County archiving wealth of data

Westchester County, a well-to-do suburban enclave just north of New York City, is asking its 45 communities to share their historical riches in a virtual archives project.

The Westchester County Archives, an agency under the county's information technology department, and Westchester Historical Society, a nonprofit group that serves as county historian, are collaborating on the project. It will be modeled on the agency's Civil War Web site (www.westchesterarchives.com/CWhome.htm), which contains maps, private and government records, and letters from soldiers, that debuted last fall.

Patty Dohrenwend, the county archives' director, said the county has the experience and equipment to scan and store such documents and provide around-the-clock access through its site (www.westchesterarchives.com).

"Some of the smaller communities have incredibly rich documents that they're not able to display them easily even to their own citizens," she said. "If an individual community attempted to do this on their own, they would have to spend so much more. It wouldn't happen so easily."

Communities can submit nominations, which are due by April 30, of what they deem to be important historically for the county. For example, Dohrenwend said that Eastchester, N.Y., has a "beautifully crafted original compact of 10 families that settled the town...only a few years after the Mayflower Compact." The city of Peekskill, N.Y., has several maps that document economic development there.

Dohrenwend said teachers and students have extensively used the Civil War site, which cost $15,000 in public and private funds to develop, but she hopes the interest in the virtual archives site would extend to the general public.

The county executive has sent letters to the communities requesting their involvement. Dohrenwend said she would like to see the project debut by spring 2003.

The county will fund most of the costs, and Elmsford, N.Y.-based Fuji Photo Film USA Inc. also has expressed interest in participating, she said.

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