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50th Anniversary–Historic Florida History history

Posted Feb 18, 2014 Posted by One Comment

May Hill Russell is seated in the center, surrounded by the first Florida History volunteer committee. On Ms. Russell’s right is Betty Bruce and on her left is Sylvia Knight.

Before 1950, the only archives of Key West history were government records or private collections. After the Art and Historical Society was formed in 1950 it maintained a small archives to support the museum. With the founding of the Old Island Restoration Foundation in 1960 it became obvious  that a larger archives was need to support the restoration projects. On February 15, 1964, Monroe County Library Director May Hill Russell formed the Historical Research Committee to act as a single body to compile all the historical material for the city and county.  May Hill Russell called together a group of volunteers to find and collect material for the new archives. One of the volunteers was Betty Bruce who agreed to maintain the material. She started with two boxes behind the circulation desk at the Library on Fleming Street. Later she became a full time employee of the Library, or as she liked to call herself as a “researcher.”

The Florida History Collection, as it became known, soon outgrew the two boxes and moved to various spots within the Library until 1975 when the new wings were added and the Florida History Collection had a home with a small vault  (now the children’s  room). Sylvia Knight joined Betty as a part time assistant.  Betty retired in 1986 and I began work in December 1986.

Sylvia Knight retired in 1991 and I hired Lynda Huey as my assistant and in 1994 Lynda and I were married.

The Florida History Collection continued to grow. In 1993, to meet the need for more security and space, the County Commission added a wing in the rear of the library with a large vault to house the Florida History Collection. Illness forced Lynda to retire in 2006. Because of financial cutbacks, no one was hired to replace Lynda.

As of today, a professional archivist is being hired for the Florida History department. A hearty corps of volunteers scan, catalog, conserve and transcribe donated treasures of Keys history. Through the generosity of the community, the collection continues to grow and Keys cultural heritage is being preserved for future generations.

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One Comment »

  • Scott DeWolfe said:

    Congrats to you Tom and all past & present employees and volunteers who have worked to preserve Key West’s history.