The Martha Woodroof Hiden Memorial Collection, more locally known as the Virginiana Room, is located within the Main Street Library of the Newport News Public Library System (NNPLS). The Virginiana Room contains a historically important collection of items from a land development company called the Old Dominion Land Company. This business collection contains one-of-a-kind documents, maps, brochures, photographs, ledgers, and minute books that document the development of the original City of Newport News from 1880–1948. This article will begin with a brief history of the Old Dominion Land Company and its relationship to the City of Newport News, Virginia. This will be followed by a detailed description of the multiple methods that have been incorporated to date, preserve, and provide extended access to these valuable and often fragile materials.
The Old Dominion Land Company was created by nationally known railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington and his business associates in 1880. Collis P. Huntington is well known for being a major contributor to the creation of the first intercontinental railroad. As can be seen by reviewing the documents and maps, this company was responsible for the development of most of the original City of Newport News, mainly the area now considered downtown. The company also owned the land in old Warwick County used to create the city’s reservoir system and had a hand in the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.
The Old Dominion Land Company Records and Map Collection contains nearly 100,000 pages of documents and more than 700 maps. The information within these maps and documents is extremely valuable to anyone interested in the history of the development of the City of Newport News. Therefore, it has been a goal of the Newport News Public Library System to both preserve and provide wider access to this treasure trove of information. NNPLS has used several different methods to achieve this goal.
The first method of preservation and provision of access utilized on the Old Dominion Land Company Collection was microfilm. In 1982 and 2006, the Newport News Public Library System entered into agreements with the Library of Virginia (LVA) to microfilm the map portion of the collection and sections of the Old Dominion Land Company Records mutually agreed to be historically significant. The records were brought to LVA for microfilming. Use copies of the microfilmed records were given to NNPLS for the Virginiana Room. Another use copy was retained by LVA for its reading rooms. The master copy of the microfilm is in LVA’s safe storage facility. Through this joint effort, very important documents within the Old Dominion Land Company Collection have been preserved and had their accessibility increased for the patrons of both NNPLS and LVA. In addition, the microfilm rolls will help protect the original documents from excessive handling by the public.
NNPLS next moved to digitization and conservation of the Old Dominion Land Company Maps. In 2007, the library contracted with the Northeast Document Conservation Center to have the Old Dominion Land Company Map Collection digitized. Some of the maps in the worst condition were also cleaned and had tears repaired and pressure-sensitive acidic tape removed. The first 300 maps by chronological order have been digitized. The archival digital files contain images of 300 to 600 dpi, depending on the size of the original map. At the same time, derivative files of 90 dpi were created for everyday use (to increase download speed).
While preparing the maps for their journey to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the maps were rehoused in new storage and display folders to help support and enclose them. This method allowed for preservation and protection of the physical maps as well as the ability to provide greater access to them in both physical and digital forms.
The Newport News Public Library System previously purchased a server and digital library content management software called CONTENTdm. These purchases have allowed the library system to create a digital library containing and describing the digitized map collection. Now anyone in the world with Internet access can view these maps and learn more about the City of Newport News.
In 2009, an Epson Expression 10000XL scanner was purchased to provide the ability to digitize postcards, photographs, documents, and the smaller maps in-house. These items are being scanned at 600 dpi for very dense and high-resolution image files for archival purposes. The images are being stored on two external hard drives of two-terabyte capacity. When images are ready to be transferred to the digital library, lower-resolution images are derived from the archival files.
In addition to the Old Dominion Land Company Map Collection available in the NNPLS Digital Library, there are two collections of postcards and a collection of early Old Dominion Land Company documents and booklets. The digital library is an ongoing project.
The final method of access is a twelve-panel exhibit that the library created utilizing documents, maps, and photographs from the Old Dominion Land Company Collection. The exhibit, “The Old Dominion Land Company and the Development of the City of Newport News, Virginia,” is available in both physical form and online. The library system contracted with Mellon Street Graphics to help create it. Funding was obtained from a bequest made to Main Street Library by Dr. Herbert Neisser and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Records contained in the Virginiana Room were used to provide a very creative form of public access.
The staff of the Newport News Public Library System have used multiple methods for preserving and providing access to the unique collections held within the Martha Woodroof Hiden Memorial Collection. It has definitely been a learning experience that will continue for many years to come. The collections in this article can be accessed at Newport News Digital Library (www.nngov.com/library/resources/digital) and “The Old Dominion Land Company and the Development of the City of Newport News, Virginia” (http://184.108.40.206/odlcexhibit/index/).