Joseph Gavit
Papers, ca. 1802-1955; bulk, 1911-1950

SC19294

Quantity: 13 boxes (5.0 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Collation of papers and documents acquired by purchase or donation there were originally accessioned separately, 1989.
Processed By: Paul Mercer, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts & Special Collections October 1989; revised ca. 2010

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Biographical Essay by Paul Mercer:

Joseph Gavit, (1876-1959)1 retired from the New York State Library in 1946, after a 50-year career during which he rose from junior clerk to associate librarian.  During and after his service he was widely respected as an authority on the library's history and collections and as a bibliographer, historian, and genealogist.  Although he served twice as acting state librarian, he was not known as an administrator.

Gavit's term of service encompasses an important period in the development of the State Library, including the administration of Melvil Dewey (Librarian, 1880-1905), the destruction of the library by fire (1911) and its subsequent relocation and rebuilding through the depression of the 1930s and two world wars.  Furthermore, it was a significant period in the development of the library profession, marked by the influence of pioneers such as Dewey, the growth of professional organizations and library schools, as well as by controversy over such matters as professional qualifications and civil service status for librarians.  His life and work provide a unique perspective from which to view these developments in the history of both the New York State Library and librarianship.

Joseph Gavit was born in Albany, New York, on October 10, 1876, the fifth of seven children born to Joseph Gavit, Sr. (1842-1887) and Fanny Breese Gavit (nee Palmer).2  The elder Gavit was an engraver, president of the successful firm of Gavit & Co. which had been founded by his father, John E. Gavit (1817-1874).  Fanny Gavit was the daughter of prominent American sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer (1817-1904).3

Gavit's formal education consisted of eight years of grammar school, followed by three years of high school. According to personnel records kept by the State Education Department, he graduated from Albany High School in 1895.  The following year he applied to the New York State civil service, and was appointed as a Junior Clerk in the Shelf Section of the State Library at an annual salary of $300.00.4

According to Cecil Roseberry, it was Gavit's early exposure to the State Library and its collections, and a long-standing interest in books and printing that motivated him to seek employment there.5 Although quartered in the State Capitol, the library was a prominent educational and cultural reinstitution in the city of Albany and was commonly used by high school students, no doubt including young Joseph Gavit. 

The New York State Library was founded in 1818 by then-Governor Dewitt Clinton, as "a public library for the Government and the people of New York State."6   Initially located in the State Capitol, it was moved into its own building in the 1840s but rapidly outgrew its space.  In 1883 the library was moved into the new Capitol – then still under construction – although it was 1889 before it found permanent quarters in the building.

Initially the State Library's collections concentrated on law and related materials suited to a legislative library.  However, as legislators and the public required access to a broader range of literature, the library expanded rapidly, so that by the mid-1880s it represented "the best thoughts of the human mind and the record of human achievement for the last 6,000 years."7 The library held especially rich collections in American history, including many unique items.  One such treasure was Audubon's Birds of America in four oversize volumes, dubbed the "elephant folio."  Many unusual historic artifacts also graced the collection, including such items as a sword, pistol and surveying instruments said to have belonged to George Washington.  Manuscript treasures included priceless Dutch and English colonial documents, as well as the accumulated documentary records of state government.  As the library's reputation as a repository for such treasures grew, more were added, such as an Abraham Lincoln-manuscript draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, purchased specifically for the Library in 1865.

In 1888 the library entered a new phase in its development with the appointment of Melvil Dewey as state librarian. Initially hired to consult on the library's future development, Dewey oversaw a complete reorganization, expansion and modernization of the library. Known as "The Edison of the library field," Dewey is best remembered today for his decimal system of subject classification – first developed at Amherst College and refined during Dewey's tenure at Columbia University. Now, assisted by his Amherst colleague, Walter Stanley Biscoe, whom he appointed ahead of cataloging, Dewey brought the groundbreaking system to the State Library.  He also brought his pioneering school for librarianship – the first of its kind – established at Columbia in 1887.  At odds with Columbia's administration over his admission of women, he took his school to the State Library, where it remained until 1926.

If Dewey's years at Albany were characterized by great innovations, they were equally marked by episodes of controversy and dispute with his Education Department superiors.  Finally, in 1905, he was forced to resign after a particularly public controversy surrounding allegedly anti-Semitic membership policies at his Adirondack Mountain Retreat, the Lake Placid Club.  

Into the turbulent atmosphere of change and growth fostered by Dewey came the young Joseph Gavit. His actual duties as a shelf-section clerk are unrecorded, but annual reports of the period describe the work of the section, including shelf listing, gilding and lettering books with the new decimal numbers, general stack maintenance, and near-constant reorganization and moving of the ever-expanding collections.  In 1898 the following was reported:

"The shelf clerk, who is responsible for the general care of the shelves, has one assistant giving full time, and three or four others giving one or more hours every day.  The completion of the fifth floor and the removal of the home education department to rooms 56-59 have necessitated an almost complete rearrangement of the books during the past year.  In this we have brought allied groups together in places where the inevitable embarrassment from overcrowding will be the least harmful … Our increased shelf space required 4000 new book supports which are now being put into place.

"The newspapers have been removed from the storage room in the sixth story and shelved in the fifth, except our valuable sets of the London Times and New York World which are piled on the floor for lack of shelving … During the year call numbers have been gilded on all books in classes 500, 600, 800 and 900 quartos and folios. Though moving so many books has delayed our annual inventory statistics, the shelves have never been in so satisfactory a condition."8

Joseph Gavit
New York State Library
Joseph Gavit, ca. 1896

Although these conditions were difficult for Gavit, they provided an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the library's collections in all their detail and complexity.  In addition, Dewey was a vigorous and dynamic presence and working under his administration must have been challenging. As a supervisor, Dewey believed strongly in encouraging staff to work as a team, remaining open to input from personnel at all levels. "For the highest efficiency," he declared, "a great library is dependent chiefly on … a staff, strong both in capability of individual members and in harmony and sympathy in working together."9  Communication, he believed, was crucial, and urged each member of his staff, "from the youngest page to the senior librarian … to feel the greatest freedom in making in writing any suggestion or criticism which he thinks will improve the library."10

Echoing these sentiments, Gavit, writing many years later, noted that the changes wrought by Dewey would not have been so great were it not for the efforts of his staff and students.

"[When Dewey] came to Albany, he brought with him the devoted teaching staff
of the world's first library school, without whose great enthusiasms such great strides could not have been made. He invented methods, but they put them to work. The students in the library school did much to carry out his views, many of which were "on paper with no adequate staff to carry them out.  However, it is quite true that the sixteen years of Dr. Dewey's directorship gave the library such a living start that it has continued to prosper in spite of legislative disinterest and none too great cooperation at times on the part of the Board of Regents.11

Melvil Dewey and Library School Faculty Picture
New York State Library
Melvil Dewey and Library School Faculty

Gavit soon caught Dewey's attention, impressing the director by his easy retention and ready recall of the locations of library collections.  In 1906, Dewey wrote: "His love for books and his particularly retentive book memory have made his services of the utmost value ..."12  Recognizing Gavit's potential, Dewey at first tried to persuade him to seek higher education.  A colleague of Gavit's recalled:

"I remember so distinctly ... Mr. Dewey's efforts to persuade you to go back to school and your insistence upon having a library job.  Even as a young lad you may have had a prophetic vision of what your work was to mean to both you and the Library.13

In later years, according to department personnel records, Gavit did take a "practical course" in the state library school, although neither the dates, nor the nature of the course content were noted.

After his first few years in the library, Gavit was promoted from junior clerk to shelf clerk, in 1900, and then to head of the shelf section in 1908. In 1903 he met and married Katherine Hulst.  Kate, as she was known to family and friends, was a physician's daughter from the agricultural village of Greenwich, north of Albany.  She received her B.A. from Syracuse University, where she was remembered as a "most popular young woman."14   She subsequently moved to Albany. She was a founding member and president of the City Club of Albany, and was active in politics, as a leader in the women's suffrage movement and a member of the League of Women Voters.15   Joseph Gavit, shared his wife's commitment to women's suffrage:

Katherine Gavit picture
Katherine Gavit, ca. 1916

"I remember ... the days of the woman suffrage campaign, when you were one of those rare men who took the suffragists seriously and added your efforts to theirs.  Do you remember the poster you made for us when China, in the first fervor of the Kuomintang revolution, decided to let the women vote: "Must New York take its queue [sic] from China?"16

Following their marriage Joseph and Katherine lived on South Pine Street in Albany, moving in later years to the suburb of Delmar.  Vacations were spent in Gavit's "beloved Adirondacks,"17 where they had a house in the town of Stoney Creek.  The couple had two children, Helen and Henry.

During this period, the work of the shelf section was not remarkably different from when Gavit first came to the library.  Shelf listing and inventory were continuing tasks.  Certain collections, such as newspapers and pamphlets, presented ongoing shelving problems because of their size. And, as always there was the ever-present problem of overcrowding to contend with.  As early as 1897 Melvil Dewey had been lobbying in his annual reports for a new building to house the State Library:

"It is impracticable to house a great and rapidly growing library in an administrative building [i.e., the State Capitol].  It is merely a matter of time when one or the other is sure to be crowded out ... There is hardly a library in Christendom that has not made the mistake of allowing too little room for future additions."18

The 1906 annual report commended the shelf curator and assistants for the "amount of work accomplished under trying conditions," which included "the constant shifting of books ... because of the crowded conditions of the shelves."19 Two years later, taking over as section head, Gavit reported:

"The physical difficulties of finding shelf room for the steady stream of new books have for years been chronic.  They are now almost acute.  Shifts and devices have been necessary which prevent quick reading room service, which delay accurate and needed inventory ... and which in many cases seriously prejudice the condition of the books through undue exposure to heat, damp, rats and mice."20

Under such conditions, what Dewey singled out as Gavit's "peculiarly retentive book memory" quickly became legendary. Over and over, in correspondence from colleagues and former library school students, Joseph Gavit is referred to as the person to see for lost or misplaced books.

"Since my departure from the Order Section, I have missed that frequent and familiar reply to an inquiry as to the location of a lost book, "I don't know.  Ask Joe Gavit.  He can find anything in this library."21

"I knew him in the old library quarters in the Capitol where one needed a human guide book to find one's way through the library mazes or to know where to crawl to avoid obstacles or water puddles ... Joe was, to most of us, more than any one person, "the library." He found the books that had strayed ... He was a great detective and a great guide."22

Gavit's detective skills were much needed.  The library had about a half-million volumes in 1900 and each year of growth required the addition of about a mile of new shelving. This was added in the form of raw unseasoned pine shelving fitted into every conceivable space.  Nearly 200,000 duplicate volumes were "nailed up in boxes" and stored off site in a rented disused malt house.23 Colleagues seeking Joseph Gavit at his desk were often greeted with a hand-lettered sign that read simply "Gavit in Malthouse."  In one case, this led to a brief misunderstanding on the part of a newly arrived student, who, upon seeing the sign, asked "What's a gavit?"24

Beyond a practical interest in locating hard-to-find or misplaced books, Gavit himself took some personal pride in knowing the rare collections and obscure locations.  He delighted in showing off his arcane knowledge of the lesser-known parts of the Capitol building, and would conduct tours of hidden locations and important library treasures for newcomers:

"Would you be interested in some to the things I've been remembering?  The first is a surreptitious personally conducted tour under your direction for a small picked group of Library school students into the mysterious region above the ceiling of the Assembly Chamber, to see the ‘lost frescoes.'"25

"Today memory takes me back to a momentous occasion ... when you displayed to the students ... some of the most outstanding treasures in the Library ... It was my first glimpse of the rare books which a large scholarly library's collection  may contain."26

Aside from being an authority on the State Library's collections, Gavit early on took an interest in history and bibliography.  He was especially concerned with newspapers, of which the State Library had one of a few complete collections, representing the history of American newspapers from the colonial times to the present.  A mentor in this pursuit was probably Walter Stanley Biscoe, who was involved in various projects related to bibliography, printing history, and genealogy (another of Gavit's favorite subjects.)  A former colleague remembered Gavit as "Mr. Biscoe's right hand man."27  One of Biscoe's pet projects was an exhaustive scholarly history and bibliography of published Fourth of July orations.  On Walter Stanley Biscoe's retirement in 1930, Gavit would take over this study, along with both Biscoe's formal title, senior librarian, and, by his own account, an additional informal one – "Bibliographer without Title."28

Overcrowding in the library, as Gavit reported, had led to all sorts of inappropriate storage solutions, including some which exposed the collections to damage from heat, humidity and/or vermin. A constant worry was the threat of fire. The library rooms in the Capitol, had been equipped with some hoses, extinguishers and axes since about 1895.  However, the other parts of the building – outside of the library rooms – lacked such protective measures.  From 1900 forward, Dewey constantly advocated the construction of a new fireproof building. His case was strengthened by several catastrophic library fires, such as that in Turin, Italy, which destroyed the Biblioteca Nazionale of the University of Turin in 1904. 

