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More than a dozen people gathered this week for a most difficult and urgent task: salvaging the crumbling historical documents of Boathouse Row.

Some records, dating back as far as the 1850s, lie gathering dust or mold in people’s attics or basements; some are stashed in overheated storage rooms in the boathouses; and an untold number of items are lost, lost in the wide wide world — documents and medals that heirs don’t want or don’t understand and end up in antique shops or landfills.
“We lose stuff, members take things home, they die,” said Henry Hauptfuhrer of the Bachelors Barge Club.

Boathouse Row history buffs eye documents at the Malta Boat Club Boathouse Row history buffs eye old documents at the Malta Boat Club[/caption]

 The boat club members who gathered and who care about these records all had stories to tell. “We discovered 60 years of records at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that we didn’t know about,” said Rick Stehlik of the Malta Boat Club. After some investigation, he learned the name of the donor in the 1940s, who was never a member of Malta but was likely a rare book dealer. How the dealer got the records and why he had the foresight to place them in safe keeping is an unknown but happy outcome.
John Basinski of the University Barge Club talked about a former club president, George Harding,  stumbling on original club records  in a Reading antique store. A member of the  Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club, the oldest competitive women’s rowing club in the country, reported that club minutes were rescued from the trash. Today 33 boxes of PGRC minutes are now at the Historical Society. “It’s in their catalogue,” said club president Sophie Socha.
Others are debating whether to give records to archives such as the Historical Society or the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum or even possibly the Philadelphia Free Library, where they will be preserved and available to the public today and in the future. 
Some clubs are loathe to lose control of their history and are now copying and digitizing documents and artwork. “You want to make sure every object is photographed,” said Hauptfuhrer. His club is taking deteriorating originals off the walls, storing them properly and replacing them with digital copies that improve on the originals. He recommends smoke detectors in every room, even in closets. “You could lose an entire collection.” 
Money could be an issue but Stehlki said that with a $200 scanner he and Malta’s Chuck Patterson copied 7,000 pages, from the 1880s forward. But given how quickly technology is born and dies, he warned that “100 years from now the format that will survive is paper.”
Going forward, the group wants to share resources and information with each other, and begin cataloguing where stuff is.
Want to help? Have advice to give? Contact me at and I’ll connect you to the group.