By TERRI HARBER
Restored record books have a more durable hard cover, as with the blue book shown above. Tami Green, Baker County clerk, said some of the ancient pages were laminated for better preservation. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Another major cleanup chore related to last year’s Baker County Courthouse flood was completed recently with the restoration of nearly 100 record books.
The bound records were soaked when sub-freezing temperatures caused a plumbing system failure at the Courthouse over the 2010 Thanksgiving weekend. Water cascaded down three floors of the building and affected the Circuit Court, Assessor’s Office, and planning and water departments significantly.
Inches of water accumulated on the floor in some sections of the basement. This is where many of the county’s historic records are kept.
Some of the documents affected by the flood harked back to the 1880s, said Tami Green, Baker County clerk.Portions of the county’s probate journals, Justice Court dockets, tax warrants, and lot and mortgage information were just some of the documents drenched.
A jail roster from 1902 and an election poll book from 1908 were some of the earlier pieces soaked.
“It (affected) 10 percent of our records,” Green said. “Now they are restored to better-than-original condition.”
A dehumidifier was added to the records vault when the building was cleaned up and repaired.
This will slow deterioration because moisture—as well as heat—is bad for books and other papers, according to document preservation experts and virtually anyone else who spends time working with historic documents.
Cost to restore the books was about $74,000.
The records kept by the county aren’t important just because they are historic documents.
The information contained in the books helps the county and its residents assess and attempt to remedy current problems. They can view deeds, tax rolls, probates and slew of other documents.
Local historian Gary Dielman described the documents as “priceless.”
While it’s easier to get at newspapers, serious researchers often need to see county documents as well to do an adequate job, he said.
When decisions need to be made about roads and whether to allow them to be closed, for example, the county needs to see the history of use, access and ownership.
Hand-drawn descriptions by surveyors who assessed a location decades ago can answer many questions, Dielman said.
“Those records go way, way back,” he said.
In Baker County, large bound record books gave way to microfiche starting in 1965, Green said.