July 4, 2015

Public Records

The Declaration of Independence contains a list of “facts" proving the tyranny of "the present King of Great Britain" (George III), justifying the bold actions of the American colonies. Among them is this one:

He has called together Legislative Bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

Ready access to public records was considered an essential element of fair and open government. It remains so today. In that spirit, the New London Town Archives has embarked on a project to identify all of the municipal records in its custody, fill gaps in coverage and content, and work more closely with town departments, boards, and committees to ensure the proper retention and disposition of municipal records—written, printed, and electronic.

New Hampshire's RSA 33-A establishes in each town a municipal records committee responsible for the systematic retention of various records (over 170 different types are specified). The committee must designate where records are kept for the duration of their mandated (minimum) retention periods. The Town Archives holds the most historically important records, to be retained “permanently,” but it also holds many others, more ephemeral and long past their normal retention dates.

We suspect that few small towns in the state have formed a municipal records committee. Despite the creation of our town archives, a rarity among New Hampshire towns, such a records committee has not met here in the last decade, or more. With the accumulated turnover on the town's boards and committees, we also suspect that many individuals now serving may be unaware of their obligations to preserve, document, and provide access to their own records and meeting minutes.

New London’s 2014 annual report lists over thirty entities that create records in the course of normal town business; the Archives holds materials (often with large chronological gaps) related to about twenty of those departments, boards, and committees. The missing records may themselves be scattered "at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant.” By convening a Municipal Records Committee, we hope to improve the preservation and availability of our public records and will post project milestones here.

January 27, 2015

Historic Listing

SHRC at the State Library
Yesterday, the State Historical Resources Council (SHRC) voted to list New London’s Whipple Memorial Town Hall in the State Register of Historic Places. The building’s significance was attributed to its Classical Revival architecture and its important role in the town’s development.

Boston hotelier Amos H. Whipple (1856–1916) bequeathed land and $15,000 for a public library building in his hometown of New London. The selectmen, however, asked his executor to alter the terms of the will, and so the proposed library became Whipple Memorial Town Hall, honoring Amos's parents, Dr. Solomon and Henrietta Whipple. Dr. Whipple, a Croydon native, had served the people of New London as their physician for his entire medical career, commencing in 1849 and ending shortly before his death in 1884.

The executor of Amos Whipple’s estate was his younger brother, Sherman L. Whipple (1862–1930). By 1916, Sherman was an eminent Boston trial lawyer. An alumnus and trustee of Colby Academy, he maintained lifelong ties to New London. He saw the new town hall as benefitting both the townspeople as Amos had wished, but also Colby Academy students, who would use Whipple Hall’s auditorium regularly over the next forty years. Sherman chose a Boston architectural firm, Strickland & Law, for the project—the firm’s first known public commission.

Sidney T. Strickland (1880–1954) graduated from MIT in 1905 and in 1914 was awarded the terminal degree from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. At MIT, Strickland had written and illustrated an undergraduate thesis entitled “Design for a City Hall…”. He had learned the symbolic and functional requirements of civic spaces, and he adapted those principles to the rural town hall in New London. Strickland also studied Colby Academy's nearby Colgate Hall, a Classical Revival design by George Harding of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Colgate Hall was completed in 1912 by New London contractor Horace Stanley, who would also build Whipple Hall, completed in 1918.

Whipple Memorial Town Hall included a jail cell, selectmen's office, town records archive, kitchen, meeting/function room, auditorium and stage, and a moving picture projection booth. It had electric lights and two wood furnaces producing steam heat. Unanticipated later uses included the municipal and district courts, basketball court, civil defense and ham radio station, police station, produce and craft market, and children's recreation. The original building is largely intact above the basement level. Two additions have been made at the rear (in 1985 and 2000), which today house the Police, Dispatch, and Recreation Departments. The town of New London is currently assessing the building’s need for historic preservation and other repairs.

Four other buildings in New London were previously listed in historic registers: the Dr. Solomon M. Whipple House (1985), the First Baptist Church (2005), the New London Barn Playhouse (2006), and Kentlands (2008). Whipple Hall is the first municipal building in New London to be listed. Still in daily use, Whipple Hall’s centennial of service will be observed in June 2018.