“I’ll just put this away. It might be good for something sometime.”

How many times do we all say this? The pack-rat syndrome has even become a plot for a couple of “reality” shows on cable TV.

Saving things seems to be a part of human nature for many people, and the fact is, my interest in history would be poorly served if our families had not saved all kinds of things through the generations.

It’s always difficult to guess at the future value or interest in the things we tuck away, and that’s as true of the custodians of our public records as it is of family members trying to sort through an attic filled with clutter.

More than 60 years ago, Charles E. Waterman wondered about the odd assortment of artifacts he came across in storage rooms of the Auburn City Building, then on Spring Street. He wrote about the “Odd and Old Records of Early Auburn” in the March 30, 1940, edition of the Lewiston Evening Journal Magazine Section.

He told of finding records of Poland, which once was a part of Auburn. They dated from 1794. In the basement vault, Waterman found records labeled “licenses,” and he noted that the subjects covered all kinds of activity between 1884 and 1908 including bowling alleys, billiard and pool tables, shoe shining, circus permits, permits to run steam engines, and permits for tent variety shows.

In 1900, he said, there was information about sheep marks in Auburn. Sheep often wandered away from their home farms, and each owner daubed an initial or figure on the side of his sheep with red or black paint.

There’s no end to the information stored away and ignored for decades, and it deserves a careful look before it’s packed up for trash disposal.

There’re also the occasions when government officials know full well the value of deteriorating records, and they take steps to preserve that information. One such example is the “artistic” work by “Portable Bookbinder” E.F. Killian, as his letterhead describes him. Androscoggin County Registry of Deeds contracted with Killion in 1950 to restore dozens of large and small books of deeds, maps and other official documents. An account of the work Killion did in Auburn over nearly a year was written by Arch Soutar in the Feb. 4, 1950, edition of the Lewiston Evening Journal Magazine Section.

The contract amounted to about $6,000, and Soutar said the project took “the better part of a year working every day, many nights, and expending an infinite amount of pains and loving care in execution.” Killion hand-repaired some 270 important record books and mounted numerous maps, often using genuine leather and paste he mixed himself.

The talented bookbinder and his wife moved to Maine for the year he spent renewing the tattered county records.

These twice-a-month “River Views” columns about long-forgotten people and places of the Twin Cities are largely possible because I have quick and easy Internet access to online copies of the Lewiston Evening Journal and Lewiston Daily Sun dating back to the mid-1800s. A few clicks on the computer brings the past alive.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was a young reporter in the newsroom of the Sun in the 1960s, there might be some story requiring a check of facts in the “archives” at the papers’ longtime location at 104 Park St., Lewiston. A visit to the archives meant climbing old, dark stairways to the highest level, where thousands of original newspapers were kept in large cardboard binders. It usually was close to midnight, and that big cob-webby space was lit by just a few bare light bulbs. The challenge was to locate the right date (always misplaced) among stacks of heavy, dust-covered binders.

Searching through musty old papers, books, or household items is both unpleasant and exciting. Something really valuable might turn up. And as unlikely as that may be, it’s as close to a treasure hunt as most of us will ever come.

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Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by emailing [email protected]


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