Roof leak stirs records fears

Town resident Kelly Morron shows shelves containing 1800s land records only several feet from where the water fell. — Tony Spinelli photo
Town resident Kelly Morron shows shelves containing 1800s land records only several feet from where the water fell. — Tony Spinelli photo

When Wilton resident Kelly Morron heard that a rainstorm on Aug. 1 caused water to pour into the vault at the town clerk’s office, she rushed to check out the damage as soon as possible.

Luckily, no actual records were damaged, although water fell within feet of where they were standing or lying on shelves, between hardbound covers.

“I was very concerned,” said Morron, who visits the vault frequently to research old land records for properties including her own home.

She removed one of the volumes from the big shelf unit, not far from where the water had fallen, and showed how the records were from the early 1800s. They were handwritten.

“It would have been an irreplaceable loss,” Morron said.

It is true that many towns store documents at places of safekeeping like Iron Mountain, but that is not possible for all these records because state law mandates that the original copies be kept accessible to the public, she said.

A close-up of handwritten pages from an early-1800s land records book. — Tony Spinelli photo
A close-up of handwritten pages from an early-1800s land records book. — Tony Spinelli photo

Town Clerk Lori Kaback confirmed that none of the records were damaged by the rain.

“The water fell right in the middle, here, here and here,” she said, pointing to a countertop under which dozens of hardbound records for grantors and grantees lay, to several desks and chairs where the public can sit when doing research, and near a coin-operated copy machine the public is invited to use.

There was no repair work on the building’s roof Aug. 10, but there could be soon. That’s because the Board of Selectmen took action at its meeting on Aug. 6 to quickly repair the town hall roof by authorizing First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to sign a contract.

The work is going out to bid.

The action came upon the request of Chris Burney, director of facilities and public works, who estimates it will cost about $50,000 to repair the 1,000-square-foot section of roof over the town clerk’s office. He has already directed spot repairs of the roof to prevent further damage from rain.

“These are some of the oldest land records in town. They are irreplaceable,” Burney told the selectmen, in requesting the special funding move.

Town officials had previously been notified the roof needs to be replaced but this was a new development.

Burney said he ordered the section of roof to be temporarily patched, which was done, but it needs a permanent repair before the winter. The damaged section can be repaired without affecting other sections, Burney said.

The good luck that prevented the loss of historical records was not Wilton’s first. The town has not lost any records, said historian Bob Russell. If so, it would be a non-recoverable loss, which some governments have suffered, the most notable being the entire U.S. Census for 1890, which was lost in a fire.  

Locally, the Cannon Grange lost its early records when the garage where they were stored was flooded, Russell said.  The basement of the Wilton Library was flooded in the 1955 flood and some Wilton Historical Society records were lost. Many years ago the Wilton Congregational Church lost the earliest records from 1726 to 1732, all irreplaceable, Russell said.

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