It was not until 1906 after countless proposals and setbacks, that the legislature approved the purchase of land for a new library building, directly across the street from the Capitol.   After a design competition, won by the New York City firm of Von Hornbostel, ground was broken on July 27, 1908, with completion scheduled for January 1911.29 An entire city block in length, the new building also would house the Education Department's offices and the State Museum. But it was the library which was to occupy the lion's share of the structure, including the entire second floor, as well as seven levels of stack space beneath the main reading room and descending thirty feet below ground level. The library school was to occupy most of the third floor.

Edwin H. Anderson, Dewey's successor as state librarian planned the layout of the new library stacks.  Anderson was also responsible for Gavit's elevation to head of the shelf section.  A letter from Anderson to Gavit bears the following marginal notation in Gavit's characteristic script: "He appointed me head of the shelf section; he made the original plans for the library quarters in the Education Building – I would say he could claim some credit."30  Anderson resigned in 1908 and it was left to his successor James Ingersoll Wyer to oversee the completion of the new library. Countless delays set the completion date of the much anticipated project further and further back.  Education Commissioner Andrew Sloan Draper, aggravated by the delays and increasingly concerned about the risk of fire, or some other disaster, had certain valuable items removed from the library's collections and placed in a special safe in the Regents' Offices.31

Draper's protests over delays continued into March 1911, by which time the new building should have been completed and occupied.  Finally, on March 29, the worst fears of all were realized in a pre-dawn fire which destroyed the western end of the Capitol and with it the New York State Library. Starting in the Assembly library, the fire spread rapidly into the adjacent state library rooms. By day's end, despite all efforts to contain the flames, virtually the entire library – an estimated 450,000 books and 270,000 manuscripts – were destroyed.  The loss of collections was compounded by the destruction of card catalogs and administrative records, creating what was called "the greatest library disaster of modern times."32

By his own account, Joseph Gavit was the first of the library staff at the scene, arriving about 4:30 am.33  By this time the library was an inferno "from end to end" and there was little or no hope of rescuing any valuable collections.  Even in the early stages of the fire, rescuing valuable collections would have been a risky, if not fatal choice:

"It seems a special dispensation of providence to the members of the library staff that they did not know of it earlier, for they would have been caught in the manuscript room, accessible only by wooden stairs in another room, towards the advancing fire.  Or they would have been caught in the southwest tower, where in the Director's office was the J.V.L. Pruyn Library of the Literature of the Law. Or they would have been trying to get out some of the early American newspapers, or some of the manuscript census, higher up in the same tower – the tower that collapsed.  Anywhere that they would have been seeking the invaluable, their sense of duty would have held them until escape was cut off."

Gavit believed sincerely in the loyalty and "sense of duty" of his co-workers.  For him, the library was far more than just so many pieces of paper.  The fire had "in a few short hours, destroyed the work of all the many hands and brains that had loved the library during the almost completed century of its existence."

The cause of the fire was officially listed as "defective wiring."  There is no record of any actual investigation, although, as Gavit noted, Governor John A. Dix had promised a full inquiry.  Gavit suspected a cover-up, a position he maintained into the 1940s, if not longer:

"One would expect to find in the newspapers of the days following that date, a complete story of the causes and results of that fire.  John Alden Dix, Governor at the time, guaranteed in the early hours of the 29th of March, a full investigation of the causes at least, but he was persuaded otherwise, by those who knew that the full story would be one of the worst scandals, political, and personal for many, that legislators had ever contributed to New York State history ...  The fire broke out on the night of the caucus for the nomination of a United States Senator, James A. O'Gorman ...  It is related by eye witnesses that after the caucus, the legislators adjourned to the Assembly Library, a room known as the "booze room," because its many cupboards contained the elements of many varieties of drinks.  There were women present, though there were no lady legislators at that date.  So what was suggested the next day as "defective wiring" as a cause of the fire that started in this room at about midnight, was really a lighted match dropped into a wastebasket, or onto an alcohol soaked carpet.  The details have never come out.  But the Legislators came out in time to save their skins, and shut the door, to let the fire burn out in that room. That was why something over an hour elapsed before any alarm was turned in ... and the fire [had] a chance to break out of that room ... and through the light partition nearby, into the north rooms of the State Law Library."

The fire's only fatality was an elderly night watchman, Samuel Abbott, a Civil War veteran from Syracuse, New York.  Although he was reported missing just hours after the fire was detected, Abbott's fate was unclear for days after the fire.  Finally, after several days of searching for the missing man, his body was found, badly burned, at the end of a remote corridor, the key to a nearby door still in his pocket. Why wasn't he able to escape? Why didn't he try to use the existing extinguishers to at least slow the fire down? Gavit had his own thoughts:

"So perished our library, and with it one man, Samuel J. Abbott, the lone watchman.  Much has been said as to where he was and what he was doing during the early hours of the fire.  It is hardly within the scope of this report to attempt a settlement of those questions. But this I know, that had he been in the room when the fire came into the library, he would have been powerless, with only the small fire extinguishers to use where a fire engine stream would have been useless.  The two ridiculously small and short lines of "fire hose" were remote from that room, and by the time the fire came within their reach, no man could have endured the heat long enough to use them, even had there been water in the pipes, which is doubtful.  The fire protection within the library quarters was adequate for dealing with slight fires only, there being one or two Extinguishers in every room, which is more than any other department, could boast.

"So it is not for any man to say where Sam Abbott was, what he did, what he tried to do, or why he died only a few feet from safety.  The rooms occupied by 500,000 volumes and the offices of all but two divisions of the Education Department were too much territory for one feeble old man to watch.  That was one of the mistakes and he died in proof of it."

Beyond all speculation concerning Abbott's fate, or the ultimate cause of the fire, Gavit was certain the main reasons for the extent of the damage.  The story of the fire, he wrote,

"will not be complete unless it describes the conditions existing in the library at the time of the fire – the crowding so that every last corner was utilized for book storage; the futile storage of precious things remote from public reach, and so beyond saving when the fire came; the very structural defects of the building itself, that while they enhanced its beauty, made its contents only an easier prey to devouring flames ... Some will say these things are better left unrelated; that such a statement lays us open to criticism for permit[ting] such conditions.  But there across the street was our new building, already three months past due to be ready for us.34  We had complained; we were ready to move.  Surely none of the delays were ours!  We had been recommending a fireproof library building since 1899."

The true extent of the overcrowding and the extreme measures used to relieve it were almost impossible to imagine, as Gavit wrote: 

"The State Library was moved into the quarters in which it was destroyed about 1889 ... The book stacks were of cast iron, with galvanized iron shelves ... there was originally no wood used anywhere except the tops of the top level of the south stack and the floor under the lower levels.

"In 189735 a fourth level, of iron, was added to the north stack, and the fifth floor of the west wing. Until then an unused attic was finished and occupied by the library.  Here also were mezzanine floors, with shelving composed of iron pipe and galvanized iron shelves ... At the same time the south west tower rooms, way up into the red tile peaks were finished, and the electric elevator shaft extended up into them for access with necessary iron stairs from the fifth floor up ...           During the same year a mezzanine of oak was built over the north gallery of room 45 and equipped with oak shelving.  The room was known as "Room 463, south rooms," and was accessible from the north stack only.  Another gallery of oak, with oak shelving, was added in Room 42, and became Room 423...

"1200 boxes of duplicates were sent to the McCredie Malt House in 1901, and 1000 more the following year. There were already many boxes, in various parts of the Capitol cellar and attic.  But the library kept on growing, and there was no more iron shelving – no place to erect any.  I quote from the director's report for 1901: "Relief from the crowded shelves was obtained by making several hundred cheap pine cases of one, two, three and four shelves, standard measure, which like building blocks can be stacked wherever there is space enough for them to stand, making the cheapest storage of books yet devised ... 20 more portable oak double faced six tier book cases for room 55 and its galleries were also added, and the iron shelves removed from room 44 were set up in rooms 382, 443, 552, and 55A2." It was all of unseasoned wood.

"This first pine shelving ... erected in room 34A3, cover[ed] every bit of wall space from floor to ceiling ... There was also a wall covered in room 55A2.

"In 1902, fifty four-shelf newspaper cases, of pine, were put up in room 65 ...  In 1903 there were 225 cases gotten, to put on top of the iron shelving in the top level of the south stack, and in room 61 for the volumes of the state census 1830-1905.  In 1904, 170 cases were used in rooms 59, 464, 323, etc., and a long oak case was built in room 38 for Court of Appeals cases and briefs. ... In 1905, more newspaper cases were gotten ... and room 562 was filled with shelving for the Great Britain Patent specifications.  Four long oak cases were also made for the galleries, room 45 ...

"From then on, year after year, pine shelving kept on being added – on top of cases in all the mezzanines of the law library, and rooms 333, 323, 423, 45 – anywhere where there was room to put a case.  It stopped up corridor windows, filled gaps between doorways, was built up along the railing side of galleries.  What we had ordered by the hundred in 1901 we ordered by the half dozen in 1910, because it required constant study to figure out places for them.  There had even been a special framework made so that a stairwell could be utilized by placing the cases on top of the railing around it in room 343. It was to be found in broad aisles in the north stack, leaving just space enough between faces for the Pages to get through.  It was cut and planned and fitted into corners, under slanting roofs, under iron stairways.  Everywhere there was pine shelving—except in the public reading rooms.  (Yes, we did take down some pictures and fill arches with shelves in the main reading room.)"

A high wind on the night of the fire, together with the airshafts, elevator shafts, pipe chases and ductwork running from basement to roof served to intensify the fire to the point that, with the ready fuel provided by the overcrowded library, it became unstoppable. Gavit summarized the fire's speed and progression:

"The fire came into the library through a wood and glass partition between Room 38 and the Assembly lavatory ... Once through that partition, nothing could have stopped the flames ... Just around the corner – in fact just through a thickness of oak case backing, was a wooden dumbwaiter shaft running clear to the roof ...

"But neither dumbwaiter, stairway, nor pine shelving was necessary to carry the flames upward, because wherever steam pipes went up through the outside walls, the chases were open except for an open grillework cover, probably full of dust, that doubtless did its work in every case ...

"So the fire went upward through the north stack, so terrificly [sic] hot as to soften the beams in the floors, melt out the wall fastenings of the stack floors, and causing the heavy binding machinery to break through the fourth floor; and then the whole stack structure collapsed, bringing down the fifth floor with its mezzanines in a grand tangle that hung down into the main law reading room.

