Preserving pieces of the past - The Explorer: Import

Preserving pieces of the past

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Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

August 25, 2004 - The pump house on the Steam Pump Ranch property is now not much more than a pile of bricks, but in Jim Kriegh's kitchen there is a picture of when it still stood, though a little wobbly even then, 15 years ago.

And if you know where to look, there is a picture of that same historic building, the beginning of Oro Valley, standing proud 100 years ago.

The pictures are among hundreds of pieces of the town's history now stored at Kriegh's house and he says he would like to find a better home for them.

The modest brick ranch home seems an appropriate resting place for the documents for now. After all, Kriegh points out, the town officially started in the living room of his home on Calle Concordia when in 1968 a group of homeowners came together one evening to discuss the benefits of incorporating.

But Kriegh, the town's historian, said he wants to see the documents preserved and protected so that future generations can appreciate the work that went into beginning the town.

"These are the kinds of documents that would be hard to replace," he said of the collection, which mostly documents the life of George Pusch as he settled in the Tucson area. "They should be kept in Oro Valley."

As he sorts through the priceless collection scattered throughout the stuffy kitchen over two tables, one sitting among an untuned piano and pictures of his family, another butted up against the refrigerator, he remembers when the collection came to him in boxes, some damaged by water, others nibbled on by mice and rats.

"I had a lot of cleaning and sorting to do," he recalls of the countless hours he has spent figuring out just what the collection contains.

Journals from the 19th Legislative Assembly of Arizona territory, dated 1897, a record of the 12th Annual State Fair held in 1916 and a copy of the proposed constitution of the state of Arizona have found temporary homes in oversized zip-top freezer bags on these tables.

A book inscribed simply "Holy Bible" is held together by two large blue rubber bands, its brown-black leather curling up around the edges.

One brittle document remains rolled up in a Western Union-stamped mailing tube and Kriegh said he is not sure what is inside exactly. As he picks it up, tobacco colored crumbs of Oro Valley's history fall to the table below. Kriegh said it's so fragile he is afraid to handle it too much and so he speculates on what it might contain.

A great amount of work has gone into cataloguing what he has in that kitchen. Kriegh has developed his own numbering system to account for each piece and make it easy to find something specific if inquired about. But Kriegh admits he's no specialist and is more than willing to give the documents over to the right person.

The collection was given to Kriegh by Henry Ziff, the grandson of George Pusch, one of the pioneers of the Tucson area who settled in what is now Oro Valley. As it was entrusted to him by his friend, Kriegh said it is all the more important he make a good decision about its preservation.

Signatures of at least four presidents grace the lines of documents, some now stored in transparent pages of a three-ring binder, where Pusch laid claim to the wild west through the Homestead Act.

No historians have ever looked at the collection, although Kriegh knows it is valuable to the town.

"I haven't turn them loose yet," he said.

The Oro Valley Public Library is a possible future home for the town's historical records, according to Kriegh and Oro Valley library employees.

Kriegh said, ideally, he would even like to see a historical museum built as part of the future Steam Pump Ranch preservation project, being funded through a county bond issue passed by voters in May.

However, he said he has two priorities when it comes to the documents: their safety and a guarantee they will not be taken out of the town no matter what happens in the future. If the town agrees to those terms then Kriegh would be more than happy to let them go to the library.

He said he would like them to be in a place where interested parties could appreciate them as much as he has.

Community Development Director Brent Sinclair said the library currently displays some historical documents in the form of a scrapbook, put together by the Kriegh family, and plans to add display cases during the completion of the library, a project also being funded through the bond issue, in order to give the public access to some additional materials. There also is the possibility some room could be designated specifically for storing the collection. But to take the town's facilities to the level of archival preservation would require additional equipment, such as a vault and climate-controlled storage, which would cost additional money.

At a recent study session to review the library completion plans, councilmember Barry Gillaspie suggested forgoing overflow parking planned with the finished library and budgeted to cost $60,000. He said perhaps the money saved from that project could be used to look into an archival system for the town. He said preserving those documents is an important endeavor.

Head Librarian Mary Hartz-Musgrave said a grant has been obtained from the state library system that will give the town access to professional expertise regarding the storage and display of the materials Kriegh has accumulated, and any other historical documents in the town.

Hartz-Musgrave said it has been recommended by the state that Oro Valley provide a secure room where the documents can be stored. She said because of the hot dry climate of Arizona, climate control is not as high a priority as it might be elsewhere. However, the library or town would still need to secure funding in order to purchase archival grade storage and other specialized equipment for handling the historic materials.

The library is proposing the town designate a space within the complete 25,000 square-foot facility that would be dedicated specifically to historic materials and would be secured so that only those obtaining permission, for example historians, researchers or students, would be able to gain access.

"It's really the seeds for starting a special collection," Hartz-Musgrave said of the proposal, should the town choose to accept it.

Hartz-Musgrave said she has seen the need for local history preservation since she came to the town in 2000. She said preserving the documents in Kriegh's collection is important to historians, which is why the state library system has been willing to help the library develop a preservation plan.

"If you save a historical document of Oro Valley, you save a piece of Arizona," she said. But the documents are important to more than just scholars and historians. She said the unique collection will preserve a sense of the past for residents and people not yet living in Oro Valley.

"It gives future generations a sense of past and of where we come from," she said. Often the first questions from newcomers or visitors are about the town's history and founding, she said.

But before the library would take responsibility for such an important collection as Kriegh's, Hartz-Musgrave said it will be imperative that security is in place.

The scrapbook the town library currently houses is one of a kind, according to Hartz-Musgrave, and she is concerned about its safety also.

She said it is not uncommon for things to come up missing at a library, and librarians are always being contacted to be on the look out for valuable items that have been stolen from other collections.

"Frankly, I don't want to see the town's history on eBay," she said.

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