Montpelier City Hall hopes to restore historical records damaged by flooding

Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 5:34 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2023 at 8:18 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Montpelier City Hall remains closed to the public over two weeks after floodwaters raced through the downtown. One of the biggest challenges they face to reopening is taking stock of and restoring damaged historical documents.

“You can see where the water came up to here--right there. My vital records--birth certificates, death certificates were all about here,” said Montpelier City Clerk John Odum. He says about 4 feet of water filled City Hall. “Water destroys things. You can’t just hang them out to dry on the clothesline.”

Lost in the basement were the planning, public works, and historic records, like grand lists. “There’s varying types of damage and varying types of documents, some worse than others. Some escaped damage entirely,” Odum said.

He says all of people’s vital records were spared as well as many land records that have been digitized over the years. “We’re probably going to move whole departments up from the basement to make sure this doesn’t happen again. In the case of some of my records, just place it high enough in the old vault so it’s above any potential waterline,” Odum said.

As for what was damaged, an independent contractor is going to do their best to restore them. “They’ll be vacuumed, freeze-dried, cleaned as needed, and brought back. Then, the staff can continue to provide access to the public to those records,” said Rachel Onuf, director of the Vermont Historical Records Program.

She says Montpelier was the only city with excessive document damage, though they are encouraging other municipalities and individuals to be proactive in protecting important documents. “Upgrading dehumidifiers, keeping windows closed, making sure there’s airflow from a fan.” And even if documents didn’t get wet... “Don’t think the need to keep an eye on them is over. You need to make sure mold doesn’t have an opportunity to bloom.”

Onuf and Odum are hopeful Montpelier will come through this with most of their documents intact. “Things will become clearer as the days go forward and we know more -- what can be saved and what can’t. Until then, there’s a bit of a sense, it’s a waiting game,” Odum said.

For individuals in need of help drying out documents, officials have tips on what you can do on your own with tools from the hardware store. They are also offering in-person help to communities that reach out.