Hampshire Council of Governments Donates Rare and Valuable Records to UMass Amherst Libraries

Gift of County Documents Achieves Preservation and Access

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - The UMass Amherst Libraries and Hampshire Council of Governments (HCOG) today announced a major gift of materials to the Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives. The donation consists of paper records dealing with Hampshire County business from as early as 1677; the exceptional collection is currently being appraised.

"We are excited to allow for the permanent preservation of our valuable history in a manner that will keep the records in the public domain and in a format that will permit easy access," says Todd Ford, executive director of the council. "We hope that this arrangement inspires any town in the region to seek a similar arrangement with UMass."

The records include court dockets, road, railroad and dam construction documents, censuses and maps. Among the many valuable records in the collection is a large folio volume containing maps of roadways drawn by engineers in western Massachusetts more than 200 years ago. A limited number of the maps have been digitized at the outset to help build awareness of the collection’s potential as an open, accessible resource. Plans are underway to digitize much of the collection over the next two years.

"This is an astonishing gift," said Rob Cox, head of Special Collections and University Archives at UMass Amherst, "a historic treasure of western Massachusetts. Historians are already knocking at our door. This acquisition expands our services and resources to scholars in legal studies, genealogists, landscape and regional planners, developers and engineers. What a fertile mix."

UMass Amherst alumnus and environmental urban planner Michael Cote originally came across the collection and sparked the eventual gift while researching old railroad maps to locate a property that the City of Northampton wanted to buy and conserve. Cote finally found the information he needed in the holdings at the HCOG. "There were hundreds of them. Gorgeous, hand-drawn maps, dating to the mid-1700s," says Cote. "As soon as I saw them, I decided on the spot I’d make it my mission to save them."

After several false starts with private historians and at least one other university, Cote connected with Cox at the UMass Amherst Libraries. He arranged a meeting with Lydia King, the executive assistant at HCOG who curated the collection for many years.

"When he went into the room," says Cote, "Cox, a historian of New England, nearly broke into tears. His voice was trembling, and I swear at one point he almost fainted when he found a hand-drawn map from 1773, with a drawing of the historic house that he now owns." Cox committed UMass Amherst Libraries’ Special Collections interest on the spot.

The records were securely transferred in March to the Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives offices on the 25th floor of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. They are available for use by appointment.

The UMass Amherst Libraries comprise the largest such state-supported institution in New England. Holdings broadly span print and digital media, with more than 8 million distinct items in the collection, much of it available to the campus community and the wider world around the clock, from virtually anywhere. The Libraries include the Science and Engineering Library in Lederle Graduate Research Center, the Image Collection Library in Bartlett Hall; the Music Reserve Lab in the Fine Arts Center, and the 28-story Du Bois Library and Learning Commons, located at the heart of the campus.

The Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), located on the top floors of the Du Bois Library, is a center for research into the history and impact of social change and the history of New England. With substantial holdings in African-American history and culture, social and racial justice, agriculture, the environment and organized labor, the department houses approximately 35,000 rare books, nationally significant manuscript collections, historic maps, and the official records of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The recent acquisition of the Mark H. McCormack Papers, a gift from the family of the pioneering sport marketer and IMG founder, represents the largest single philanthropic gesture ever to the University of Massachusetts system. SCUA supports the work of a wide range of researchers, from undergraduates to senior scholars, and journalists to family historians.

The Hampshire Council of Governments is a voluntary association of cities and towns in the Hampshire County area. A body politic and corporate, its charter is ratified by Massachusetts General Law. The council monitors electricity supply and cost; oversees building inspection and zoning enforcement, organizes cooperative purchasing, coordinates distribution of federal surplus equipment, manages health insurance for employees of regional local governments, and oversees tobacco control.

Photos available by calling the Office of News and Media Relations at 413-545-0444.

Todd D. Ford, executive director, HCOG, 413/584-1300 x2, tford@hampshirecog.org

Michael Cote, 206/550-3034, michaelcote@gmail.com

Robert S. Cox, Special Collections & University Archives, 413/545-6842

Carol Connare, director of Library Development and Communication, 413/545-0995,