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Historic Bucks County deed books to be restored, preserved

August 30, 2018
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Joe Degnan with KOFILE Preservation looks through old books that are the property of the Bucks County Recorder of Deeds on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, at the county's warehouse in Doylestown Township, before transporting them to the company in Vermont for restoration.(Kim Weimer/Bucks County Courier Times via AP)

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Bucks County is sending 75 historic deed books to be preserved for generations to come, the first step in a project aiming to save hundreds more.

Dating back more than 300 years, the books tell the story of a Bucks County long gone: of colonists and their homes, of land bought and sold, of slaves traded and freed.

But for at least the last decade, they’ve been left to rot.

“I was horrified when I saw the books laying on the floor,” county Recorder of Deeds Robin Robinson said Tuesday morning at the county warehouse in Doylestown Township. “This is history.”

Robinson was at the warehouse to see 75 of the historic deed books off on their journey to Essex, Vermont, to be restored and preserved. Their $250,000 trip north marks a substantial step forward in what has become a pet project for Robinson since she took office early this year.

The handwritten books — 700 of them in total, battered by extreme swings in temperature and neglected since their pages were digitized years ago — came to her attention soon after she was sworn in, Robinson said. The oldest book her staff found dates back to 1684.

“Every book has a treasure in it,” Robinson said.

A handful of the volumes contain numerous instances of the signature of Bucks County founder and Pennsylvania namesake William Penn. Many of the oldest books, including one containing an order emancipating the slaves of Bucks County, were among those sent for preservation in this first batch.

Home now to mold and book mites, and deteriorating quickly, the books require gloves and a delicate touch to handle.

But when they return in about three months, each handwritten page will have undergone meticulous cleaning and reconstruction before being rebound and placed on paper designed to keep the pages chemically stable, said Joe Degnan of Kofile Technologies, the company handling the books.

Degnan’s firm, based in Vermont with locations in Nevada and Texas, specializes in preserving and restoring historic records, and has done work for Bucks County previously. The painstaking work can be seen in the historic map book and farm atlases already at home in the county Administration Building.

Degnan said the books he picked up on a recent Tuesday from Bucks County are in about the worst condition he’s seen in his career, pointing to extensive damage from tape, chemical damage and wear from handling.

After Kofile is done with the books, he said, they should easily survive another century, and even longer in proper storage conditions.

Robinson said the county has that much taken care of.

When the books come home, no longer will they be stored in the county warehouse, but in a climate-controlled storage space set aside from the old sheriff’s office in the administration building. A few, she said, she hopes to keep on display in her office for the enjoyment of the public.

“I want to open it up for school children and history buffs to come in and see this,” she said.

Robinson said she hopes in time to preserve all of the books. She estimates that project would cost just under $2 million and take about five years.

The cost of preserving the first batch of books is covered entirely by money paid to the office through $3 record improvement fees collected on most transactions. Those funds were freed up earlier this month in a 2-to-1 vote at the Grange Fair meeting of the county commissioners.

Commissioner Charley Martin issued the “no” vote, saying he finds the effort to preserve the books of historic value “commendable,” but expressing skepticism at the plan to preserve all of them.

“Certainly all of the 700 books aren’t historic,” Martin said at the meeting. “Some of them are just plain old.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2MyQEMF

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Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com

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