All wet! Race is on to save historic books after Rockingham Library floods

Thursday December 16, 2010

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Local History Room at the Rockingham Free Public Library flooded Sunday night and librarians there are working to save the historic books and documents.

Public Services Librarian Wendy O'Connell said it appears as though a pipe directly over the history room broke, and when staff came in Monday morning there was more than an inch of water in the room.

Many of the library's most important and irreplaceable documents were in the little room, which is just behind the circulation desk.

"There were tons of books and maps in there and we don't know yet what was lost," O'Connell said Wednesday.

The library's most important holding -- the hand written Hayes documents which record the history of Rockingham -- were in a separate room and are safe, O'Connell said.

The Local History Room held Rockingham and Vermont history books as well as genealogy books and research materials, framed prints and historic photographs

The library has been working with a book restoration company from Boston to save what it can after the water soaked much of what was in the room.

The Company, Munters Corp., specializes in drying out historic documents after floods.

The company freeze dries and dehumidifies the paper and is usually able to either save, or rebind books that are damaged by water.

Works on Paper, a restoration company in Bellows Falls, will help save the maps and prints that were not bound in book form.

O'Connell said she is hopeful that most of the works will be saved though it will be a few weeks before the library know for sure what the damage will be from Sunday's flooding.

The walls and carpet and bookcases will have to be replaced, and in the meantime, she said, the room will be closed.

"So many people come through here to do research and genealogical searches," O'Connell said. "Unfortunately sometimes it takes something like this for the community to realize just how important this is to our local history and to the history of the library."

The water damage extended into the reading room, and into the youth department in the basement level.

She said the library's insurance will cover the restoration process and repairs as well as repairs to the floors and walls.

The library trustees have been talking about a major renovation to the 100-year-old building, which is one of four built in Vermont with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie in the early 20th century.

Library director Celina Houlne said she does not yet know if the pipe burst Sunday due to its age, though she said it is clear that the aging library is in dire need of an upgrade.

After putting the renovation project off last year, she said architects are now working with the trustees and the final plan will indeed be a major upgrade to the historic building.

Houlne said electrical and air systems need to be updated and the elevator should be extended to reach the third floor.

The trustees will not have the plan done in time for Town Meeting, though she said there might be a bond vote on the ballot in time for the Bellows Falls annual meeting vote in May.

"This is a 100-year-old building and there is so much to do," she said. "We had another pipe burst on the other side of the building about six months ago, and we're not sure what caused it, but that is what happens in old buildings."

The library was closed Monday, but has been open since and will remain open during regular hours.

The library's holiday party and raffle will be held on Saturday, Dec. 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. and is open to the public.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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