"Gathering force and volume before the north wind, the flames swept through the law reading rooms, into the great central reading room, where the air currents carried it across and up into the south stack, destroying as it went the two eastern galleries of the reading room, directly in its path.

"I have no doubt that at the same time the flames were sweeping along the fifth floor, eating up all the records of the order and accession section, the shelflist and other library records, and causing the mezzanines above the central fifth floor rooms to collapse, together with the glass roof above them. (But at this point the main fifth floor held.)

"From the reading room the fire entered the south stack above the fourth floor; and here again the intense heat softened girders, melted out floor fastenings and supports so that when the southwest tower collapsed, the chimney it knocked over fell directly over this stack, carrying roof, fifth floor, stack structure, fourth floor and all beneath it, down into a great mess of twisted girders, broken stack standards, floor plates and roof trusses which filled room 34 to a depth of forty feet.  A big elevator supply tank, directly under the roof in room 54 was found next morning closing the southerly entrance to room 34 from the main reading room on the third floor.  The southwest tower itself collapsed only to the fifth floor, there being not enough weight in it, or not enough heat under the fifth floor at that point to carry it further."

Following the fire, the state legislature was offered temporary quarters in the nearby Albany City Hall. Other suddenly homeless departments and offices housed in the Capitol were temporarily billeted in buildings around the city. The education department offices and the library staff found a home in the State Normal College, several blocks away. Although the once great library was now almost totally destroyed, Gavit and the library staff turned immediately to the business of salvage, rescuing what could be saved from the ruins, even as hot spots continued to burn and ashes were still hot to the touch:

"At a meeting of the library staff held at the Normal College the 2nd morning after the fire, the work of salvage was ordered begun, and the head of the shelf section was designated as in charge of the work.  But with so small a staff of trained men as assistants, it very soon became evident, as the scope of the work developed, that no one man could take the time away from the actual work to be only a superintendent. The work therefore organized itself in four divisions – manuscripts under Mr. Van Laer36 and Mr. Phelps Stokes37 of New York; law under Mr. Colson; duplicates under Mr. Tolman, and the general library under the writer (i.e., Gavit).

"It took only a short time – a day or two, to get out all the manuscripts that were worth saving.  This work was of such a character, and not at any time under the writer's observation, that he hesitates to attempt any description of the work.  The manuscripts, some of them still hot and smoldering, were passed by hand along a line of laborers, into the room of the clerk of the Senate, where they were piled on tables, chairs and floor, and then carried from the building in baskets, which had been gotten by order of the Adjutant General of the State, at the writer's request."

Reticent to describe the work of archivist Van Laer in his official report, Gavit certainly appreciated the dedication and energy his colleague brought to the task.  In a 1914 newspaper interview, he remarked:

"Mr. Van Laer doesn't talk about it, but he stood for seven hours, in his ordinary clothes, in a drenching downpour from the ceiling above, while the workmen above tossed him the remains, each piece of which he inspected and sent on. Then he went home, in those same wet clothes, through the freezing temperature of an early April twilight. Why he didn't have pneumonia, I don't know."38

Van Laer's own account of the rescue of the manuscripts is no less dramatic:

"On Thursday morning, as soon as the building had sufficiently cooled to allow the salvage of books and papers to begin, the State Archivist and Mr. I.N. Phelps Stokes ... made their way to the part of the building where the manuscripts room was located and with the help of a ladder climbed into the smoke-filled room. The sight was appalling. Not a vestige of either books, or bookcases, desks or second mezzanine floors was to be seen. Nothing but an empty shell with four feet of smoldering debris on the floor. Fires were starting up in various places, a stream of water played on the ruins and water poured down from the floor above.  It seemed well nigh hopeless ...

"Hurrying to the main reading room of the library, the archivist secured the help of four or five members of the library staff, who worked with zest and under his direction soon recovered some of the older Dutch records in a fairly good state of Preservation ...

"The men were directed to dig carefully ... and, as soon as anything came to light, it was carefully lifted and carried away. Many of the volumes were so hot that they could hardly be touched with the hand and some were actually burning along the edges ... The Archivist stood himself near the window and searched every shovelful that was thrown out, many fragments being rescued in that way. All this took place in a drenching down pour of water from the floor above. No stop was made for luncheon. When evening came, many of the most valuable records had been saved ..."39

Gavit's efforts in salvaging the library collections were probably a match for Van Laer's, at least in terms of personal risk:

"The work of salvage for the general library began on April 3rd in room 35, the main reading room.  The first things taken out were the War of 1812 records and the Stevens facsimiles.  Their discovery at this time was purely accidental, and is, I think, worth relating.

"The writer, with Mr. Champlin,40 had gone out onto the roof of the western approach to look at the building from that point.  Every window was gone – except one, a disc of glass hardly 6 inches in diameter.  That window was one of two alike in the little room where these documents had been stored for want of space in the manuscript room.  Like a flash came the truth – this room was fireproof because [it was] unventilated!  Securing a ladder, we made the precarious journey over the still smoldering gallery, to this room, where we found the door burned down but the contents little injured ..."

Gavit was particularly proud of rescuing the Audubon "Elephant folios":

"As I look at the picture in the report of the director of the State Library for 1911, showing the condition of our set of Audubon's "Birds of America" as saved from the ruins, I am naturally reminded of the act of rescue ...

"These volumes were kept, along with a few others of their size, in a locked closet, set into what was originally a doorway at the south end of the law library, in the wall between that room and the main reading room ...

"On the day after the discovery of the miraculously saved records of the War of 1812, it occurred to me to go after Audubon.  The end of the room where this closet was located was buried to a depth of six or eight feet with bricks, mortar, wood and paper, ashes and twisted girders.  But I got two men to start digging there, and a left-over fireman ("Glory" Kearns!) was playing a hose on the still smoking debris.  It was precarious work, for overhead hung the collapsed north stack, and the cooling process was constantly loosening pieces of brick which fell all around us.

"My men worked as steadily as possible, stopping now and again to let the fireman wet down the smoking mass; and they had gotten within a foot of what I was after, when – the noon whistles blew, and with a promptness characteristic of the common laborer, they dropped their shovels and ran!  They had never seen Audubon's birds! They were working so many hours for so much a day; – what did a bit of charred paper matter to them?  It was time to eat – and drink!

"Well, I jumped into the hole, took one of their shovels and went on with the job, alone.  Once, as I dug, a lump of bricks fell from above, landing on the edge of the hole, and undoing ten minutes work.  But by the time the men were back, I was ready to hand up the remains of the volumes.  Some of the canvas was still intact, but blackened and soaked. The plates were badly burnt around the edges, but some that had wide margins were still in fairly good condition. They were hot when I took them out, and could not have lasted much longer, as some of the wooden shelves under and above them were still burning, charcoal fashion."41

As the hard, dirty, dangerous "work of salvage" continued, the rescued relics were removed in baskets and wheelbarrows to makeshift quarters in church basements, vacant buildings and several similar locations in the neighborhood of the Capitol and placed on hastily-built rough board racks to dry the waterlogged pages.  Gavit's accurate knowledge of the locations of the various library locations had made him invaluable to the salvage effort.  His manuscript report on the fire, quoted above, is supplemented by a detailed list of the library rooms and their contents before the fire. As the following excerpt shows, this was no simple matter:

Room 353 North   Sets of American Periodicals
East 923.7-928 octavo
South 051-052 quarto
Letter files, Legis. Ref. section
Sheet maps, N.Y. State
In window spaces, some little used sets of serials and history
In small room off north gallery, Mss. Records, War of 1812, and old legislative financial records Stevens' Facsimiles of Manuscripts
Room 36  Main law reading room British law, Canadian law
Catalogues of law libraries
In one locked closet, Valuable law books
In another locked closet, Audubon birds (original ed.),
Volumes of engravings.
Room 363 Legislative Reference section Laws of other states
Gt. Brit. House of Commons Proceedings
Index of legislation by states, on cards

Gavit's ability to memorize and more importantly visualize the arrangements of the library rooms at this level of detail is all the more impressive in the face of the tangled ruin that confronted the library staff following the fire.  His notes accompanying photographs of the wreckage are astonishingly detailed, as the following example shows:


Photograph of Fire Damaged Library Rooms
New York State Library
Photograph of Fire Damaged Library Rooms by W.H. Barker. Notes by Joseph Gavit from his extra-illustrated copy of Sparks from the New York State Capitol Fire (Albany, 1912) in the Joseph Gavit Papers

In the end, only 7,000 books were saved, along with 80,000 manuscript documents.  Fortunately for those, like Gavit, who, under librarian James I. Wyer, would begin rebuilding the library, there were 200,000 duplicate volumes in off-site storage.  These, along with the salvaged items, and a rapidly swelling tide of donated books, would be the beginnings of a new State Library.  The fire-damaged, salvaged books and documents would, Gavit believed, forever be a reminder of the horrific fire, from which a few important lessons could be learned:

"[I]t seems wholly fitting that such a story as this should be made part of our permanent records,42 telling of the conditions we were anxious to leave, of the destruction of almost all we had ho[pe]d to save, and of the salvage work, by reason of which we [have?] on our shelves today some stained or blackened remnants of the great collection that was our pride.  For though today we are busy gathering together what will be a finer collection ... those who have lived the best years of their lives among the loved and lost, may be pleased to know that such a memorial exists of the ruin out of whose ashes this new library has risen.  While its details may cause us regret for the things we might have done or left undone, had we foreseen, it is the trend of history in all things that out of loss and failure and mistakes and misfortunes, come the better conditions."

Through innumerable gifts from other libraries, as well as from organizations worldwide, the library's collection began to grow again.  In the year following the fire it was reported that a total of 217,128 items were acquired by donation alone.  For 18 months this bounty remained housed in makeshift spaces around the city.

As head of the shelf section, Gavit was one of the first staff persons to begin the work of shifting books into the new building.  In August of 1912, librarian James Wyer wrote to Gavit at his Adirondack vacation retreat in Stoney Creek: "Don't fail to be in Albany, early Monday morning. We begin moving the boxed books into the new building on that day."43  In the margin of the same letter, Gavit noted: "Began moving from Cath[olic] Union, Aug. 17 – Tuesday."  As with the salvage after the fire, Gavit was not content to simply oversee the move.  A colleague recalled: "I remember hoisting the card catalog by block and pulley into the new home of the library, but I don't remember whether Joe rode the ropes or not."44

The new building had been rushed to completion for a planned dedication in October 1912, partly to avoid additional expenses for rented quarters.45  In fact the move took place before the new building was fully ready.  In his annual report on the shelf section for 1913, Gavit described conditions during the move.  Workmen were all around the staff. There was, he said "no privacy or control of rooms or property." Nor was there access to the collections: "Books were literally piled up in basement rooms. The staff were crowded into what few rooms were measurably habitable."  Finally, on May 12, 1913, the stacks were completed and the last workman left the building.  But, concluded Gavit, the conditions "have all conspired to make this a difficult year for the shelf section."46

As the library settled into its new home, Gavit became once more the central authority on its collections and their locations.  His special interest was the newspaper collection, which he rebuilt over the next thirty years into one of the most comprehensive in the country. As Wyer recalled: "Any and all renown attaching to the State Library's newspaper collection is due your keen interest, alertness and hard work in acquiring, organizing and recording its newspapers."47

The work of the shelf section varied little from year to year, as Gavit mentioned repeatedly in his annual reports, leaving him the time to concentrate on his newspapers.  Papers were acquired as purchases, as well as gifts and exchanges with other libraries.  This work put him in contact with major newspaper collections in repositories such as the American Antiquarian Society, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.  Gavit became known as an authority on the history of the papers and in the bibliographic problems they presented, tracing what might be called their ‘genealogies' as they changed titles, merged, cease publication, and reappeared under successive publishers. Increasingly he corresponded with other experts in the field including Clarence S. Brigham, and Robert W.G. Vail at the American Antiquarian Society,48 as well as private collectors including such luminaries as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Henry Ford. As part of his work on the newspapers he compiled an issue by issue listing of all pre-1911 newspapers in the library's collection, on approximately 5,000 large 9-inch-x-11-inch index cards.49 Bound newspaper volumes still in the library's collections still contain Gavit's familiar notation "Checked" along with his initials on their endpapers.

