Preserving Berlin History ─ PSU and ‘Beyond Brown Paper’

February 16th, 2007 by Adam

A century ago, Brown Paper Company was a larger-than-life presence in New Hampshire’s North Country. From teams of loggers working their trade with horses in the vast forests of Coos County, to the Androscoggin River overflowing with logs bound for their huge mill in Berlin, Brown Paper was the backdrop for the region’s social and economic landscape. However, that once-dominant industry has faded, and all that remains of the company are legal documents, photographs and old buildings.

But the Brown Paper Company’s legacy is still very much alive, thanks to a consortium of local groups and Plymouth State University, which has committed three collaborative departments at Plymouth State University — Lamson Library’s Michael J. Spinelli Jr. Center for University Archives and Special Collections, Karl Drerup Art Gallery and the Center for Rural Partnerships. The focal point of the collection is more than 11,000 photographs Brown Paper accumulated of the region.

Many of the archival photographs are available for viewing on the Plymouth State University-sponsored Web site, Beyond Brown Paper, http://beyondbrownpaper.plymouth.edu/. With virtually no publicity, the Web site has been extremely successful, attracting more than 250,000 ‘hits’ since it was launched in mid-December.

“The photographs tell the story of a town, a region, and a company, for the first half of the 20th century” said Alice Staples, PSU Special Collections librarian. “They chronicle the paper manufacturing process, from trees to finished product, including many innovations in the processes and products. There are many photographs of people and activities in the town of Berlin, school activities, sports, parades and more. Most of these photographs have dates, locations and descriptions attached. This collection gives to the researcher an unparalleled opportunity to study the life and times of northern New Hampshire.”

“Fulfilling its mission as a regional comprehensive university, Plymouth State University is able to make this valuable public resource available to whoever wants to use it,” said Thad Guldbrandsen, executive director of the Center for Rural Partnerships. “These are beautiful photographs that depict the everyday life of everyday people in a rural place. The Northern Forest Region is changing, and people are eager to engage the past. I am glad that Plymouth State University has the capacity to make using these fragile historical photos so easy.”

“Photography, like other art forms, is embedded with social meaning, cultural histories and stories,” explains Catherine Amidon, director of the Karl Drerup Art Gallery. “More than Brown Paper is a virtual exhibition that preserves a significant collection of photographic material and reconnects art to the local community that engendered it. Rather than using traditional modes of research, where scholars do the work and present the results to the public, in this case research directly involves the northern New Hampshire community in identifying places, events, people and habits; their participation builds the exhibition and preserves local knowledge.”

David Berona, Lamson Library director, notes PSU is working with a local group in facilitating more public access to the collection. “We are working closely with the Arts Alliance volunteers who will be using a laptop, purchased through our grant from New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, to promote this project to the residents of Berlin.”

The laptop computer will be made available at different locations in the greater Berlin area to allow residents to view the collection, even if they don’t have computer access.

In addition to the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, other organizations collaborating with the Beyond Brown Paper project include Northern Forest Center’s “Ways of the Woods” traveling exhibition and the Monadnock Institute’s (Franklin Pierce College) edited volume about the North Country.

For more information, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or blyndes@plymouth.edu