The collection of historical artifacts and documents in The West End Museum’s archives is one of the key sources for creating new exhibits and finding ways to teach Boston residents and visitors alike about the old neighborhood. The archives are a major part of the organization’s effort to keep the West End alive in the memories of Bostonians, old and new—as well as tourists—and honor those who lived here before the demolition of urban renewal in the late 1950s.
In 2012, James Campano, founder of The West End Museum, donated what would become the basis of the Museum’s archives. Since then the collection of newspaper articles, photos, and even memorabilia like old sports trophies, has grown slowly but steadily to fill more than 10 shelves in a climate-controlled room. The shelves are divided into sections by topic, such as historic photographs and famous West Enders (like Leonard Nimoy, Ruth Roman and Buddy Clark).
In addition to objects donated by Campano, the estate of Hyman Rosenberg—a well-known former resident who was active in the West End House—recently gave the Museum 50 years worth of newspapers from or about the neighborhood. These and all donated materials are checked for condition, removing anything that could damage them in the long term (e.g., staples), and then categorized by subject matter and date, and stored in the climate-controlled room. Any materials that aren’t relevant to the West End are shared with other interested museums.
The Museum’s volunteer archives committee is digitizing materials to ensure their eternal survival. Committee members meet one day a week and work on sorting, preserving and digitizing the collection.
Items in the archives are used by Museum staff to do research for new exhibits, or by journalists writing articles or books, and can be viewed by the public by appointment. There are numerous stories of former West Enders visiting to reminisce about old times as they look through the collections of photographs from their childhoods, point out who the young people in the images are, and laugh about old rumors of who was dating whom.
Among the prized possessions in the Museum’s archives are:
- Hundreds of photographs by former West End resident Charles Frani, who captured images of the changing neighborhood over the course of two decades, including documenting the final days of demolition and relocation under “urban renewal.” (see selected images here organized by year under “Frani Collection”)
- The West Ender, Campano’s newspaper-format publication, which has been distributed to former residents since 1985 and has helped to maintain many old community connections.
- Nearly 200 West End Video Newsletter shows produced between 1988 and 2006, which feature former West Ender’s oral histories, neighborhood news and organizations with roots in the old West End.
The protection and maintenance of the archives is possible because of a generous grant from the estate of Pieter Burgess. Burgess, along with Duane Lucia—the Museum’s director at the time—first created the archives by sorting and preserving for future generations the materials donated by Campano. The current archive committee aims to expand the collection to further sustain the history and culture of the West End. They encourage anyone with historic documents or artifacts to consider donating them. Potential donors are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-723-2125.