Through the 1940s, Gavit became a frequent and important contributor to Clarence Brigham's monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1947): "For thirty years, Joseph Gavit, of Albany ... has written me hundreds of letters listing newspapers and recording information regarding printers."50  Meanwhile, Gavit was beginning to compile his own manuscript bibliographies and reference lists of post-1820 New York State newspapers. A few of these lists survive today as part of Gavit's papers.  While there is evidence to suggest that some of this work might have been intended for eventual publication, Gavit's work was eventually eclipsed by the publication of Winifred Gregory's massive American Newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files in the United States and Canada (New York: Wilson, 1937).  

Gregory's list had been compiled by bibliographers working in major institutions in each state.  In New York, A.H. Shearer at Grosvenor Library in Buffalo directed the project.  Somewhat surprisingly, the list of "district chairmen" for New York, which includes representatives of college and research libraries around the state does not include a representative of the State Library. Nevertheless, the State Library's holdings are included, which suggests that Gavit must have contributed in some respect.  In a note to Milton W. Hamilton, regarding the latter's review of Gregory's work, Gavit suggests that errors and omissions in the union list were partly due to the fact that, towards the end of the project, the work was conducted with undue haste,51 again suggesting some familiarity with the project's workings.

Although he published little, Gavit clearly achieved a considerable reputation as an authority on newspaper bibliography.  In 1946, writing to congratulate Gavit on his retirement, David Judson Haykins, of the Library of Congress, noted:

"When I mentioned your name to one of my colleagues here at the Library of Congress, a bibliographer of no mean caliber, he said, "Oh you mean the Newspaper expert! pointing to another facet of your many sided talent.  Without your being aware of it fully perhaps, your work in this field has to be reckoned beyond the service of your own library."52

Gavit's contributions to newspaper bibliography grew naturally out of his work in rebuilding the library's collection after 1911.  It is not surprising that one of his few published works was intended to solve a problem arising from this endeavor.  Librarians as well as rare book dealers and private collectors, were frequently offered what were purported to be rare or historic newspaper issues, often at inflated prices. These often proved to be cheap facsimile reprints, published as business promotions or for sale as commemorative souvenirs.  Gavit was frequently consulted for his advice in these matters:

"For many months we have been suffering from a deluge of offerings of:

  1. The New York Herald, 1865, covering Lincoln's assassination.
  2. Ulster County Gazette, 1800, Washington's death
  3. Vicksburg Citizen, printed on wallpaper, Civil War.

"I presume you have also been afflicted.  I am wondering if you cannot tell me the date and occasion for these reprints ...We are contemplating printing a circular letter to cover all the dozens of letters we receive each day on one or all of these."53

Beginning in the 1920s, Gavit began assembling a detailed descriptive listing of known newspaper reprints. He sent copies of his draft list to other bibliographers for their comments and annotations, and finally in 1931, published his results in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library.  Gavit's "List of American Newspaper Reprints" quickly became an indispensable tool for librarians and collectors:

"Many thanks for your List of American Reprints.  I have deposited [it] in my secret archives."

"I got a great kick out of one yap that called a few days ago ... He brought me part of a copy of the New York Herald, two pages.  On the first page is President Lincoln's assassination and on the other side is a Grain-O advertisement of five columns.  I couldn't convince him the sheet had no value ... He went out with arms a-flying ..."54

"I am very glad to have the list of newspaper reprints ... especially ... to note the item regarding the Ulster County Gazette. Copies still come in to me and perhaps some day one will turn out to be an original."55

The Kingston, New York Ulster County Gazette was a special case.  Reputedly the first newspaper to report the death of George Washington, the issue of January 4, 1800, was, by 1931, known to be extant only in the form of facsimile reprints.  A 1930 article by R.W.G. Vail, published in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library, described in considerable detail the known reprints and the identifying characteristics that would distinguish an original copy. Then, on October 1930, the Library of Congress wrote to Joseph Gavit asking his opinion as to a fair price for an original "should one turn up."56 Gavit characteristically replied that he had been asked this question so many times that "I refuse to strain my intellect to the point of making such a guess …"57 Within days the news was released that an original had indeed been purchased by the Library of Congress.  The find was reported in the same issue of the Bulletin of the New York Public Library as Gavit's article on newspaper reprints.

In 1920, as a private research project, Gavit began compiling an index to marriage and death records in upstate New York newspapers from 1790 to 1830, as a resource for genealogical research.58 The State Library had a large genealogy section, and the newspaper files were commonly sought out by amateur and professional genealogists.  Gavit had a personal interest in the subject, and in 1923 published his own family's history.59 Upon the death of his older brother Erastus Palmer Gavit (1872-1930), Joseph, the "genealogist of the family," inherited Erastus' honorary "Pilgrim Tercentenary Membership" in the New England Historic Genealogical Society.60  Over a two-year period, Joseph's manuscript vital records index grew to exceed 10,000 3-inch-x-5-inch slips.  Eventually it was published posthumously in microform by the State Library.61

Gavit's work in newspaper bibliography, and his family's engraving business, led him naturally enough to an interest in printing history. Between 1937 and 1943 he contributed a considerable amount of information to the work of the Works Progress Administration-sponsored American Imprints Inventory.62 In 1944 Douglas C. McMurtrie, the project's editor-in-chief, wrote Gavit: "You well know that I have always valued your cooperation … it is certainly fortunate that you are still on the job."63

In 1943, Gavit began work on a comprehensive directory of New York State printers up to 1876.  This was essentially an expansion of a preliminary typed list made at New York Public Library in the 1930s by Ralph David Phillips, a W.P.A. worker.  Feeling that Phillips had compiled a useful – but incomplete – listing, Gavit intended to complete the work for publication in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library. Publication was approved by the Bulletin's editor, Deoch Fulton,64 but, unaccountably, the project was never completed.  Evidently Gavit continued work on it through the 1940s.  What appears to be a final manuscript of Gavit's "greatly expanded" version of Phillips listing (dated 1949) is included in Gavit's papers.  In fact, information was still coming in from correspondents as late as 1950.65 Why the list was never published, remains a mystery.

As of 1930, with Walter S. Biscoe's retirement, Gavit was appointed senior librarian in his place.  Although continuing as head of the shelf section, he now acquired administrative responsibilities as second-in-command under the state librarian.  The appointment suited Gavit, who received not only Biscoe's official title, but also his unofficial designation – in Gavit's words – Bibliographer without Title."66

A major bibliographic research project which Gavit inherited from Biscoe, was a bibliography and union list of printed Fourth of July orations.67 In 1923, the State Library had received as a gift from the Albany Institute of History and Art, a collection of 533 bound volumes of pamphlets – most from the 19th century.  In compiling a card a catalog of these pamphlets Biscoe observed that the volumes contained many Fourth of July orations.  Other nineteenth-century pamphlet collections acquired by the library around this time were similarly found to contain Fourth of July speeches, typically by locally- or nationally-prominent orators. Biscoe began compiling a bibliography of these and similar orations drawn from local holdings, Library of Congress cards, catalogs of other libraries and book dealer catalogs. Eventually his list contained 1,700 titles, 900 of which were in the State Library.  Gavit continued this work from 1932 to 1946, eventually reaching a total of 2,500 titles.  In 1950 – four years after Gavit's retirement – the still unpublished project was revived, when the library's gift-and-exchange section began circulating checklists to selected libraries, resulting in the addition of 600 titles to what had hitherto been considered a complete listing.  A 1954 publication plan undertaken with Gavit's cooperation was eventually dropped.  Library Director Peter Paulson (who early in his career worked with Gavit on the publication project) suggested that this was one of several works-in-progress which then-State Librarian Charles Gosnell wished to see completed, but which the library (or perhaps the Education Department) was ultimately unable to support.68

Gavit continued in the position of senior librarian – although under the civil service system his title was later changed to associate librarian (administration) – until his retirement in 1946.  He was perhaps least comfortable in the role of an administrator.  Substituting for the vacationing Wyer in 1930, he used his time at Wyer's desk to index a growing collection of sheet music:

"As the vacation schedule required my presence at your desk for an hour every noon, I used that time in preparing cards for the entire sheet music collection, so that now we have a rough title index … making 1600 cards.  I have considered this well worth doing even in this rough way."69

Nonetheless he was a capable administrator. From 1938, when Wyer retired after 30 years as state librarian, until a successor was chosen in 1940, Gavit served as acting state librarian.  The new state librarian was Gavit's old friend and fellow bibliophile Robert W.G. Vail, previously librarian at the American Antiquarian Society.  Vail was quick to appreciate Gavit's talents and experience:

"When some irate bureaucrat in another department had to be smoothed down or won over, you did the job to perfection; when there was a clash of personalities on the staff, you, who knew all the personalities so well, were the one to iron out the difficulties.  And when a green State Librarian had to be broken in, you were a tower of strength to him, quietly, modestly, and with never a hint of jealousy, helping him to learn his new job and become at least a little familiar with the intricacies of state service and with the innumerable details of his new office."70

One of Gavit's administrative duties, beginning in 1933, was the handling of postal accounts.  During the Depression, the library, unable to pay postage for items sent by mail to individuals and/or other libraries, established a system of deposit accounts whereby borrowers would send funds against which shipping costs would be charged.  This responsibility fell to Gavit, in whose name the accounts were set up.  All forms instructed users to "make cheques payable to Joseph Gavit."  Gavit's account book71 for the postage money shows that he continued his involvement until 1955, nearly ten years after his official retirement – perhaps because there was no easy way of transferring the funds to a State account.  Interestingly funds and/or interest that accumulated in this account were also used to make occasional purchases of rare books or documents for the library, and later repaid from library funds.

Gavit also had other financial dealings – perhaps related to the postage accounts. Staff would come to him to cash paychecks, and even for help in handling medical insurance: "We couldn't be sick without Joe," remembered a colleague. "[H]e cashed our checks, paid our insurance and helped us get well."72

In 1943, R.W.G. Vail was asked by the Board of Regents to evaluate the library's needs in relation to future development and eventual post-war planning.  His report to the Regents amounted to a plan for the broad reorganization of library services statewide.73 In a marginal note to his personal copy of the document, Gavit likened the plans to Melvil Dewey's 1887 plans for library reorganization:

"This reads like a wild dream for a state project.  But it is no more …  revolutionary … than Melvil Dewey's original proposals for education and library recreation after the "dark ages" before 1889."

