Caked in dust and dating back to 1674, the written records of a growing city
are headed to new homes, to be preserved and made accessible to researchers.
On the upper floors of the grand courthouse, above the Corinthian columns chiseled from granite and the lobby with sweeping marble staircases peeking out from scaffolding, the rows of shelves, barely shoulderwide, form a maze that never seems to end.
Caked in dust on the shelves are leather-bound volumes and stacks of parchment that, in a way, sketch out the story of New York City. Some of the early records swear allegiance to King George III, and the names of historic figures like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr pop up in documents from when they were working as lawyers in the city.
The rows, on the seventh and eighth floors of the Surrogate’s Courthouse in Manhattan, include the condemnation records of the properties taken to make way for Central Park and the city’s grid system of streets. In one room, shelf after shelf is filled with the immigration documents of Europeans who sought to become citizens of the United States.
The vast collection, once part of a bureaucracy aptly named the Division of Ancient Records, is visited occasionally by researchers, like historians and genealogists (both academic and amateur). It is mostly the province of the staff members who tend to the documents, many of which predate the Declaration of Independence.
Do you want to learn more about the preservation of books and documents? Visit Special Collections located on the second floor of the Bartle Library (off of the North Reading Room)