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The Westchester County Archives, usually focused on preserving the county’s past, is using the latest technology to position itself for the future.

More than 9,000 historical photographs and maps stored in archival vaults have been digitized and placed online as part of the newly launched Westchester County Archives’ Digital Collections. The historic documents are now available at www.westchestergov.com/wcarchives and more easily searchable and accessible to residents.

“Every aspect of government needs to be continually improving,” said County Executive Robert P. Astorino. “This digitization project is an example of how technology can be used to upgrade the delivery and efficiency of a government service, while also making it more accessible to the general public.”

The Westchester County Archives collects and preserves county public records and makes them available to researchers. The collection contains more than 60,000 maps, deeds, photos, naturalization records, wills, election records, building plans, estate inventories, court documents, correspondence and minutes of county boards and agencies dating back to 1683 – over 15,000 cubic feet of documents.

The Archives is a rich source of information for not only the county’s many departments, but also for the public at large – through its Website as well as regular hours of the reference room. The Archives stores county government records while the Westchester County Historical Society, located in the same building, keeps historical documents created by individuals and private organizations.

Until now, if you wanted to find photos of the first 20 years of Playland or breathtaking local landscapes with hand-colored tinting, you would have to make a personal visit to the Archives building in Elmsford and enlist the assistance of a staff member. Now, with the online Digital Collections, searchers can just go to their computer and review documents remotely.

“The improved presentation and search function opens up an entirely new venue when it comes to historical investigation in Westchester County,” said Patty Dohrenwend, director of the Archives.
The project was partially paid for through a New York State Archives’ Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund grant and represents several years’ worth of work by staff, project archivists, volunteers and the Department of Information Technology.
 
 “This software allows users to search on several different subjects associated with each photograph, as well as on keywords within the title of the image itself,” said Courtney Fallon, assistant archivist, who spearheaded the development of the Digital Collections. “This capability permits users to quickly find related images at the same time as they are viewing the primary one.  It is a powerful cataloging tool.”

Dohrenwend noted that the images have been refined and enhanced so that once selected, copies which are suitable for framing and/or reproduction can be purchased. 

Parks items in the records series include historical landscapes and buildings from almost every county park in Westchester, including images from opening day at Tibbets Brook Park in 1927 showing a boat regatta, water ballet pageant, and children playing on teeter totters, and images of the old Glen Island Amusement Park with its museum, zoo and beer garden. Photos from Playland date back to the 1930s and include acrobats performing on roller skates, an alligator show and trapeze act, and a glimpse at a banquet for the Westchester County Liquor Dealers.

In addition, the Web site offers access to approximately 80 historical maps filed in the County Clerk’s office, plus cemetery cards and maps that chronicle the Westchester County burial places of American soldiers from the Revolutionary War through World War I. These unique records contain information about veterans such as name, location of residence, date of birth/death, cemetery information, enlistment and service information and sometimes cause of death.

The collection also includes more than 400 images documenting the life of Westchester County's fourth county executive, Edwin G. Michaelian. Covering 1909 to 1984, these images capture Michaelian's public activities as councilman and mayor of White Plains, as well as Westchester county executive (1958-1973). Included in some of the photographs are many municipal, county, state, and national officials and dignitaries of the day.

The Playland photographs, with over 3,400 images, make up the largest part of the collection.  The next largest, consisting of over 1,200 images, is the Parks section, which will eventually contain approximately 7,000 images of Westchester's many county parks, including scenic shots, park buildings, and activities taking place within the parks.
 
Other items already scanned and awaiting cataloging in the Digital Collections include a 1929/1930 atlas of Westchester County and 21 photo albums documenting the construction and early years of the Bronx River Parkway, the nation’s first parkway.  Additional items still to be scanned include newspaper clippings from the Parks Department from the 1920s, scrapbooks from County Executive Michaelian’s administration, coroner inquest records, and additional photograph collections. 

“We could not have brought this project to fruition without our wonderful staff and volunteers,” Dohrenwend said.  “And with this new presentation platform, the County Archives will reach a public that uses powerful search engines for research. We now have the tools to reach beyond our physical reference room so that the county’s rich history is a click away.”

To see the collection or find additional information about the Westchester County Archives, visit www.westchestergov.com/wcarchives.