The city’s first charter. A poll book from Toledo’s first election. And folders of handwritten amendments from the mid-1800s.
They’ve each been squirreled away for decades - some now yellow and worn even - but soon will be on display to the public.
The University of Toledo’s Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the Carlson Library will preserve and display about a dozen documents rediscovered two years ago in the attic of the city’s Safety Building downtown.
They’ll join the meeting minutes from Toledo City Council’s first meeting in 1837, annual reports from city departments dating to the 1890s, and records of Toledo’s city managers dating back to 1947.
Barbara Floyd, director of the library’s special collections, introduced the documents to an audience of about 20 at the university’s library Tuesday. She praised their discovery and said the records are more than just interesting historical pieces.
“They are the foundation upon which the city was built. They mark the beginning of the story of Toledo, its democracy, its governance, and its development,” she said. “They are as important to the city as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are to the United States of America.”
Ms. Floyd said the papers likely have been in the city’s Safety Building since it was built in the 1920s.
“The fact that they continue to exist 180 years after the city’s founding is remarkable,” she said. “Many cities are not as fortunate to have these founding documents still in existence.”
Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson also addressed the small group at the library. She said preserving records of the city’s early government is important so that city leaders remember how it all began and learn from Toledo’s shared history.
“We have progressed and we’re moving forward,” she said. “That’s the joy and the history and the lesson that we should take from this today, that based upon those visions of the past, we’re able to show the progress and the forward movement of our city.”
Julie Gibbons, assistant clerk of Toledo City Council, worked diligently with Phil Carroll, the council’s former sergeant-at-arms, to bring the historic pieces out of the old attic and to the public eye. The materials now in display of the Canaday Center are likely only 10 percent of what the two found, Ms. Gibbons said.
Some University of Toledo history also was tucked away among the manuscripts, including a ballot for and results of a bond levy placed before Toledo voters in 1928. The bond passed to raise $2.8 million to buy land and construct University Hall and the field house on what was then UT’s brand new campus. The documents are a valuable piece of UT history.
“What is remarkable about this election is that it occurred in 1928, just one year before the start of the worst economic depression in modern times,” Ms. Floyd said. “If the city voters had not approved that levy in that election, it is doubtful they would have in subsequent elections, and the university’s chance of survival would have been slim.”
Ms. Floyd is retiring at the end of the month after 31 years with UT, but she’ll return for the spring semester to teach a graduate seminar on urban history. She plans to use the latest additions to the center’s collection in her class, and she hopes more people take advantage of the resource.
“They’ll be secured, they’ll be preserved, but they’ll also be accessible,” she said. “That’s really why it’s so important to have them here, so that people can read them, research them, access them, and understand their city.”
Many of the city documents will be on public display in the Canaday Center’s next exhibit, “Preserving Yesterday for Tomorrow: The Best of the Ward M. Canaday Center,” set to open in November.
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