Archives hold historic treasuresSome people may wonder what the University Archives and Area Research Center holds. Others may not even know it exists inside the lower level of the UW-River Falls Chalmer Davee Library.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Some people may wonder what the University Archives and Area Research Center holds. Others may not even know it exists inside the lower level of the UW-River Falls Chalmer Davee Library.
Anyone unfamiliar with the center will get a chance to see and learn about it at a grand opening of the new facility later this month (see related sidebar).
Interim Archivist Tim Ericson describes some of the content stored in the archives, which, at the end of November, moved into its fourth and final new home.
The center contains community- and university-related records and manuscripts that include journals, diaries, church records, letters and other documents from all towns within the center’s four-county area. Ericson says not all records for every town are there, but at least some from each.
The archives hold a comprehensive collection of community newspapers on microfilm — “nearly everything,” says Ericson. People might come there to look at old census or local government records, to read through one of the self-serve history books, or to request to view something from the secure storage in the back.
Ericson has seen many interesting items.
For example, he marveled at a book from the 1936 Olympics containing information and pasted-in photos about legendary track and field competitor Jesse Owens. Also among the historic records and documents: A huge two-volume Gutenberg Bible, an uncommon Wisconsin history book, a book by Kinnickinnic humorist Bill Nye and a prize-winning photo exhibit of the Normal School.
An 1893 Opera Hotel guest registry bears the names of a Ringling Brothers circus troupe that came through River Falls. A fire broke out at the circus and killed six of the troupe, whom Ericson says are buried locally in unmarked graves.
He’s seen different types of photo technology from the 1850s to the 1890s, including hand tinting, hologram, stencil and tin. He discovered his own grandfather’s tax records from Burnett County.
He read very old Freeman Drug and Tubbs Medicine Company records that list ingredients for many medicines and cleaners; one elixir was 40% alcohol.
Within the secure storage lies Ku Klux Klan propaganda pertaining to Catholics and Jews, as well as one of the organization’s uniform robes and hoods.
Ericson shows volume two of the first-ever campus newspaper entitled “The Normal Badger.” He also stumbled across his wife’s old sorority-pledge mug.
He notes the 1907 court records from an assault case in which the prosecutor had kept very thorough records, including the bullet used on the victim.
“Nobody leaves with anything,” smiles Ericson about the archives’ policy. “A lot of people come in and they just use the books,” he said.
People can also request to view or research items in the reading room. If needed, visitors can also use a copier and the microfilm reader.
Guests come into a rotunda entrance area from the lower level of the Chalmer Davee Library. There they’ll find the old textbook library transformed into a multi-room archive that includes offices, storage, a coat closet, a reading room, a space for rare books and special collections, and the secured storage area.
Except for self service, arriving visitors should register with an archivist.
Ericson attended UW-RF for his undergrad and master’s degree in history and worked there for a while, too. He and wife Vallie moved back to River Falls after he retired as an archivist and teacher from UW-Milwaukee in 2005.
“I was in several times doing research,” he said about the local center.
He began talking to the archivist then volunteering. When the archivist resigned to be a stay-at-home mother, the school asked Ericson if he wanted the interim job.
Ericson said the dual-purpose University Archives and Area Research Center opened in 1962. Thirteen centers are part of a statewide network aimed at centralizing records. The archives center in River Falls holds records for Burnett, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties.
“It was originally established as an area research center,” said Ericson about the newly remodeled facility. “River Falls was the very first center to be established.”