Deering Town Hall basement yields historical treasure trove
DEERING - When Nancy Cowan decided to clean out the basement of the Deering Town Hall, the town clerk and tax collector had no idea that among the cobwebs, she and her staff would find some important pieces of town history.
Boxes of historical documents, returned to the town by families of former tax collectors and town clerks over the years, contained some interesting documents, including town reports from as early as 1900, dog licensing books from the 1940s and blue books for vehicles from the '50s to '70s.
But one discovery took Cowan's breath away.
As Assistant Town Clerk and Tax Collector Sarah Gladu lifted one particular box, the bottom of it let go, spilling its contents everywhere.
Among the paperwork was a stack of gubernatorial and presidential election ballots from 1892.
"The ballots were the first thing I saw when the box broke open," Gladu said. "I couldn't believe it."
Cowan said finding any ballots at all is a rarity.
"Ballots usually got destroyed two years after the elections," she said.
After keeping copies for the town archives and sending some to the secretary of state's office, Cowan got to thinking of how to preserve the new treasure trove of Deering history.
With no money in the town budget to properly archive the material, Cowan decided to turn to the history itself in order to help preserve it.
Selectmen granted Cowan permission to sell the duplicate copies of the ballots, town reports and other items, and the proceeds will be used to purchase a scanner and indexing software, so Cowan can organize all of the documentation of the town.
"We need to preserve the historical documents that are just sitting here in boxes," Cowan said.
The town also has boxes of documents written on parchment from as early as 1793, discovered when the town offices were renovated in 2004.
"Eight years later, they're still in boxes," Cowan said, "and it would be nice to preserve them."
Cowan said her plan to sell the items really comes down to finding a creative way to fund an important project.
"I'm not going to ask my taxpayers to dig into their pockets for something that's not a need, that won't put tar on the roads," she said. "Times are tough, and as the tax collector, no one knows that better than I."
Cowan said she's hoping that residents will want to have a piece of town memorabilia of their own.
"People may be interested in a town report that has the birth, death or marriage of a relative," she said. "My feeling is the people of Deering really appreciate history."
Items will on sale through the town clerk's office, and will be displayed on election day on March 12.