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|A Public Building "A Noble Monument"
"Grand, gorgeous, massive in proportion, perfect in details; such is
our new City Hall."
Daily Sun, Lowell, Oct. 14,1893
Where do we usually look for the history of a place? We find it in stories and study the historian's account. But it can also be pieced together from other sources: annual reports; daily memos; and facts scratched into old ledgers. Each of us generates a public paper trail with a life: birth certificate, tax bill, marriage license, building permit, dog license, military record, death certificate. For the life of a city, the record includes street surveys, cash books, contracts, payrolls, and more.
"City Hall is the one place where you will find evidence of the significant events in people's daily lives along with the important events in the city's life," says Kathleen Brooker, the former Administrator of the Lowell Historic Board and now the President of Historic Denver, Inc. She says the Lowell Historic Board was pleased to be asked by Assistant City Manager Brian Martin to help sort through a small mountain of documents that had come to light during a recent cleanup of the attic in City Hall.
When he began serving as Assistant City Manager in 1989, Brian Martin assumed responsibility for the City Hall building among others. On an inspection tour, he headed up to the attic. "I couldn't get off the elevator. Files and debris were piled to the door I had to climb over everything," he says. Concerned that the historic materials were at risk and recognizing a fire hazard, Martin set out to save the papers and artifacts. "It would be a shame to lose those treasures," he says.
Soon, a staff member from the Massachusetts Archives was in Lowell helping to tag important documents. Each City department worked with the Archives' staff to ensure that its record keeping complied with legal requirements. Several departments, including the City Clerk's Office and the Engineer's Office, have long maintained their own records in secure storage areas. The City now has a policy in place regarding record storage.
After sorting out what would be kept, Martin worked with the Historic Board to obtain a grant to begin assessing the wealth of material. As Kathleen Brooker says, "The attic had everything from Civil War veterans' records to 1960's Civil Defense helmets. It was tangible evidence of the city's interests over the years."
What is it like in the attic? Picture a cavernous space,