Such optimism, even in the war years, was apparently characteristic of Vail who, according to Gavit, "never did anything in moderation, particularly in asking for things."74

Vail did not stay to see the outcome of his plans.  In 1944, Gavit was again called on to step in as acting librarian, when Vail left to become director of the New-York Historical Society. In 1945, Charles F. Gosnell was appointed state librarian.  Reprising his role under Vail, Gavit became an indispensable aide to Gosnell:

"When I was thinking about coming here, Vail told me that beyond all the things you regularly do, you would be a great help to the new-comer. You have given me a post-graduate course in State Librarianship, that would be the envy of any professor. You have been both father and brother to me, and above all you have done that best of all things by just being you."75

On February 24, 1946, Joseph Gavit celebrated the 50th anniversary of his service with the New York State Library.  In addition to official citations and honors from the Education Department and the civil service, he was given a special gift: a Festschrift in the form of a bound collection of 139 letters from present and former colleagues, as well as library school students, library patrons, friends and family members.  Beyond simple congratulations, the letters speak warmly of Gavit's knowledge, dedication and service, both to individuals and to his beloved library:

"As a high school and college student … I recall your friendly presence, which seemed to invite me to use all of the State Library's resources.  Now as a fellow librarian … I have learned to appreciate the value of your tireless, day-to-day performance of duty …"76

"I remember with gratitude and appreciation your kindness and helpful advice when I was attending Library school … Still later, at Union College, I was near enough to drop in and talk over problems with you – never without learning something of value …"77

"I shall long remember your kind cooperation and friendly aid.  When my first paycheck arrived, I was told – "Watch for Mr. Gavit, he will cash it for you."  When I made out my first expense account, the directions were – "Go to Mr. Gavit to have it notarized."  It was not long before I discovered that even the social life revolved around you. To get the silver for a tea, I was sent to Mr. Gavit, guardian of the vault …"78

"I recall with pleasure our almost daily lunches … If circumstances prevented that twenty minute association it seemed to me that the day was not complete … Quiet conversations, sage reflections and wise counsel came from you to me …"79

This image of Gavit as friend, colleague and mentor is repeated throughout the letters in his Festschrift.  Vail, unable to contain his thoughts in a single letter, wrote two. The first of these, contains the best summary of the cause for the occasion and hints at Gavit's suspected reaction:

"So they are going to pin an orchid on you while you are still around to admire it … You will of course pooh-pooh the whole affair, and enjoy it, nevertheless, in your grumpy way which fools nobody who knows you.

"Fifty years of being the official Poo Bah – the Lord High Executioner and the Lord High Everything Else of the State Library … To you we have always had to turn as our official Wampum Keeper and Medicine Man.  Only you know the old traditions; only you can perform every job in the entire shop from lettering books to serving as interim State Librarian.

"No one else knows the sordid (and Heroic) story of the great fire; no one else can find the lost books … can spend weary hours on the bookkeeping of the bindery or … finding the elusive facts about early printers and newspapers needed by scholars the country over.”80


1 This account of Gavit’s life and career is based mainly on information in his papers.  Other manuscript collections at the State Library, used for this guide, include the papers of Cecil Roseberry (SC14744), and Walter Stanley Biscoe (SC16615).  Printed sources for information on Gavit are few and far between.  His 50th anniversary in state service, as well as his retirement, and his death in 1959 were all duly reported in the local newspapers.  Roseberry’s history of the State Library, For the Government and the People of this State: A History of the New York State Library (Albany, 1970) mentions Gavit only briefly. Annual reports of the State Library contain Gavit’s reports as head of the Shelf Section. Gavit himself wrote a family genealogy: “Philip Gavet of Salem, Mass., and Some of His Descendants” (New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 77: Whole No. 306 (January 1923), pp. 34-58).

2 Joseph Gavit, “Philip Gavet of Salem, Mass.,” p. 57.

3 For details on Palmer’s life, see J. Carson Webster, Erastus Dow Palmer. (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1913).

4 Annual Report of the Director, 1896, p. 9.

5 For the Government and the People...p. 108

6 Howell and Tenney, History of Albany, p. 688.

7 Ibid., p. 689.

8 Annual Report of the Director, 1898, pp. 73-74.

9 Annual Report of the Director, 1899, p. 7.

10 Ibid. p. 8.

11 Joseph Gavit, Letter to Charles F. Gosnell, 10 December 1956.  Bound in: New York  State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections’ copy of  Helen Vloebergh, “A History of the New York State Library from 1818 to 1905,” Diss.  Catholic University of America, 1955.

12 Melvil Dewey.  Letter of reference for Joseph Gavit, 22 January 1906.  Joseph Gavit Papers.

13 Mary L. Sutliff.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, 22 January 1945. Joseph Gavit Papers.

14 George H. Bond, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 28 January 1946, Joseph Gavit Papers.

15 “Mrs. Joseph Gavit Dies,” [undated obituary clipping], Cecil R. Roseberry Papers, New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Box 15, Folder 5.

16 Elizabeth M. Smith.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, [January 1946]. Joseph Gavit Papers.

17 Maud Hulst, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 30 March 1946.  Joseph Gavit Papers.

18 Annual Report of the Director, 1897, p. 12.

19 Annual Report of the Director, 1906, p. 15.

20 Annual Report of the Director, 1908, pp. 13-14

21 Marion Hemstreet. Letter to Joseph Gavit, 24 January, 1946. Joseph Gavit Papers.

22 Frank L. Tolman.  Testimonial letter to Joseph Gavit, 8 January 1946. Joseph Gavit Papers.

23 Roseberry. For the Government and the People, p. 81.

24 This was described in a poetic tribute, “Rhymes for an Ancient Librarian,” written for Gavit’s 50th anniversary in State Service, by library colleague, Helen C. James.  Joseph Gavit Papers.

25 Isabella K. Rhodes.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, 19 January, 1946. Joseph Gavit Papers.

26 Dorothy W. Curtis.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, [January 1946]. Joseph Gavit Papers.

27 Edna M. Sanderson, Letter to Joseph Gavit, [January 1946] Joseph Gavit papers.

28 Joseph Gavit.  Manuscript notes on Fourth of July Orations, 1954.  Joseph Gavit Papers.  For papers related to Biscoe’s bibliographic interests and research projects, see the Walter Stanley Biscoe Papers, New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Accession Number SC16615.

29 Roseberry. For the Government and the People. p. 83.

30 Edwin H. Anderson.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, 22 January 1946.  Joseph Gavit Papers.

31 Roseberry. For the Government and the People, p. 81.

32 Ibid, p. 88

33 Joseph Gavit.  Manuscript accounts of the 1911 Capitol Fire. Joseph Gavit papers.  All quotations which follow from Gavit concerning the fire are from these manuscript accounts, unless otherwise noted.

34 The State Education Building, specifically built to house the New York State Library, as well as the Education Department’s administrative offices, was finally completed and dedicated in 1912 – eighteen months after the fire. 

35 Joseph Gavit joined the library staff in 1895.

36 Arnold Joseph Ferdinand Van Laer, the State Archivist, born in the Netherlands, came to Albany as a library school student, and stayed with the library as archivist upon graduation. Today he is remembered for his pioneer work in organizing and translating Dutch colonial records both before and after the fire.  

37 Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867-1944) was an American architect. He designed St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University and several urban housing projects in New York City. By avocation he was an expert in prints and documents, renowned as the compiler of a massive six-volume bibliography of the iconography of Manhattan Island. He was quick to volunteer his expertise in the effort to salvage the precious manuscript collections of the State Library.

38 New York Post, March 21, 1914.

39A.J.F. Van Laer. ManuscriptAccount of Salvaging Manuscripts after the 1911 Capitol Fire.  A.J.F. Van Laer Papers.  New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections. 

40 George R. Champlin was a reference librarian at the time of the fire.

41 Ironically the Audubon folios subsequently disappeared from the library’s collection sometime after 1940.

42 Gavit intended this account to be part of his official reporting for the year of the fire.  However, the published annual report, which includes the Shelf Section report, lacks much of his manuscript text. 

43 James I. Wyer.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, 14 August, 1912.  Joseph Gavit papers.

44 Mason Tolman.  Letter to Joseph Gavit, 8 January 1946.  Joseph Gavit papers.

45 George M. Wiley.  Letter to C.P. Vitz, 24 July 1912.  Joseph Gavit papers.

46 Annual Report of the Director, 1913, pp. 30-31.

47 Letter to Joseph Gavit, [January 1946], Gavit papers.

48 Vail later served as State Librarian in Albany, working closely with Gavit.

49 Subsequently interfiled with check-in sheets used to record currently received newspapers, this file served as the library’s main newspaper catalog until the 1980s, when on-line cataloging was adopted.  For details see Paul Mercer, comp. Bibliographies and Lists of New York State Newspapers: An Annotated Guide (Albany, 1981), pp. 46-47.

50 Brigham. History and Bibliography …, p. xvi.

51 Gavit papers, Box 1, Folder 18.

52 Letter to Joseph Gavit, 24 February 1946, Gavit papers.

53 H.M. Cordell, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 8 January 1929, Gavit papers.  Cordell, a secretary to Henry Ford who was acquiring newspapers for his collection of American Historical Documents, frequently sought advice from Gavit.

54 F.B. Robinson, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 10 December 1931, Gavit  papers. Robinson was librarian for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

55 Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  Letter to Joseph Gavit, 28 December 1931, Gavit papers.

56 F. W. Ashley, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 1 October 1930, Gavit Papers

57 Letter to F.W. Ashley, 2 October 1930, Gavit papers.

58 Annual Report of the Director, 1922, p. 18

59 “Philip Gavet of Salem Mass. and Some of His Descendants.”

60 John Palmer Gavit, Letter to Marie Gavit, 11 June 1930, Gavit papers.

61 Joseph Gavit, American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829.  (Albany: The New York State Library, 1976).

62 The American Imprints Inventory was a state-by-state national survey of printed works up to 1877, created in 1937 by the federally funded Historical Records Survey.

63 Letter to Joseph Gavit, 20 June 1944, Gavit papers.  Gavit’s papers contain several copies of McMurtrie’s published surveys, all carefully annotated in Gavit’s hand, with additional entries for the State Library’s holdings.

64 Letter to Joseph Gavit, 14 October 1943, Gavit papers.

65 R.W.G. Vail, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 19 February 1950, Gavit papers.

66 Gavit, Manuscript notes on the Fourth of July Orations, 1954, Gavit papers.

67 The project history which follows is based on Gavit’s notes, cited above.

68 Telephone interview with Peter Paulson, Director, Forest Press, 27 November, 1989.

69 Memo to Wyer, 19 August 1931, Gavit papers.  In subsequent years, he continued this project, which by 1939, according to the Annual Report of the Library Director, amounted to 3,000 titles.

70 Letter to Joseph Gavit, 29 January 1944, Gavit papers.

71 Gavit papers, Box 4, Folder 20.

72 Frank L. Tolman, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 8 January 1946, Gavit papers.

73 New York State Library Archives, Annual reports and planning documents, Box 2, Folder 2.

74 Marginal note in New York State Library, “Draft Budget for the year beginning, July 1, 1941,” New York State Library Archives, Annual reports and planning documents, Box 1, Folder 3.

75 Letter to Joseph Gavit, 24 February 1946, Gavit papers.

76 Florence Boochever, Letter to Joseph Gavit, [January 1946] Gavit papers.

77 Janes Brewster. Letter to Joseph Gavit, 18 January 1946, Gavit papers.

78 L. Marion Mosher, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 11 February 1946, Gavit papers.

79 Frederick W. Parsons, Letter to Joseph Gavit, 24 February 1946, Gavit papers.

80 Letter to Joseph Gavit, 29 January 1946, Gavit papers.

Scope and Content Note:

The collection consists chiefly of correspondence and documents related to Joseph Gavit’s long and varied career with the New York State Library, including several files on the history of printing and publishing of newspapers in New York State as well as bibliographic lists of holdings in the State Library; correspondence, card files, and other research materials related to Fourth of July orations; and correspondence, annotated reports, and indexes related to the history of printers and printing in New York State.

