ABC 6: Flooding nearly destroys 8,000 pictures at Newport Historical Society

January 10, 2024


By: Josh Kurman, ABC 6

NEWPORT, R.I. (WLNE) — The Newport Historical Society put out a call for help when it found out Tuesday’s storm nearly destroyed more than 8,000 photographs.

It was around 8 a.m. Wednesday morning when Executive Director Rebecca Bertrand found the basement of the Burnham Resource Center underwater.

The basement held a collection of photographs from the 1950s onwards, awaiting digitization.

“Unfortunately, the water levels rose up pretty high, and about 20 of the storage boxes that had our photo archives in them collapsed,” Bertrand said. “It’s about 8,000 photos, and some of the photo negatives were impacted from it.”

Now, 70 years of history are spread out on the floor and on clotheslines across the center as Bertrand’s team puts its disaster plan into effect.

“We’ve been taking out every single one of these photo negatives and drying them out on clotheslines,” Bertrand said. “So it’s just like when you’re drying out your laundry. You just take out every one of the photo negatives and dry it, but it’s really careful to keep its record with it, so you know exactly which photo is which.”

Due to their age, most of these photos aren’t too difficult to repair, and the center was already working towards putting them online.

“This is actually a collection that was sort of in process, so it’s something that we’d been working through when researchers reach out, and they say ‘Hey, I’d really like to see a photo from the Newport Daily News from 1985, it was when my mother was in a spelling bee, or my mother won some award,’” Bertrand added. “This sort of an ongoing thing that we do anyway, and this sort of accelerates that process.”

Bertrand told ABC 6 another silver lining was that the damage didn’t impact some of their older works, with exhibits dating back nearly 500 years.

The drying should only take a few days, but this will likely be a months-long project of recovery and repairs to the building for staff with the society.

The center was closed Wednesday and for the foreseeable future, but the society’s other buildings will remain open.

The impact of Tuesday’s storm was felt across Rhode Island with flooding and damages.

The historical society is also looking for donations for the repairs at this link.

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