Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Grant allows city archive collection to be digitized
Posted: August 8, 2011 - 10:56pm
By PETER GUINTA
In 1791, the Spanish government purchased a convalescent home on Spanish Street built by William Watson, an Englishman, and turned it into a military hospital.
So begins one intriguing page of the city's historic archives, locked away in a top-floor room at Government House for decades and now partially available for online perusal.
Technically, the information was in a library that was available to scholars, historians and archeologists.
But finding specific documents or publications was hit or miss. Officials are looking for a way to change that.
On Monday, the St. Augustine City Commission passed a resolution supporting a University of Florida Libraries grant for $331,653 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to start a collection of key historic resources involving the city.
Thomas R. Caswell of the Architecture & Fine Arts Library at UF said the program is called Unearthing St. Augustine.
The money would pay to scan 11,000 of the estimated 120,000 historic documents in that dusty attic.
"This would continue the legacy of St. Augustine partnering with UF," Caswell said. "For the first time, there will be a comprehensive archive at St. Augustine."
He said that the digital items will date from the 16th century to the present and contain 1,200 maps and overlays of the city, archeological drawings of historic structures, 2,500 Spanish documents and translations from the St. Augustine Historical Society and records, photos and site summaries of 100 excavations by the City of St. Augustine Archeological Program over the last 20 years.
Included are 800 drawings, photos and documents from the Herschel Shepard Collection at UF relating to restoration and reconstruction of the city's colonial buildings.
Dana Ste. Clair, director of Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism, said, "St. Augustine is all about preservation. These are resources that St. Augustine has been collecting for decades that were essentially sitting in a room with limited access for a long time. Now the rest of the world gets to see them."
Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline said that, for example, there are dozens of documents relating to the Spanish Constitutional Monument.
Caswell is "a great champion" of historic preservation, she said. "It's pretty exciting."
Ste. Claire said one small fire could have destroyed hundreds of years of St. Augustine history, not to mention losses caused by insects, humidity and theft.
To view all local historical documents of the Ximenez-Fatio House at 20 Aviles St., for example, the system would display a Google Map. The documents would appear after clicking on the house.
The grant abstract says the project will have searching and browsing functions and "users will also be able to view the creation, alteration or destruction of structures and sites within specific timeframes."
UF will provide a contributed cost share -- meaning salaries and overhead costs -- of $196,821, lowering the actual cash grant to roughly $120,000.
Caswell said that should give them a better chance of getting an award.
"This is a bad year to ask for federal funding, but we're giving it a shot," he said.
To search the archives already digitized, go to www.ufdc.ufl.edu/hsa1