The papers also include correspondence and reports related to the management and supervision of shelving of library collections as well as construction and maintenance of the stacks in the State Library; notes on the history of the bindery operations; and a manuscript narrative and annotated pictures and articles on the fire of 1911.

The seven shoe-box-size boxes contain hundreds of 3-inch-by-5-inch cards that have, in general, complete bibliographic information on Fourth of July speeches, arranged more or less chronologically and then alphabetically by author, dating from ca. 1776 to 1955.

The papers also include personal correspondence and genealogical research files related to the Gavit family.

Provenance Note:

The collection is a collation of materials donated or purchased by the repository over a period of many years.

Series Listing:


Series 1: Newspaper history and bibliography Boxes 1-2
Series 2: New York State Library newspaper collections Box 2
Series 3: Fourth of July orations Box 3
Series 4: Arms of New York State Box 3
Series 5: New York State printers Box 4
Series 6: Miscellaneous historical notes and correspondence Box 4
Series 7: Papers and correspondence relating to State Library work Box 4
Series 8: New York State Library: History Box 4
Series 9: Private genealogical research Box 4
Series 10: Annotated bibliographies Box 5
Series 11: Correspondence, general Box 5
Series 12: Index Card Files:
  • Index cards to Fourth of July orations research
  • Index cards to compilation of data on marriages (Po-Z) and deaths (A-E) from newspapers
Box 6-12
Box 13 (contains five card file boxes)

Box and Folder List


Box Folder Contents
  Series 1: Newspaper history and bibliography
1 1 Albany County newspapers, 1820-1880, a tentative list / compiled by Joseph Gavit. 1930. Typescript (30 p.) “Compiler’s copy, annotated.”
1 2 Newspapers of Schoharie County, New York, 1820- / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1930]. Manuscript (5 p.)
1 3 Washington County, New York, newspapers, 1820- / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1930]. Manuscript (7 p.)
1 4 Washington County, New York, newspapers, 1820- : with notes from various sources / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1930]. Manuscript (11 p.)
1 5 Essex County newspapers: temporary list / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1930]. Manuscript (11 p.)
1 6 Warren County newspapers, 1820- : tentative list / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1930]. Manuscript (14 p.)
1 7 Warren County newspapers, 1820- / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1830]. Manuscript (4 p.)
1 8 Saratoga County newspapers, 1820- / compiled by Joseph Gavit [ca. 1930]. Manuscript (19 p.)
1 9 Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 35:4 (April 1931). Contains “A List of American Newspaper Reprints” by Joseph Gavit.
1 10 Correspondence (1932-1936) regarding Gavit’s “List of American Newspaper reprints.” (Arranged chronologically)
1 11 A List of American Newspaper Reprints / Joseph Gavit (1931). Reprinted from the Bulletin of the New York Public Library. Annotated by Joseph Gavit to ca. 1938.
1 12 A List of American Newspaper Reprints / Joseph Gavit (1931). Reprinted from the Bulletin of the New York Public Library. Annotated by Gavit to ca. 1946.
1 13 The Ulster County Gazette and Its Illegitimate Offspring / R.W.G. Vail. Advance copy of an article from the Bulletin of the New York Public Library 34:3 (April 1930); with a supplementary note which appeared in the Bulletin in April 1931. Manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit.
1 14 The Ulster County Gazette and Its Illegitimate Offspring / R.W.G. Vail (1951). Separate from the Bulletin of the New York Public Library. Inscribed to Gavit by the author.
1 15 Correspondence (1929-1937), with Vail and others concerning reprint editions of the Ulster County Gazette.
1 16 Correspondence (1933-1940) with Milton W. Hamilton, concerning early printers and newspapers in upstate New York.
1 17 List of newspapers published in Albany, 1821-1880, on file [at] New York Public Library (1930). Typescript (8 p.)
1 18 Review article: “American Newspapers, 1921-1836 by Winifred Gregory” / Milton W. Hamilton. Separate from New York History. With manuscript notes by Joseph Gavit.
1 19 “Hot Off the Press 100 Years Ago” [radio script] / Joseph Gavit. Read over WGY, Schenectady, New York, December 3, 1935. Typescript.
1 20 Radio script for talk by Joseph Gavit (undated). Typescript.
1 21 “News of 100 Years Ago” [radio script] / Joseph Gavit (December 1935). Typescript.
1 22 Radio script for talk by Joseph Gavit (December 24, 1936). Typescript.
1 23 Manuscript notes for radio talks, compiled 1935-1936.
1 24 “How old is an old newspaper? …” Manuscript notes by Joseph Gavit, possibly for a speech or lecture (undated).
1 25 “Newspapers” Manuscript notes for lecture outline (May 19, 1936).
2 1 Correspondence regarding newspaper bibliographic inquiries. Arranged chronologically.
2 2 Joseph Gavit, collector. Collection of letters, bills, and checks mainly regarding newspaper subscriptions for mostly, but not exclusively, Albany, New York, newspapers, circa 1802-1882. Approximately 120 items.
2 3 Joseph Gavit, collector. Collection of newspaper clippings and articles concerning newspaper publishing history.
  Series 2: New York State Library newspaper collections
2 4 New York State Library. List of duplicate pre-1820 newspaper holdings.
  Newspaper acquisitions notes:
2 5
  • Walton collection.
2 6
  • James Bogert collection.
2 7
  • Lansing collection.
2 8
  • Patterson collection.
2 9
  • Ballston Spa collection.
2 10
  • Underhill collection.
2 11
  • Buffalo Historical Society.
2 12
  • Rochester Public Library
2 13 Miscellaneous correspondence and notes regarding collections of newspapers offered to or acquired by the New York State Library (1928-1946).
  Series 3: Fourth of July orations
3 1 “Fourth of July Orations, Sermons, Poems, etc.: A Catalog begun by Walter Stanley Biscoe, and carried on by Joseph Gavit” (February 1945). Manuscript copy (approximately 200 p.)
3 2 “Fourth of July orations …” Biscoe/Gavit (ca. 1946). Manuscript (117 p.)
3 3 “Fourth of July orations …” Biscoe/Gavit. Chronological arrangement through 1879. Manuscript (100 p.)
3 4 Correspondence and notes between Joseph Gavit and Peter J. Paulson, concerning the history of the Fourth of July orations bibliography (1950-1954).
3 5 Checklist of Fourth of July orations. Mimeographed forms mailed to other repositories to list holdings (1950). Issued in 7 parts. Parts 2, 3 and 7.
3 6 Checklist of libraries canvassed for holdings of Fourth of July orations. Typescript (9 p.)
3 7 Lists of library symbols used in checklist (various dates). Typed and handwritten.
3 8 Correspondence, 1932-1950, regarding the Fourth of July orations project.
3 9 List of George Washington orations, eulogies, anniversary addresses and proceedings / compiled by Walter Stanley Biscoe; Annotated and expanded by Joseph Gavit (ca. 1937). Manuscript and typescript (various pagings).
  Series 4: Arms of New York State
3 10 “The Unrecorded State Arms of 1850” / Joseph Gavit (October 4, 1946). Typescript (2 p.)
3 11 “The Unrecorded State Arms of 1850” / Joseph Gavit (1947). Typescript (5 p.). Article written for publication in New York History.
3 12 “The Unrecorded State Arms of 1850” / Joseph Gavit. Reprint of article from New York History, January 1948.
3 13 “The Correct Arms of the State of New York” / Joseph Gavit (1950). Typescript (3 p.) 3 copies.
3 14 “The Correct Arms of the State of New York” / Joseph Gavit. Reprint of article in New York History, January 1950.
3 15 List of persons sent complimentary copies of Gavit’s 1950 article on the Arms of the State of New York. Manuscript (1 leaf)
3 16 Correspondence (1946-1955) concerning the Arms of the State of New York.
3 17 Miscellaneous notes, clippings, etc., concerning Arms of the State of New York. Contains contemporary state forms and documents showing different versions of Arms.
3 18 Printer’s block used for illustration in 1950 New York History article.
  Series 5: New York State printers
4 1 “New York State Printers before 1876” / compiled by Ralph David Phillips [ca. 1940]. Carbon copy of typescript; bound with blank leaves for annotation. Annotated by Joseph Gavit. Alphabetical by name of printer.
4 2 “New York State Printers before 1876: Expanded Version of Phillips List” / compiled by Joseph Gavit (1949).
4 3 “New York State Publishers before 1850, in the New York State Library” [ca. 1950]. Based on Phillips-Gavit listing. Typescript. Alphabetical by town.
4 4 “Index of Earliest Recorded Printing in Towns of New York State” / compiled by Joseph Gavit [194-?]. Typescript (3 p.) Alphabetical by town.
4 5 “Index of Earliest Recorded Printing in Towns of New York State” / compiled by Joseph Gavit. Revised (1949). Typescript (3 p.) 2 copies.
4 6 Correspondence (1943-1949) relating to New York State printers.
  Series 6: Miscellaneous historical notes and correspondence
4 7 “George Washington’s Dress Sword” / by Joseph Gavit. Manuscript (3 p.) Historical note.
4 8 “George Washington’s Dress Sword” / by Joseph Gavit. Typed copy bound with related documents.
4 9 Bulletin of the Society of American Sword Collectors, 1948. Contains published version of Joseph Gavit’s notes on the Washington dress sword. Bound with correspondence between Joseph Gavit and the editors.
4 10 Miscellaneous correspondence (1946-1948) regarding Washington’s sword.
4 11 “Thanksgiving Day” / Joseph Gavit. Manuscript (1 leaf).
4 12 List of newspapers covered in Joseph Gavit’s card index of births and marriages extracted from New York State Newspapers prior to 1830.
(NOTE: This index has been published in microform as Joseph Gavit, American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829. (Albany: The New York State Library, 1976). New York State Library call number: MA/FM,929.3747,G283,77-23280
4 13 “Early New York Imprints in the New York State Library” / by Joseph Gavit (1930). Typescript listing.
4 14 Miscellaneous in-house and external correspondence relating to sheet music collections at the New York State Library.
4 15 Correspondence and notes relating to Erastus Dow Palmer.
  Series 7: Papers and correspondence relating to State Library work
4 16 Annual report of shelf section, 1943-1944. Manuscript (5 p.)
4 17 Annual report of shelf section, 1943-1944. Typescript (5 p.)
4 18 Correspondence (1912-1913) concerning library stacks in new Education Building.
4 19 Correspondence (1929-1946) regarding technical matters associated with shelf construction, stack lighting, etc.
4 20 Planning documents relating to shelving and management of pamphlet collections.
4 21 Planning documents relating to shelving and management of debate books.
4 22 Planning documents relating to shelving and management of doctoral dissertations collection.
4 23 Notes on price increase in bindery.
4 24 Notes on binders strike (1946).
4 25 Notes on indexing of sheet music collection.
  Series 8: New York Library: History
4 25 Capitol fire of March 29, 1911. Contemporary notes and pictures. In the form of a heavily annotated copy of a souvenir pamphlet, “Sparks” from the New York State Capitol Fire, Albany, N.Y., March 29, 1911. Over 50 Souvenir Views. (Albany: Coulson & Wendt, 1911). Additional photographs by W.H. Barker, with manuscript notes by Joseph Gavit.
4 26 Manuscript accounts (1912-1945) of the 1911 Capitol fire / Joseph Gavit (40 p.).
4 27 Notes by Joseph Gavit on the history of bindery operations at the State Library (1954). Manuscript (3 p.)
4 28 Joseph Gavit. Petty cash accounts. Manuscript (1 v., various pagings).
  Series 9: Private genealogical research
4 29 New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 77, Whole No. 305 (January 1923). Contains “Philip Gavet of Salem, Mass. and Some of His Descendents” by Joseph Gavit (signed copy).
4 30 Correspondence (1930-1931) with New England Historical and Genealogical Society.
  Series 10: Annotated bibliographies
5 1 McMurtie, Douglas C. Checklist of Eighteenth Century Albany Imprints (1939). With manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit to ca. 1944.
5 2 McMurtie, Douglas C. Short Title List of Books and Pamphlets Printed in Auburn, N.Y., 1810-1850. Manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit.
5 3 McMurtie, Douglas C. Short Title List of Books and Pamphlets Printed in Ithaca, N.Y., 1811-1850. Manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit.
5 4 McMurtie, Douglas C. Rochester Imprints 1819-1859 in Libraries Outside of Rochester. Manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit.
5 5 “McMurtie Imprints: Auburn and Ithaca” (bound together). Manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit.
5 6 “McMurtie Imprints: Buffalo Supplement, and Geneva with Additions” (bound together). Manuscript annotations by Joseph Gavit.
  Series 11: Correspondence, general
5 7 Letters of congratulations to Joseph Gavit on the 50th anniversary of his employment in the New York State Library (1946). Bound collection of letters from colleagues and friends.
5 8 Tribute to Joseph Gavit from his library associates, New York State Library, February 24, 1946. Signed proclamation (hand-illuminated and bound).
  Correspondence – General, (ca. 1906-1950) ( arranged alphabetically by correspondent):
5 9 Correspondence - A-C
5 10 Correspondence - D-F
5 11 Correspondence - G-H
5 12 Correspondence - I-L
5 13 Correspondence - M
5 14 Correspondence - N-Z
5 15 Correspondence  - A-Z (accretion – not indexed)
  Series 12: Index Card Files
  Index cards to Fourth of July orations research
“NIL” on a card indicates item is not in the New York State Library?
6 ca. 1783-1941, including ca. 300 cards behind a card on which is written: Include these Fourth of July items? – (ca. 1,000 items); bibliographic information is mostly handwritten; in a few instances the information is typed
7 ca. 1776-1809 –  (ca. 1,200 items); bibliographic information is mostly handwritten; in a few instances the information is typed
8 ca. 1810-1826 – (ca. 1,200 items); bibliographic information is mostly handwritten; in a few instances the information is typed
9 ca. 1827-1844 – (ca. 1,200 items); bibliographic information is mostly handwritten; in a few instances the information is typed
10 ca. 1845-1866 – (ca. 1,200 items); bibliographic information is mostly handwritten; in a few instances the information is typed
11 ca. 1867-1955 –  (ca. 1,200 items); bibliographic information is mostly handwritten; in a few instances the information is typed
12 ca. 1777-1944 – Photocopies (negative) of cards from a card file. The bibliographic information on all the originals in this group is, for the most part, mass produced and distributed probably by the Library of Congress. However, the subject heading “Independence day – Speeches, [date]” – was hand-lettered.
13 Index cards to compilation of data on marriages (Po-Z) and deaths (A-E) that was published as American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829. (Albany: The New York State Library, 1976)

