History Lesson: Historical society gifted ‘wealth of information’

Historical society receives treasure trove
Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 6:06 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - “The documents I have in front of me are just a small portion of pension rolls from the Civil War,” said John Stano, a Jefferson County Historical Society trustee. “The documents themselves date back in the late 1800s.”

The Jefferson County Historical Society is bursting with a new — and unexpected — collection.

“A gentleman contacted us last Friday and claimed to have Civil War documents, historical society executive director Toni Engleman said, “but we were kind of skeptical because we never know what they may have.”

Stano was the historian to go check out the boxes. When he got there, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“My initial reaction once I saw what they were was that this was a treasure beyond anyone’s imagination,” Stano said.

There were more than a dozen boxes containing more than a thousand envelopes.

“Each envelope represents a man that served in the Civil War that was in Jefferson County,” Engleman said.

The man who donated the documents inherited them from his father, who took the time to sort and preserve them. But they nearly met an unfortunate fate.

“He was anxious to get rid of stuff.” Engleman said. He’s 93 years old and was cleaning house. He even mentioned that if we didn’t want it he would fire up the backhoe and take care of it himself.”

“Thankfully, we now have these in our possession, and they will be available to the public forever,” said Stano.

Being that the historical society is busy preparing for its grand reopening, and there are so many boxes, they haven’t gone through all of them yet. But they found something special when they went through one of them.

“A gas mask,” Stano said of the discovery. “Gas masks, picked up on the battlefield, September 1915.”

The historical society still has a long way to go in unboxing, reading, and archiving these donations, a challenge they say they’re so grateful to have.

“It’s invaluable information to historians, genealogists, and war buffs,” Engleman said. “It’s just a wealth of information.”