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The Vermont Digital Newspaper Project has digitized over 11,000 pages of old Vermont newspapers, including the early years of Brattleboro’s Vermont Phoenix.  Read all about it on the VDNP blog, or go right to the papers at Chronicling America, a project sponsored jointly by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

More papers are coming, including a precious handful of issues of the Windham County Democrat, edited by noted feminist Clarina Howard Nichols.

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The Brooks Memorial Library, in conjunction with the University of Vermont’s Center for Digital Initatives and with funding from the Windham Foundation, is undergoing a project to scan and catalog the almost 1,300 photographic images made by local photographer Porter Thayer.

Porter Thayer was a photographer, born in Williamsville, Vermont,  who took photographs around Windham County from 1903 – 1930. Thayer used a 5×7 and a 6.5 x 8.5 view camera and  glass plate negatives to create his images. The detail available in his large format images creates an extraordinary glimpse into early 20th century life in Southeastern Vermont.

Currently, Porter Thayer’s images are only available to the public on microfilm, which maintains little of the beauty and detail of the original images. The vision and detail of Thayer’s work will be better preserved through digitization, as well as allowing these images to be more accessible to the local public, scholars of Vermont history and of early 20th century photography online free of charge.

The photographs are being scanned and cataloged by Jess Weitz, staff member at the Brooks Memorial Library, in batches of 50 images. The first set of images will be available online by the first week in December 2010. The database of images can be accessed through the Center for Digital Initatives site at http://cdi.uvm.edu/

The project staff hopes to gain feedback from individuals and local historical societies about their knowledge of the people and places in the images.. On each images page, there will be a place to submit comments and have your knowledge added to the image’s historic record.

Please join us for an afternoon talk about “The History of the Town Photographer”by local photographer Forrest Holzapfel, sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council, and a discussion of the Porter Thayer project to date, on January 15th at  3:00 PM in the Library’s meeting room.

For more information about the project, please contact Jess Weitz at jessica@brooks.lib.vt.us or Robin Katz (of the CDI) at robin.katz@uvm.edu .

The files in the Library’s Local History Room are full of interesting (flat) objects as well as lots of newspaper clippings.  All of them are searchable in the online catalog, and anyone is welcome to view them.  Just visit the Reference Desk or the Circulation Desk, and we’ll sign you up and take out the files you would like to see.

For example, check out these printers’ sample books from the  “Printing and Publishing” folder:

Avoid social faux pas when using calling cards

Learn about the Vermont Printing Company & its neighbors down by the tracks

Enjoy a sing-along with your angelic child

George Houghton, 1826-1870, is best known as a Civil War photographer, but he was also a portrait maker and chronicler of life in 19th-century Brattleboro.  From his “Picture Rooms” at #2 Granite Block, Houghton created his “Life Size Photographic Portraits…surpassing everything that has yet been before the public from the Photographic art.”  Or so promised his ads in the Brattleboro city directories!

One of the jewels in the Library’s historical collection is Houghton’s photograph of Main Street in Brattleboro, circa 1865.  The photo, reproduced here, is on display in the Local History Room and is accessible digitally at the website brattleborohistory.com.  There, historian Thomas St. John has enlarged and reproduced details of the photo and written notes to place the details in historical context.  From Revere House to the Union Billiard Hall, business signs are now readable, and those who love Brattleboro’s Main Street will enjoy this virtual tour.  There is also biographical information about Houghton and a couple self-portraits.  Nice work!  –Jeanne

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Brooks Memorial Library Reference Department:

Jeanne Walsh, Therese Marcy, Sharon Reidt, Jess Weitz, and sometimes Jerry