By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Aug. 22, 2019) A ledger detailing Berlin’s mayor and council meetings more than 100 years ago shed light on the importance of keeping records within town.
Berlin’s Managing Director Jeff Fleetwood, said town officials borrowed the ledger from the Calvin B. Taylor Museum while doing research on the town’s history. These particular documents detail the mayor and council meetings from 1901-1910.
“It’s fascinating. It really is,” Fleetwood said. “This … one volume speaks volumes.”
Fleetwood said he was particularly interested in the penmanship and finances in the town’s books.
“Well, one, I’m intrigued with the handwriting, but if you look here, this is 1901: following bills to be paid $1, $1, $1, $1 $2.35, $.75,” he said.
Town Clerk Kelsey Jensen said more modern technology helps her when taking the meeting’s minutes, which are typed and and recorded.
“We just do more action minutes,” Jensen said. “So I just kind of listen for if they take any action and any discussion that evolved around that action.”
Museum Curator Susan Taylor said a secretary was most likely taking the minutes on paper. Berlin experienced several fires in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that caused some records to be lost, according to a ledger introduction.
“The ones that you have are precious,” she said.
Town Administrator Laura Allen agreed and acknowledged that as the meetings are posted online, the level of transparency goes beyond the ledgers of the past that were kept within the walls of Town Hall.
“I think another adjustment might be the level of transparency, and the amount of information that we put out and make available to the public,” Allen said.
Taylor and Melissa Reid, president of the museum’s board of directors, said the museum houses a variety of written and oral records including scrapbooks, business books from the Purnell Company, the town’s general merchandise store, ordinance documents, and nine Berlin Town Council ledgers from 1901-1990.
Taylor said town officials entrusted the museum with the ledgers, while donations over time have helped increase the collection.
“It’s a place where people think about when they’re thinking of anything historical about Berlin,” Reid said. “I think Susan’s the first person [people] usually reach out to because they have that reputation as being the repository or the archive of Berlin history.”
Taylor also noted the importance of keeping good records for research purposes.
“Why did this law start? It’s just a great resource,” Taylor said. “I don’t know what you would do if you didn’t have records.”
Reid said reviewing town records could help with present day problem solving.
“I think it keeps you from reinventing the wheel. I mean I think even as towns regenerate themselves and go through processes of development, it’s always good to look back and see what was done beforehand because very rarely were new problems unearthed,” she said.
“Problems are usually the same iteration of the same kind of thing going back through time, so it’s interesting to see what was done in the past.”
Additionally, records allow for some personal observations about the town.
In the 1901 ledger, Fleetwood found many of the same family surnames still around today: Burbage, Harrison and Purnell, to name a few.
“… The Burbage name rings well, the Harrison name rings, the Purnell name rings well, and you see a lot of those names over and over,” he said.
Taylor said that’s quite common for small towns like Berlin, and the museum has also been compiling genealogy records for museum patrons to peruse.
“So people look for information on, like, the Fassit’s, and the old names, and the Ironshire’s and who’s related to whom, and we have those records that people have given to us,” she said.
Reid said she believes the records available at the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum are a true representation of Berlin.
“I think speaks to the community as a whole,” Reid said. “Because it does pull in a lot of social history but then there is some governmental records here.”
For more information, visit the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum at 208 N. Main St. Those interested can call the organization at 410-641-1019 or visit taylorhousemuseum.org.