Preserving the past of Routt County

Museum receives grant to digitize, archive photographs

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— In a back room at the Tread of Pioneers Museum sit a row of binders with photocopies of more than 4,000 photographs in them.

The photocopies match up to real photos and negatives from Steamboat's storied past hidden away in a dark room nearby where museum workers in white gloves alone have access to them.

Until this year, those photos sat in folders in filing cabinets, some of them slowly fading away like the memories they captured.

The museum, however, has just received a $10,200 grant from the Colorado Historical Fund to digitize about 75 percent of those photographs primarily those dealing with the built environment. The money will be used to pay an archivist and purchase software to establish a database for the museum's photographs, some of which depict the county as it was in the 19th century.

The museum will work in conjunction with Historic Routt County to bring the project to fruition, said Marty Woodbury, the museum's executive director.

The digitization project will allow the museum to not only preserve and protect its photo collection but also make that collection more accessible to the public. Whereas in the past, finding a specific picture could be difficult because the photos could be found under only one subject heading, the computer program will file each photo under a number of different subjects.

For instance, in a photograph from the early part of the century, Lulie Crawford sits in a stagecoach wagon being driven by Bob Cushman over the state bridge. That picture can be found under "Crawfords" in the filing cabinet, but not under "Cushman," "Stagecoach" or "State Bridge." So if someone is looking for a picture of a stagecoach, he or she would not find that specific picture in the stagecoach file. All that, however, will change once the museum establishes the database.

"If there is a picture that has F.M. Light and Main Street and a Model T and a horse and 10 other things in it, we'll be able to identify all of the different aspects to bring up the picture," Woodbury said.

That ability to cross-reference will help many of the people who come to the museum to do research, Woodbury said. Some of those people, like Laureen Schaffer, the city's historical preservation specialist, are working toward getting properties historical designation. Historical designation, in turn, can help the city or other property owners receive grants to restore and preserve their properties.

"They can scan the photograph collection that they have so a researcher or anyone can pull up those images on a computer by subject or by date," Schaffer said.

Schaffer added that the process will help preserve the actual photos, which may not need to be handled, white gloves and all, quite as often as they are now.

The museum also sells the photos from its collection, which helps pay its costs every month, Woodbury said. When someone wants to purchase a photo, the museum will send the negative to Denver to reproduce it.

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