Thursday, August 16, 2012

A First Look at the Dick Whalen Collection

Photograph of the interior of a barber shop operated by Benedetto "Benny" Zegarelli near the intersection of Main Street and Market Street in Rotterdam Junction. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Nearly one year ago, the Rotterdam Junction home of former Rotterdam town historian Dick Whalen was severely damaged by flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. The first floor of his property flooded with four feet of water, and the basement and garage, where Whalen's collection of historical materials were stored, was completely filled with water for at least three days.

This photo, taken a few days after the 2011 flood, shows standing water in the back of Dick Whalen's home and garage on Main Street in Rotterdam Junction. Photograph courtesy of Dick Whalen.  
 One week after the flood, after obtaining permission from Whalen to try to salvage some of the materials, we quickly moved to recover as many original photographs and documents as we could. Whalen had organized the historical materials he had compiled into themed binders. We moved nearly fifty wet, mud-covered binders out of his home and into frozen storage, in order to prevent mold growth and further deterioration of documents and photographs.

In 2004, Dick Whalen stands alongside one of the historical information boards he created. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Over the course of the next several months, I worked on thawing and drying out the materials from Whalen's collection binder by binder and rehousing them in folders and boxes. Many of the photographs and documents survived remarkably well. In June, volunteers and I began working on creating high-quality scanned images of the photographs and documents from Whalen's collection so that the historical information he compiled over the years would remain available to researchers in our library for years to come.

Many of the photographic prints in the Whalen Collection were in relatively good shape despite having contact with water. However, some photographs became so waterlogged that the emulsion lifted from the surface of the page. An example of this type of damage can be seen on this drawing of a Schenectady Savings Bank branch, although much of the image is still intact. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Woestina High School students on set of operetta "Green Cheese," performed in 1937. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

The images you see here are just a few photographs and documents from the collection. The collection is a valuable resource about the history of Rotterdam and particularly of Rotterdam Junction, where Dick Whalen made his home for most of his life. Subjects documented in the collection include Rotterdam's town government, police, and fire departments, local schools and athletics, local industries, controversy surrounding the construction of the Rotterdam Square Mall, Rotterdam parades and historical celebrations, and historic houses in Rotterdam. Rotterdam Junction is particularly well-documented, from the Woestina School to local businesses to the people and families who lived there. For those interested in local history, the collection is truly a treasure. We're grateful for Whalen's diligence in compiling this material and his generosity in allowing us to record it and share it with others.

Rotterdam Town Supervisor John Kirvin marches in a parade in May 1978. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Carman Fire Department and members of the fire department, 1940s. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.
Mrs. Madison of Lower Rotterdam Junction. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Page from a 1898 diary of Norman M.F. Clute, a Rotterdam farmer. Note the drawing of a horse next to the entry about receiving a gray horse; Clute also inserted tiny drawings of chickens whenever he mentioned members of the family slaughtering one for a meal. From Dick Whalen Collection.

Photograph of a car near Hamburg Street destroyed during a severe storm in 1960. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Cover image from The Woestinian, a publication made by students at the Woestina School in Rotterdam Junction. From Dick Whalen Collection.

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