Town vault reorganization makes vital records more accessible in Amherst

Will Ludt, chairman of the Amherst Heritage Commission, has been overseeing a town hall vault project with the goal of identifying, arranging and properly storing items that have been here since town hall was built as a courthouse in the mid-18th century.

AMHERST – Like every town, Amherst stores a great number of vital records, including those of historic value, and has struggled over the years to keep them in some semblance of order.

Not anymore. Now, town records are professionally labeled and stored.

Will Ludt, chairman of the Amherst Heritage Commission, has been overseeing a town hall vault project with the goal of identifying, arranging and properly storing items that have been here since town hall was built as a courthouse in the mid-18th century.

What was once a “holding place for random documents,” is now a place were records, some going back to the 1700s, are accessible, Ludt told selectmen recently.

Storage in the vault had been a mess, he said, and now space is freed up for important future town records.

Documents, like this map of Amherst’s one-room school districts from the 19th century, are now organized for storage in the town hall vault.

And these vital records – of births, deaths, taxes and selectmen’s meeting minutes – are now well labeled.

“Nancy will have more uncluttered space,” he said, referring to town Clerk Nancy Demers.

Finding aids will list all of the vault’s documents by age or description, and information and photos will eventually be available on the town website.

Money for the project came from the Bertha Rogers Fund, and a “moose plate” grant through the state library allowed the commission to hire a records consultant who organized records from the 1760s until now.

“It is very orderly,” Ludt said. “I feel 100 percent better” now that some of Amherst’s hidden treasures are properly stored.

All property deeds are now in archival boxes on their own shelves, and space is now available for future tax inventories and voting ballots as they are bound. There also is space for the clerk to put ballots, and records now are in easy-to-maintain formats, and delicate documents are in protective storage, Ludt explained.

Beyond the practical benefits of having well-organized records, Ludt said, the records show “lives lived,” giving a glimpse of the past, almost bringing to life people who were born here, got married here, raised children here, bought property here and died here.

Tax records from the 1800s, for example, show people, most of them farmers, were “scratching a living” and taxed on their cows and their fields.

“Even the dogs come to life,” he said.

A record of dog licenses from 1893 indicate they were $2 each, with the money used to repay farmers who lost livestock to dogs.

There also is a hand-drawn map of the Amherst School District from 1844, and Ludt’s favorite, a Civil War military orderly book of the 5th New Hampshire Regiment, which suffered more casualties than any other Union Army regiment.

Ludt also wants to bring some items out of storage and display them in the town hall’s Barbara Landry room, where town boards meet, to pay homage to the building’s origin as a courthouse.

The Department of Public Works has been helping to remove old, broken shelves in the vault, which is about 12 by 7 feet and 10 feet high, and replace them with new ones. Local historian Katrina Holman, town librarian Ruslyn Vear and town hall staff are helping with the project.

“Everyone’s been very supportive,” Ludt said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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