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Searching for History

For those who haven’t read about this in the newspaper (or Facebook, or Twitter), let me announce an excellent new Nantucket resource that’s available to the public. Nantucket Atheneum's Digital Historic Newspaper Archive provides access to over 20 historic newspapers, ranging in date from 1816 issues of the Nantucket Gazette and Nantucket Commercial Gazette to all but the most recent issues of the Inquirer and Mirror.

To access the database, go to the Nantucket Atheneum’s website at http://www.nantucketatheneum.org, and under the Research & Services menu option, choose Digital Newspaper Archive. Then, to search, click on Advanced Search on the left hand menu. From there you can enter your search terms in the box and narrow by date range. Be sure to click “search all newspapers.”

This resource has been available for a couple weeks now, and I’ve used it about a hundred times. In my job, I catalog historic photographs much of the day, and few of these have precise dates on them. Often, however, they do have a storefront. Recently I received a donation of an image of Main Street, with a store named “Rosen’s” in the building at the corner of Federal Street (where Murray’s Liquor store is now). A search of the Digital Newspaper Archive revealed that Rosen’s had a closing sale in 1923, giving me a much narrower date range for the photograph.

Other interesting facts I’ve discovered include that the old Brant Point Lighthouse was painted white by keeper J.G. Remsen in June 1888; Pacific Bank was painted in 1895; and many streets, including Main Street square, became one-way on June 1, 1954. Such details are amazingly helpful for dating photographs.

The database can be maddeningly slow, but it is usually worth the wait. And I still have some mysteries I’m trying to solve. For instance, what are the dates of the store named “Furniture Warehouse” that was on Orange Street near Main? When did the building where The Hub is located add the large window on the side? When did the Ladies and Gents Restaurant on Steamboat Wharf close? What was the large pole at the corner of Centre and Main Streets (c. 1860s), and when was it taken down?

If anyone has any time or interest to research these questions, be sure to let me know the answers!