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West Overton seeks funds to authenticate documents

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 8:14 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Trib Total Media
West Overton Village & Museums Director Jessica Kadie-Barclay handles delicate documents recently discovered that bear signatures from Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, inside the West Overton museum office. As volunteers worked to organize relics from the museum, documents and artwork were found, which opens up a whole lot of questions as to how the relics arrived at West Overton.
Evan R. Sanders | Trib Total Media
West Overton Village & Museums Director Jessica Kadie-Barclay displays a letter from Albert Gallatin dated March 14, 1823, that was discovered.
Evan R. Sanders | Trib Total Media
West Overton Museum Director Jessica Kadie-Barclay holds a magnifying glass to better display the signature of Benjamin Franklin on numerous delicate documents recently discovered in the West Overton museum office. The museum will attempt to verify their authenticity.
Evan R. Sanders | Trib Total Media
A document signed by Benjamin Franklin recently was found in the West Overton museum office.
Evan R. Sanders | Trib Total Media
A document with the signature of Abraham Lincoln recently was discovered in the West Overton museum office.

Documents from as early as the 1700s that have surfaced at West Overton Village & Museums bear signatures of some of the nation's top historical figures, like President Abraham Lincoln and his secretary of state, William H. Seward; Benjamin Franklin; Albert Gallatin; and President James Monroe.

“Every day is find day,” said Jessica Kadie-Barclay, the museum's managing director.

Though the discovery of the treasures would excite any historian, the museum will need to find the funds to authenticate and preserve the documents, she said.

The documents will be sent — probably hand-carried — to the Conservation Center for Arts and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. The cost to have each authenticated is approximately $150, Kadie-Barclay said. The treatment to restore and preserve them is estimated to cost $1,000 or more per item.

“And we don't have anybody to cover the cost,” Kadie-Barclay said.

The documents include:

• A letter from Gallatin from Paris written on March 14, 1823, to a J.D. Garefche, Esq., consul and acting counsel to the United States of America.

• Two land grants made in 1787 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and signed by Benjamin Franklin, probably for men who fought in the Revolutionary War.

• A land grant signed by President James Monroe, dated Aug. 16, 1824.

• A document signed by President James Polk and his secretary of state, James Buchanan, that appears to appoint a man, possibly Robert Flenniken of Uniontown and Greene County, to a post in Denmark.

• A document appointing James A. Springer as assistant postmaster to Uniontown, dated July 16, 1861 and signed by Lincoln and Seward.

Kadie-Barclay said the museum staff's research indicates that Springer served in the post for only a year before resigning to fight in the Union army.

The items also will be graded for condition.

Some of the documents were hidden in the building. Fortunately, many were stored by past directors in metal drawers in a climate-controlled area of the main museum building. Most were laid flat; some were protected by plastic sleeves.

The staff is still finding documents, Kadie-Barclay said.

One issue with preserving the documents — most were written in the 1700s and 1800s — is the type of inks that were used. Ink was not made commercially at that time. The variations in the formulas made it more likely the inks would fade or change color over time.

The staff found that the embellished handwriting of the period is difficult to read, Kadie-Barclay said, and the style and spellings vary by author.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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