What is in an Historical Society?

Historical societies range in size from full scale museums to a few rooms in the back of town libraries or town halls.   However, they do tend to have a certain number of similarities.  They generally are hybrids between libraries, archives, and museums, including bound books, newspapers, manuscript material such as letters or cards, records such as burial permits or census data, and artifacts relating to local history.  Donated items often form the bulk of the material, creating a unique and somewhat quirky collection.

In New Hartford’s society, one of the quirkier collections is the set of Motor Vehicle Rate books from the mid 1980’s.  On the surface, these appear to be somewhat dull, as they simply describe each vehicle in town and the property tax payed upon it.  However, the data in the books can be mined to create a remarkably vivid picture.  The list is dominated by Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, GM, Buick, Oldsmobile, Chrysler, Pontiac; there are only a few Toyotas, Mazdas, Hondas, Subarus, Volkswagens, Jeeps, and Volvos.  There are even a few ‘home-built’ or ‘custom’ vehicles on the list.  Many of the types have vanished: Skylark, Nova, Fairmount, Roadmasters, the list goes on.  Times change.  What appears to be a simple book opens up as a picture of daily life in the 1980’s.

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