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Restored items from Chatham County courthouse fire returned to historical museum

Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - "I'm excited and impressed with the restoration work that Susanne and Maritime Studies graduate students have done,” beamed Marolyn McDiarmid on seeing two historical treasures on their return to the Chatham Historical Museum on May 10, 2011, adding, “Excellent work!"

Now cleaned and protected from deterioration, the seal press and stenograph were returned to the Chatham County Historical Association, Inc. in even better condition than they were when they were originally given to the historical group. Soon after the disastrous courthouse fire of March 28, 2010, Susanne Grieve, now Director of Conservation in the Department of History’s Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University, offered to assess damage to selected artifacts in the Chatham Historical Museum, and went on to offer pro bono services of the conservation laboratory to treat the objects.

A seal press for embossing the corporate seal of the Hadley-Peoples Manufacturing Company, and donated to the Chatham Historical Museum in 2001 by Paul W. Baker, suffered water damage from the courthouse fire. Rusting of the cast iron press caused both stamp and the lion’s head shaft to fuse, but were freed in the lab. “Because you told us that student visitors had been able to handle the press, our treatment of this piece was designed so that it would withstand careful handling,” Ms. Grieve said.

In a research report, Nicole Wittig described her identification of the late 19th-century stenograph, a kind of shorthand machine, which had previously been thought to be a Civil War coding device. “This piece was particularly interesting because it combined several materials,” Ms. Grieve explained. The keys are an early type of plastic, Bakelite, while the frame is iron, and a carrying case is leather mounted on cardboard. Also used in this early form of typewriter were brass, wood, felt, rubber, and inked ribbon. After cleaning, the colors are bright and both century-old pieces are ready to go on display. “They have a lot of life left in them,” Ms. Grieve said. “I really enjoyed working on this.”

“We are deeply grateful to Ms. Grieve and her conservation class for their meticulous work in restoring these artifacts to full glory,” said Jane Pyle, museum curator, adding, “The respect for the objects was matched only by the enthusiasm of students and instructor alike for working with the artifacts.” The artifacts and a report with details of the conservation work will be exhibited at the Chatham Historical Museum during regular hours (Wednesday, noon – 3 p.m., and First Sunday, 1-4 p.m., 184 East Street, Pittsboro) through August 2011 and in the new museum in the restored courthouse following its reopening.

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Restored items from Chatham County courthouse fire returned to historical museum
Susanne Grieve explains restoration treatment of stenograph, as Marolyn McDiarmid looks on.
Photograph by Barbara Pugh

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