Deputy County Manager Linda Corliss, left, and York County Registrar of Deeds Nancy Hammond examine a report outlining initial efforts to sort and categorize some of the county’s thousands of historical documents. Another step in the drive to preserve records would be to digitize dcouments now preserved on microfilm. Tammy Wells Photo

ALFRED — An old nondescript-looking hardcover book found in a box along with agricultural reports in a storage room at York County Court House has many tales to tell. The book inscribed “Property of Edward Hayman, July 14, 1798” contains accounts of how the judges of the day arrived at case decisions.

A case for deceit, for example, was found in favor of the plaintiff and the account lays out the process the judge used in his decision making. There were cases of fraud outlined, of libel, and scores of others.

America was new in 1798 — the American revolution that freed the colonies from British rule had ended just 15 years earlier.

But while America was young, York County, founded in 1636, was already 162 years old.

And there are records, lots of them, going back to very early days.

The York County Registry of Deeds meticulously maintains permanent, legal records of deeds and mortgages and the like. Such documents are received and recorded and are available to see and read online.


But there are other records, thousands of pages of documents stored at the courthouse. Some were found in boxes labelled “keep forever.”

A handwritten 1798 book found at York County Court House in Alfred outlines how judges of the day arrived as their decisions on cases. Tammy Wells Photo

And while the county has always been involved in record preservation efforts, there is a move on to do more.

The goal?

“We want to make them accessible to the public online,” said Registrar of Deeds Nancy Hammond. “These are unrecorded documents stored here that have historical significance.”

“They’re wonderful to have, and they need to be preserved before they disintegrate,” said Deputy County Manager Linda Corliss.

Corliss noted a recorded deed can show a property line — but some of the documents that have been found show a lot more, like the back story on how property was divided up in a family.


Some records interact with each other — York County Commissioners records venture into elements of the county court records, maps and documents and the deeds registry.

Paige Lilly of Lilly Archival has been helping York County figure out what it has, and what is significant.

Last fall, the county contracted with the Blue Hill archivist to take a preliminary look at the material. Earlier this year, they entered into a second contract, to undertake further investigation, researching a  conversion of microfilmed material to digital format, writing a guide to York County records and for preservation measures for newly discovered record books, fragile documents, maps, and plans.

York County government is on a mission to preserve many old records – like these York County Commissioner’s Court records. Tammy Wells Photo

Lilly told county commissioners in February that many York County records are at the state archive in Augusta and along with records in Alfred, have been microfilmed.

She also noted some commissioners’ records cross over into business of the registries of deeds and probate — and more.

“The records of the (county) management, providing for public safety and maintaining law and order in York County are intact,” she said. “What is remarkable is the continuous series of records, between what you have in Alfred, on the shelves, and the state archives.”


She indicated there were records from as early as 1636, along with archives of meeting agendas, accompanying reports, budgets, and other items, which she said began to become more regular around 1640.

“Overall, the preservation status of the physical materials is very sound,” said Lilly.

Hammond said the deeds registry became, over time, a repository of historical items. She said not that many years ago, the widow of a man who had been a surveyor brought his maps to the courthouse for safekeeping. They are not formally recorded, but the maps are there.

There are Civil War records. When a Civil War veteran died for example, an accounting would be taken of the contents of his house, said Hammond, which was then deposited with the county.

Another box was labelled, in period handwriting, “1816-1828 deeds and other papers received, on file only for safekeeping.”

One item, called a bond for a deed, outlined an agreement between Philips Exeter Academy, the private school located in Exeter, New Hampshire, which owned property in the town of Shapleigh. Corliss and Hammond said it was their understanding that the school owned property in various New England locales, left to it by alumni and others. The Shapleigh agreement specified that if the family that farmed the property provided corn to the school as payment  over a specified number of years, the land would then transfer to the farmer.


There are many boxes of items. Now, as part of the effort to ensure they are kept in as good a condition as possible, they are kept in a humidity-controlled environment.

Commissioners are all in favor of continued preservation. As the state court moves away from the county-owned courthouse to a new state-owned facility in Biddeford, Commissioner Richard Clark noted there will be room available for future archival storage.

“It is important to preserve (these documents), and I am so pleased the county is looking at taking care of them, no matter how long it takes,” said Commissioner Donna Ring.

As Hammond and Corliss provided a tour of the document storage space recently, they talked of the future, and the effort to have the documents online, for the public. They looked around at other items too, that speak to more recent history. Perhaps, they mused, this effort is the groundwork for a potential York County museum.

In the meantime, Corliss, a history buff, has been reading Hayman’s 1798 book. It is slow going, she said, but fascinating. And, she said, while there have been changes to the court system over the years, some things appear to be constant. “The process is the same as the judges go through now,” she said of how decisions are reached.

County officials are looking forward to the days when items like the Hayman book will be available to the public online.

Besides court process and arriving at decisions, the writer of the book talks about deadlines, and more mundane tasks, like his need to pick up his carriage that was being repaired.

“It gives you a snapshot of the time,” said Corliss.

Comments are not available on this story.