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Town of Essex Online Civil War Memorial

The Town of Essex first began efforts to improve and modernize its historic records in 2006 using funds allocated through the Town’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) and approved by the citizens of Essex at the Annual Town Meeting. Initial phases of this process included installation of a dehumidifier and climate monitoring equipment to help stabilize the storage environment, basic re-housing of materials into archival folders and boxes with protective interleaving, and the creation of a digital inventory to improve accessibility and intellectual control of the Town’s records.  

During subsequent years, the inventory process identified 199 individual documents directly relating to Essex’s participation in the Civil War.  These documents include original enlistment papers, mustering orders, discharge papers, aid payment records, and a variety of other materials pertinent to the conflict.  However, after 150 years of storage in a basement environment with variable climate, these fragile Civil War documents showed signs of acidification, tearing, inflexible creasing, and mildew damage due to poor storage and excessive variances in temperature and relative humidity.  Prior to additional handling or digitization, most records required minor conservation treatment to increase the documents’ stability and physical stamina for processing.

Identifying the need for additional funding, while sensitive to the limits of public CPC funding, in 2014 the Office of the Town Clerk applied for and received a grant from the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission to create an online Civil War Memorial.  The purpose of the Memorial is to preserve and digitize the records for posterity, while simultaneously increasing public and scholarly access to the Town’s collection.  Bolstered by the Commission’s grant, the Town Clerk sent the fragile records to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, MA for cleaning, crease removal, and stabilization prior to digitization.  The grant also allowed the Town to partner with the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum to identify any Civil War-related records in its collection.  This inventory revealed 12 additional materials in the ESM collection suitable for inclusion in the grant and digitization.

Once all documents returned from NEDCC in stable condition, the Town of Essex worked with the Boston Public Library’s Digital Commonwealth project to digitize the records, collate the relevant metadata, and create reference finding aides for both the Town of Essex and Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum collections.  In March 2016, the Office of the Town Clerk and Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum Civil War collections both officially became part of the Boston Public Library Digital Commonwealth and can be found online for free public and scholarly use.  While the Digital Commonwealth hosts the loose papers and photographs, a related repository, the Internet Archive, hosts the bound ledger volumes.  Links to both BPL collections as well as the Internet Archive can be found below.

Completion of the Town of Essex Online Civil War Memorial represents a highly successfully public-private partnership and illustrates the Town’s commitment to preserving its public records for the good of the community.  The Office of the Town Clerk would like to thank the Town of Essex Community Preservation Committee, the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, the Essex Board of Selectmen,  the Boston Public Library's Digital Commonwealth,, NEDCC, and the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission for their generous support of this project.

Digitized Civil War Records

BPL Digital Commonwealth – Office of the Town Clerk Civil War Collection

BPL Digital Commonwealth – Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum

Internet Archive

Related Links

Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum

Town of Essex Historical Commission

Essex Merchants Group's Historic Walking Tour

USGenWeb Project for Essex, MA

For further information, please contact Christina J. St.Pierre, Town Clerk, at 978-768-7111 or cstpierre@essexma.org.

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