In the fall of 2017, as the Herald prepared to move from its longtime home on Wales Street to new offices on Grove, the paper bestowed numerous weighty bound volumes of the Rutland Herald to the Rutland Historical Society for safekeeping.
Bob Ranftle, a Rutland Historical Society member and volunteer, spearheaded the project. The society already maintains an archive of bound Herald volumes from which the public can read the news of yesteryear on the original pages. The collection is now “90% complete,” Ranftle said in 2017, with the latest addition of the years 1952 to 1969. Editions dating from 1847 already resided in the society’s basement. The collection now totals about 400 volumes.
The donated volumes had been stored on shelving in the Herald basement. The black hardcovers are dusty, but “most of them are in decent shape on the whole,” Ranftle said.
The Herald briefly took the rest of the bound volumes — from the early 1970s to about 2009 — to the newspaper’s new location at 77 Grove St., before finding a permanent home for them in basement storage at the BROC headquarters.
“So in that sense there will be a complete set at the Historical Society and we’ll have a more recent complete set,” Mitchell said. “The Historical Society is great; they’ve done the work of figuring out what’s the best to preserve, through the mid to late ’60s.”
The project had been under discussion for some time, but the approaching auction gave it some urgency.
“My main interest was what was going to happen to the newspapers, because they had to end up someplace,” Ranftle said. “The bottom line was that both the Herald and the society say the top priority is to make sure the Rutland Herald is perpetuated. Rob Mitchell was emphatic that ultimately he wanted the Herald to be preserved, that it would stand the test of time, and also that it would be widely available.”
The society had volunteered to take some volumes to fill gaps in its collection. “It kind of morphed into the situation where we thought, ‘Well, why can’t we take some more, as long as he is happy to let us be the custodians of it?’” he said.
The next steps are inventorying the acquisition and carving out storage space in the mortared-stone basement of the old firehouse where the Historical Society has its operations. The rigid footprint of the foundation prevents further expansion.
On the plus side, the basement is climate-controlled at 37% humidity — comfortable, dry but not too dry. Dehumidifers discharge water to a French drain around the walls. The temperature is controlled by a thermostat and bound newspaper volumes sit stacked horizontally on simple, unpainted pine racks.
Their spines have color-coded dots to aid putting them back in the right place. Two shallow alcoves in the foundation will take the additional racks, with a little shifting of other shelving units.
“We always try to hold ourselves to some careful management of space, including what we take in and what we keep,” Ranftle said. “The silver lining to the situation is that, because we’re taking in these volumes, now we have to do something serious, get to the next stage of our space management.”
Digitizing the editions would be an optimal way both to save space and to preserve them permanently, but that is not on the horizon at present for the Herald volumes, Ranftle said.
The shared concern for historical record and cultural continuity has resulted in a win-win for the Herald and the Historical Society.
“We’ve now filled in the gaps and have extended the collection by 15 years, so that creates a much better situation for our researchers,” Ranftle said. “That was kind of the carrot — that’s what we got out of this, taking on this role.”
Mitchell added, “We’re happy to have that partnership to make sure this huge incredible resource stays around. It’s kind of like inviting someone to take care of your baby — there has to be a certain amount of trust, but they’ve been great to work with, so I’m feeling very good about it.”
Ranftle described the present role of the Historical Society as custodial. Mitchell said a formal deed of the gift is being developed.
The original version of this story was published on Oct. 25, 2017. It has been edited to update locations of the bound volumes.