Index cards of death notices (ca. 1787-1833) of people with surnames beginning with A through E, from newspapers published mainly in Albany, N.Y., but also including deaths as far west as Rochester, as far south as New York City, and as far north as Plattsburgh; also includes some deaths that occurred outside New York State. ca. 3,000 handwritten cards.

This index is preceded by six 3-inch-by-5-inch pieces of paper with background information:

  1. The entries on yellow paper, and others showing no source, are transcripts form Franklin B. Hough’s manuscript “American Obituaries,” in the Manuscript Section, and are presumably from the Albany Gazette, 1783-1823.
  2. List of claimants of invalid pensions under Act of 23d March 1792, not to be placed on pension lists. (N.Y.) Daily Advertiser, 24 July 1794
  3. Lists of deaths in New York from epidemic, July-Oct. 5, 1799. See (N.Y.) Spectator, Oct. 5, also [Oct.] 23d
  4. Deaths in New York City from the malignant fever, Aug.-Oct. 1803. See (N.Y.] W[ee]kly Visitor, Nov. 5, 1803.
  5. New York deaths, fever epidemic of 1803. See N.Y. Spectator, Nov. 9, 1803.
  6. See Albany paper, or New York, just before Dec. 11, 1824, for details of sinking of the Sloop Neptune near West Point. Plattsburgh Republican, 11 Dec. 1824

The information these cards was published as American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829. (Albany: The New York State Library, 1976). New York State Library call number: MA/FM,929.3747,G283,77-23280

13 Index cards to compilation of data on marriages (Po-Z) ca. 2,300 handwritten cards

The information these cards was published as American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829. (Albany: The New York State Library, 1976). New York State Library call number: MA/FM,929.3747,G283,77-23280

