locked, but I was hopeful as I could see some light coming from under the door. After a knock and a brief pause the door was opened and I was greeted by  a smiling librarian who waived me in as she finished up a phone call.

Laura Habecker is the only staff who works in the College Archives and does so on a limited basis of 11 hours per week due to budgetary constraints. She’s been there for the past two years during which time she has come to be known as the Activist Archivist by the college president. From the relatively brief hour and a half that I spent with Laura I can easily see how she deserves this title. She approaches her job with an enthusiasm and excitement that was absolutely contagious and has over the past two years tried very hard to get students to know about and be excited by the college archives (which as I mentioned last time was something that I was completely unaware of). She made my visit to the archives a blast and I cannot think of a better first impression.

Over the past two years Laura has worked on digitizing a number of collections including the Genesee Valley Town & Country Collection a collection of photographs depicting the southern Genesee Valley from 1875-1975. As well as the college alumni newsletter, student newspaper, and is working on finishing up the college yearbook. These were an exciting discovery for me as I knew that one of my favorite Christian musicians had visited the college in the past and it allowed me to easily do a digital search to find every reference to him in the student newspaper.

Laura’s current short-term project is working on contributing a plaque of names of Houghton related citizens who participated in WWII for an exhibit. It was nice to see my late grandfather’s name (Fancher, Lowell B.) included on the list.

World War 2 Plaque

Another project in the works is for the 100th anniversary of the ending of WWI on November 11th, 1918. She is working with students, faculty, staff, and community members to recreate the below 1920 Memorial Day photo (as a note the original service flag in the left-rear of the photo is a part of the college archives).

Houghton 1920 Memorial Day Photo

Like the college itself, the archive is quite small and consists of only a couple of metal shelves filled with boxes of manuscripts, ledgers, photographs, and the like loosely categorized as well as some larger items and college memorabilia including original artwork. Because dedicated archival software and training cannot be purchased all materials are currently being archived in an Active Record database which is very limited.

Houghton Archives

One of her prized discoveries was a scrapbook made by Florence Kelley (front middle in the below photograph) in the early 1900s of her time on campus. This detailed scrapbook more then anything else has been an aid to Laura in deciphering people, places, and events in other manuscripts and photographs.

Florence Kelly at Moss Lake

A page from Florence’s scrapbook is included below showing an image of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Houghton N.Y. as well as what I presume is an original poem.

Florence Kelly Scrapbook Page
“How sweet on a clear Sabbath morning
To list to the clear ringing bell;
It’s tones so sweetly are calling
Oh, come to the church in the vale.”
  • Florence Kelly

A funny anecdote I learned while at the archive this morning is that the church Florence was writing about and shown on the scrapbook page above was originally built directly across from the bar and brothel shown below.

Houghton Church and Tavern

Local jocks would sometimes visit the bar for stories and entertainment from workers passing through on the canal. Willard Houghton, the founder of the college but then high-school, wanted to remind these individuals of where their attention should be placed. To do so he had a giant hand erected and placed on top of the church steeple with a single finger pointing directly upward which would be visible from the bar’s windows. This hand is also currently on display in the archives collection.

Pointing Hand

Lessons I Learned

Archives are fun!
I had an absolute blast this morning. Laura was extremely passionate about her job and eager to share her love of these historic artifacts and manuscripts with me.

Take notes 😥
I got so absorbed in our discussion at various points that I forgot to take notes about certain dates and events which made writing this report much more difficult then it could have been.

Archives need more money and awareness
There is so much that Laura has done already, but she is under very limited time constraints and financial budgets (whereas certain other projects receive much more lucrative budgets). In addition to that I as someone who: grew up coming to this campus with my grandfather from a very young age, attended 4 years while earning my Bachelor’s degree, worked as an adjunct faculty member for several semesters, and frequently visits the library for personal reasons, had no clue that this archive was here.

I’m going back
I had a blast and am excited to go back to browse the collection and keep tabs on the work Laura is doing. As a purely personal aside my paternal ancestors from both grandparents have connections with the founding of Houghton College (the Fancher’s and Gillette’s) and I look forward to finding out what I can about their history. As a final farewell below is a collection of metallic and wooden stamps from the collection which my grandfather would have used while working in the print shop before they modernized the setup.

Print Shop Stamps
Keli Fancher

Keli Fancher