It’s been over two-and-a-half months since the Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society was struck by Tropical Depression Ida and the organization is still recovering. Kaaren Smith, BMSHS’s executive director, said 16 inches of water flooded the office in early September.
“We first moved into our home in the lower level of the library [adjacent to the Recreation Department] in 2009 and we’ve had six floods in the building since that time. This was by far the worst,” says Smith. “By the time I saw the office, they had pumped out the water and it was just wet and muddy inside. Documents in every bottom file drawer or bookshelf were saturated in water and rugs were leaking dye.”
The rainwater drenched a wide array of written records, newspaper articles, binders, books, and other historical artifacts, “running the gamut from collection records for items belonging to Briarcliff founding father Walter W. Law to files about the Scouts’ activities in town,” she said.
Items that had to be rescued and dried out included files marked “Pictures & History of Homes on Roads: Scarborough Station to Zuydhoek Road.”
Other materials recovered included scrapbooks filled with local newspaper clippings. At first Smith thought that 10 to 12 of the 45 volumes were lost, but she was able to save the most significant articles and obituaries.
Fortunately, some of the most treasured items were untouched. “In the hallway outside our office are two locked cabinets which contain ‘the original originals,’ and there was very little damage done, virtually none,” says Smith. The archival boxes in these cabinets include scrapbooks that are over 100 years old, flags, maps, books, and a couple of Walter W. Law’s property sales ledgers.
Board members and volunteers took the salvageable materials out and laid them out on the floor of the basement of the Briarcliff Manor Youth Center to be dried out by industrial fans. Additional materials were spread outside to dry on the lawn. “We knocked ourselves out to save as much as we possibly could, and we’ve been able to save much more than we originally believed,” says Smith.
Working out of an office she set up on the lounge level of the Youth Center, Smith was spending up to eight hours a day sorting and filing the damaged materials and hoped to be finished soon. “I’m thrilled to be able to know what I’m looking at and to be able to give it a home,” she says. One example of what Smith salvaged was a file of correspondence between Harold Van Buren Magonigle, the esteemed architect of Mrs. Dow’s School for Girls (formerly on Elm Road) founded in 1903, and Mary Dow, the school’s headmistress.
Smith is hoping that the BMSHS will be able to move back into the Briarcliff Library by spring. According to Briarcliff Mayor Steve Vecsio, “There will always be a place for the historical society here in Briarcliff. We are looking to preserve their collection in a space that’s more secure and weathertight than it has previously been because these artifacts are so important to the history of the village.”
Donations will help restore salvageable materials and reproduce what can’t be restored. Checks can be sent to the BMSHS at P.O. Box 11, Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510. For community members looking to get involved, the Society needs volunteers to conduct research and to help organize files. As the Society looks ahead to celebrating its 50th anniversary it 2024, it is seeking to fill positions such as treasury, program, communications, and information technology managers. For more information, visit briarcliffhistory.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Joseph Mogil is a freelance writer residing in Briarcliff Manor.