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Searching for Clues: Investigating the Stories behind the Forest Service History Collection

Pacific Northwest Regional Office, Portland, Oregon, 1996
by Jan Prior, Archaeologist

In the spring of 1996, in an unheated and dimly lit warehouse located in the noisy industrial area of northwest Portland, Oregon, 11 very dedicated volunteers gathered to search through the Forest Service’s History Collection. This project was hosted by the Pacific Northwest Regional Office of the Forest Service. Accumulated over the years were boxes of documents, books, photographs, uniforms, equipment, displays, and other miscellaneous items. The primary goal of the project was to inventory the collection, and to determine what had been cataloged in the past. With the assistance of 11 Forest Service retirees, much was accomplished. Many items, including photographs and the entire collection of phone and camera equipment, were identified. Plans for at least one follow-up session to try to complete the inventory are underway.

Special presentations also were given during the week. Regional Sociologist Jerry Williams gave a slide show on the history of the Forest Service. Ray Steiger, former manager of the collection, explained past work with the collection done mostly by volunteer Forest Service retirees. Finally, Developed Sites Specialist and Regional Historian Gail Throop presented a slide show on the history and evolution of Forest Service buildings.

Our next goal is to assess the condition and make plans for long-term storage of the materials, particularly the textile, paper, and photographic items. Observations during the PIT project revealed numerous items in various stages of decay. Archival papers and polyethylene bags were purchased for temporary storage of some of the more fragile photos and documents. One of the most pressing concerns is a box of highly flammable nitrate negatives. We need to assess whether the negatives should be copied and disposed of. Finally, a suitable location must be found for long-term preservation of the collection. Once the items in the collection are inventoried and cataloged, they will be made available for loans to the forests, provided that secure and protective display areas are used.
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