Index of Letters to Joseph Gavit by Correspondent

Name of Correspondent Year Date Box Folder
Acker, Eva E. 1946 March 6 5 7
Albaugh, Gaylord P. 1941 July 11 2 1
      1941 July 18 2 1
Alter, N. Berton 1946 February 9 2 13
Anderson, Edwin H.      1924 January 4 1 10
      1931 December 3 1 10
1931 April 18 1 10
1946 January 22 5 7
Andrews, Mary n.d. 5 9
Angle, Paul M. 1941 December 16 2 1
Angle, Paul S. 1941 December 27 2 1
Arvedson, George C. 1946 August 16 4 19
Ashley, Frederick W. 1930 October 1 1 15
     1930 December 12 1 15
Babcock, Heath 1946 January 30 5 7
Bacon, Catherine 1949 April 13 4 15
    1949 April 15 4 15
Barker, William H. 1946 February 24 5 7
Beals, R.A. 1950 March 17 3 16
Beard, Geraldine 1941 July 18 5 13
Bendell, Berta 1946 February 16 5 7
Benedict, Georgia 1946 February 24 5 7
Bennon, M.H. 1946 February 22 5 7
Bishop, William Warner 1929 November 14 1 10
Bliss, Leslie Edgar 1929 May 5 1 15
Bond, George Hopkins 1946 January 28 5 7
Boochever, Florence 1946 January 1 5 7
Boyd, John O. 1946 March 7 2 13
Brewster, James 1937 February 16 2 13
      1937 February 19 2 13
1946 January 18 5 7
Brewster, Mary B. 1939 October 14 1 10
       1946 February 24 5 7
1947 February 6 4 10
1947 February 14 4 10
1948 June 11 4 10
1948 June 30 4 10
Brigham, Clarence S. 1924 February 1 1 10
      1924 February 8 1 10
1928 June 25 2 13
1928 June 26 5 9
1929 March 1 2 1
1929 April 13 2 1
1929 April 17 2 1
1929 May 14 1 15
1930 April 14 2 1
1931 December 10 1 10
1937 March 19 2 1
1943 March 1 2 10
1943 April 6 2 10
1944 May 31 1 15
1945 February 9 3 8
1945 July 11 2 3
1946 January 18 3 8
1946 January 29 5 7
1946 July 27 3 8
1946 December 2 2 1
1946 December 4 2 1
1947 February 5 3 8
1949 April 19 3 8
1950 April 3 3 8
1950 April 11 3 8
1950 April 29 3 8
1950 May 17 3 8
n.d. 3 8
Brind, Charles A. 1946 January 18 5 7
Brown, Karl 1946 February 24 5 7
Byrne, William T. 1925 December 7 5 9
    1950 March 17 3 16
Cappon, Lester J. 1934 January 17 2 1
     1940 March 18 2 1
Cheney, Lloyd 1946 January 22 5 7
Cheney, Lloyd L. 1948 March 5 3 16
Childs, James B. 1929 February 5 1 10
Clark, James R. 1946 January 11 5 9
    1946 January 22 5 9
Clarke, Thomas Wood 1950 March 18 3 16
Cobb, M.E. 1946 January 1 5 7
Codman, Ogden 1925 April 6 5 9
      1925 May 9 5 9
Cohen, Ida Mindel 1946 January 24 5 7
Cole, Ernest F. 1946 February 27 5 7
Colson, Frederick D. 1946 January 19 5 7
Conroe, Irwin A. 1946 January 30 5 7
Cordell, H.M. 1929 July 15 4 19
      1929 July 24 4 19
Corey, Albert B. 1946 January 21 5 7
     1950 March 17 3 16
1951 April 19 3 16
1951 April 27 3 16
1951 May 7 3 16
Cornell, Frances G. 1946 February 22 5 7
Coupton, Charles H. 1946 January 15 5 7
Cramer, John H. 1944 April 6 2 1
1944 April 12 2 1
1944 April 17 2 1
Cranwell, Sue Roche 1946 February 6 5 7
Cregan, Florence 1946 January 24 5 7
Culver, D. Jay 1948 July 1 4 10
Cunningham, Mary E. 1949 August 3 3 16
1949 August 19 3 16
1950 February 23 3 16
Curtis, Dorothy 1946 January 1 5 7
Davis, William C. 1945 April 25 5 9
Desmond, Thomas C. 1950 March 21 3 16
Dewey, Godfrey 1946 January 21 5 7
Dewey, Melvil [testimony, in 1906, of Gavit’s good work] 1906 January 22 5 7
Dewey, Thomas E. 1946 January 19 5 7
Doorey, Francis M. 1941 June 26 5 10
Doris, A.L. 1941 April 5 5 7
Duncan, Trelie (?) 1946 January 20 5 7
Durrell, Harold Clarke 1930 May 22 4 30
Durston, H.C. 1938 January 12 2 1
Dustan, Catherine M. 1946 February 15 5 7
Eastwood, Mary 1946 January 1 5 7
Edmonds, Walter D. 1937 December 1 5 10
1937 December 3 5 10
1938 July 3 5 10
Edwards, Josephine 1946 June 1 2 13
Ellison, E.H. 1913 May 21 4 18
1913 June 2 4 18
1913 June 5 4 18
Elmendorf, George M. 1946 March 20 5 7
Endres, Joseph 1946 January 21 5 7
Feller, John 1942 May 14 5 10
Ferguson, Milton J. 1946 January 15 5 7
Ferleger, Herbert R. 1941 June 9 5 10
1941 June 12
1941 June 26 5 10
Ferleger, Herbert W. 1941 September 16 5 10
1941 November 16 5 10
Field, Horace L. 1946 January 1 5 7
Finster, Robert R. 1931 December 12 1 10
Flick, Hugh M. 1948 September 14 3 16
1950 March 29 3 16
1950 April 4 3 16
Ford, Henry – signed by H.M. Cordell 1929 January 8 1 10
     – signed by H.M. Cordell 1929 January 15 1 10
     – signed by H.M. Cordell 1929 January 21 1 10
Ford, Worthington C. 1926 July 14 5 10
1927 August 29 5 10
Froom, L.E. 1933 April 6 5 10
1933 May 10 5 10
1933 May 15 5 10
1933 May 18 5 10
1933 May 23 5 10
1934 October 16 5 10
1934 October 18 5 10
Fulton, Deoch 1943 October 4 4 6
1943 October 14 4 6
Gager, Bertha 1946 January 1 5 7
Gallagher, Charles A. 1946 January 26 5 7
Gavit, John Palmer 1930 June 11 4 30
Gavit, Joseph 1950 April 12 3 16
Gillis, Mabel R. 1945 October 22 5 11
1945 November 6 5 11
Gosnell, Charles F. 1946 February 24 5 7
1946 October 29 4 10
1947 January 16 4 10
1947 January 27 4 10
Graves, Frank P. 1946 January 17 5 7
1950 March 17 3 16
Greene, Laura A. 1946 January 25 5 7
Greene, Nelson 1945 December 15 2 13
1945 December 22 2 13
1945 December 30 2 13
Guthe, Carl E. 1946 January 19 5 7
Hackett, Frank S. 1946 February 27 5 7
Hadley, Chalmers 1941 October 1 5 11
Hall, Wilmer 1946 January 12 5 7
Hall, Wilmer L. 1946 January 12 5 7
Hall, Wilmer T. 1931 December 31 1 10
Hamilton, Milton W. 1933 October 14 1 16
1933 October 18 1 16
1933 October 23 1 16
1933 November 22 1 16
1933 November 24 1 16
1934 July 4 1 16
1934 July 9 1 16
1935 March 13 1 16
1935 July 24 1 16
1936 February 22 1 16
1936 February 26 1 16
1937 August 16 1 16
1940 May 21 1 16
Hamilton, William J. 1946 March 27 5 7
Harris, Eva G. 1931 November 14 2 1
Hartigan, Bill 1946 January 20 5 7
Hasbrouck, G.D.B. 1937 May 6 5 11
1937 April 20 5 11
1937 May 1 5 11
1937 May 5 5 11
1937 May 19 5 11
1937 May 21 5 11
Hatch, J.D., Jr. 1946 August 25 4 10
Hathaway, Christine D. 1950 June 9 3 8
Haykin, David Judson 1946 February 24 5 7
Haynes, Robert H. 1946 January 16 5 11
1946 January 23 5 11
Heim, E. Frank 1933 December 21 4 19
1933 December 29 4 19
Hemstreet, Marion 1946 January 24 5 7
Henderson, James D. 1936 May 22 1 10
Henderson, Paul G. 1943 September 15 2 1
1943 September 20 2 1
Henning, Elizabeth M. 1946 January 17 5 7
Hobbie, Eulin Klyver 1946 February 24 5 7
Hodgson, James C. 1946 January 14 5 7
Hopkins, Alfred F. 1946 August 21 4 10
1947 January 18 4 10
1947 February 8 4 10
Horner, Harlan H. 1946 January 14 5 7
1950 April 5 3 16
Howard, James L. 1928 September 5 5 11
Howes, Florence Conant 1930 December 29 4 30
Hulst, Maud (Mrs. Charles W.) 1946 March 30 5 7
Huntington, Edna 1946 February 26 2 13
1946 March 5 2 13
Hutchinson, Phyllis M. 1934 October 30 5 11
1934 November 5 5 11
1934 November 14 5 11
1934 November 20 5 11
James, Helen C. 1946 January 1 5 7
Jennings, Judson T. 1931 December 14 1 10
Jewett. Alice L. 1946 January 19 5 7
Johannsen, Albert 1942 August 20 5 12
1942 August 25 5 12
1942 September 27 5 12
Kaiser, John B. 1946 January 18 5 7
Kaplan, H. Eliot 1950 May 2 5 7
Keena, Anne R. 1946 January 25 5 7
Kellar, Herbert A. 1945 August 28 5 13
Kennedy, David E. 1934 January 10 4 19
Killough, Helen W. 1946 January 24 5 7
Kleinhaus, Gertrude 1946 February 24 5 7
Knowlton, W.N. 1937 March 9 5 12
Kruse, Ed[ward] C. 1931 June 2 1 10
Lamont, J.W. 1937 August 14 5 12
Lansing, Ethel 1946 January 22 5 7
Lehman, Herbert H. 1936 May 31 5 12
1939 May 2 5 7
Lewi, Maurice J. 1946 February 20 5 7
Light, Helen 1946 January 1 5 7
Lindsey, Mary Elizabeth 1946 January 23 5 7
Lockwood, Paul E. 1946 July 16 3 16
1946 October 18 3 16
Lydenberg, H.M. 1930 April 9 2 1
1931 February 26 5 12
1934 November 3 1 10
Lynch, Martin F. 1946 July 16 5 7
Mabbott, Thomas O. 1931 January 29 2 1
1931 February 3 2 1
1931 February 9 2 1
MacCormack, John A. 1948 March 2 3 16
MacDonald, Jeanette 1937 April 28 5 13
MacFarlane, Janet R. 1946 January 21 5 7
1946 April 2 5 7
1948 March 16 3 16
1948 March 19 3 16
MacNicholas, Florence 1945 October 16 5 13
1945 November 6 5 13
Macy, W. Kingsland 1946 January 18 5 7
Magendanz, Johannes 1934 July 23 5 13
1934 July 27 5 13
1934 August 24 5 13
1934 December 12 5 3
1935 April 4 5 13
Mangan, Thomas J. 1946 January 23 5 7
Martin, Howard H. 1952 July 25 3 8
1952 September 26 3 8
Martin, Michael A. 1946 January 1 5 7
McCombs, Charles F. 1946 January 10 5 7
McCord, Clinton P. (Dr.) 1946 February 17 5 7
McMurtrie, Douglas C. 1926 March 7 5 13
1934 January 25 5 13
1936 March 11 5 13
1937 December 27 5 13
1940 December 25 5 13
1941 September 23 5 13
1944 June 20 5 13
McNamara, Frances 1946 January 21 5 7
McPherson, Don 1937 December 6 2 13
Mearns, John S. 1951 April 9 3 16
1951 April 18 3 16
1951 May 18 3 16
1955 April 1 3 16
1955 April 4 3 16
n.d. 3 16
Merrick, C.V. 1913 May 24 4 18
Metcalf, Keyes D. 1946 October 29 5 7
1950 March 21 3 8
Milam, Carl H. 1946 January 11 5 7
Miller, J. Hillis 1946 January 28 5 7
Miller, Wharton 1946 January 10 5 7
Mitchell, Helen 1945 October 25 5 13
Mittler, Thomas J. 1946 January 22 5 7
Montgomery, Ruth 1953 October 5 5 7
Moore, Frank C. 1950 March 14 3 16
Morrison, J. Cayce 1946 January 15 5 7
Moshier, L. Marion 1946 February 11 5 7
Mun, Ralph 1946 February 24 5 7
Nelson, Evelyn 1946 January 23 5 7
Nesbit, Maude E. 1946 February 4 5 7
Nunns, A.A. 1923 January 8 1 10
Olcott, Douglas W. 1946 November 1 5 7
Paine, Paul M. 1931 December 15 1 10
Palmer, Byron S. 1922 February 11 4 15
1922 February 23 4 15
1922 March 24 4 15
1925 May 4 4 15
Palmer, F.M. 1950 August 29 3 8
Paltsits, Victor Hugo 1946 January 7 5 7
Parker, Arthur C. 1932 September 24 1 10
1946 March 20 5 7
Parsons, Frederick W. 1946 February 24 5 7
1950 April 4 3 16
Parsons, Grace G. 1946 April 30 5 7
Parsons, H.S. 1936 March 8 1 10
Patterson, Elizabeth 1937 March 20 2 8
Patterson, Elizabeth R. 1937 August 31 2 8
Paulson, Peter 1955 May 26 1 10
n.d. 3 8
Payne, Josephine Elizabeth 1930 May 27 4 30
Peck, Harriet R. 1946 January 16 5 7
Pierce, Bessie L. 1931 July 11 2 1
Pound, Arthur 1942 May 5 3 8
1942 May 8 3 8
1942 October 13 2 1
Probes, Charles F. 1946 January 24 5 7
Randolph, Howard S. 1934 November 21 5 14
Ranney, Florence J. 1946 January 21 5 7
Rayne, Josephine 1931 May 8 4 30
Rhodes, Isabella K. 1946 January 19 5 7
Rice, Paul North 1940 April 4 1 10
1943 September 27 4 6
1946 January 26 5 7
1946 November 13 5 14
Rider, Lloyd A. 1946 May 3 5 7
Riley, Stephen T. 1950 March 23 3 8
Robinson, F.B. 1931 December 10 1 10
Roosevelt, Franklin D. – copy (original in vault) 1931 December 28 1 10
  • (copy) original in vault
1932 January 4 1 10
Russell, John R. 1946 January 10 5 7
Russo, Dorothy R. 1941 February 15 2 1
1941 February 25 2 1
1941 March 14 2 1
1941 April 5 2 1
1943 August 14 2 1
1943 September 13 2 1
Sanderson, Edna M. (“Sandy”) 1931 December 14 1 10
1946 January 1 5 7
Sasseen, Patricia 1950 May 15 3 8
1950 May 22 3 8
Schafer, Joseph 1931 December 15 1 10
Schmall, Charles N. 1945 August 15 5 14
Schmidt, Arthur W. 1946 January 22 5 7
Schwind, Joseph L. 1946 January 25 5 7
Scott, Henry Edwards 1930 October 3 4 30
1930 October 15 4 30
1930 November 5 4 30
Seidman, I.S. 1932 February 20 1 15
Shipton, Clifford K. 1946 February 5 1 10
1948 March 12 3 16
Shirley, Wayne 1946 January 15 5 7
Smallwood, Mabel Coon 1946 February 21 5 7
Smith, Carleton 1933 September 8 4 14
Smith, Elizabeth M. 1931 December 12 1 10
1946 January 1 5 7
Smith, Mabel Perry 1936 November 13 2 13
1936 November 19 2 13
1936 November 24 2 13
Spew (?), Dorothea E. 1950 February 7 3 8
Stebbins, Howard L. 1946 October 22 5 7
Stedman, George W. 1946 January 23 5 7
Ster, Charles M. 1946 November 1 5 7
Stetson, Willis K. 1930 December 4 4 19
1930 December 4 4 19
Stoddard, George D. 1946 January 25 5 7
Stokes, J.G. Phelps 1931 February 9 1 14
Strube, Janet 1946 January 26 5 7
Sutliff, Mary L. 1945 January 22 5 7
Swart, Ida B. 1946 January 22 5 7
Thompson, Harold G. 1946 January 17 5 7
Thompson, William Leland 1946 January 17 5 7
Thorpe, Gertrude Porter 1946 January 18 5 7
Timmerman, Lois 1952 May 2 2 12
Tolman, Frank L. 1946 January 8 5 7
1946 May 24 5 7
Toms, Elizabeth I. 1929 April 5 2 1
1929 April 11 2 1
Tower, Roy A. 1931 November 21 1 10
Towner, Neile F. 1930 October 16 4 30
Tuttle, Julius H. 1924 January 4 1 10
1931 December 14 1 10
Underhill, W.A. 1943 March 30 2 10
Vail, R.W.G. 1946 November 22 5 7
Vail, Robert W.G. 1930 December 9 1 15
1931 November 23 2 1
1931 December 11 1 10
1931 December 17 2 1
1931 December 23 5 14
1932 February 23 1 15
1938 February 10 1 15
1946 January 29 5 7
1946 February 18 5 7
1946 November 18 3 16
1947 February 10 3 8
1949 December 22 3 8
1950 February 19 4 6
Van Kleeck, Edwin R. 1946 November 22 5 7
Van Laer, A.J.F. 1946 January 14 5 7
1950 March 14 3 16
Van Loon, Arthur B. 1937 March 6 5 12
Van Wely, Walter 1946 January 22 5 7
Vanderbilt, Paul 1948 July 23 4 10
Villa Sainz, Clara Newth 1946 January 23 5 7
Vitz, Carl 1930 May 29 1 15
1946 August 30 5 7
Vroman, John 1946 January 15 5 7
Wade, Susan E. 1942 October 9 2 1
1942 October 21 2 1
Wall, Alexander J. 1931 December 10 1 10
Wallin, William J. 1946 January 23 5 7
Walsh, Charles E. 1948 March 5 3 16
Walton, A.P. 1932 June 9 1 10
1932 June 12 1 10
Wegelin, Oscar 1950 April 25 3 8
Weitenkampf, Frank 1928 October 30 5 14
Wheeler, Robert G. 1950 March 17 3 16
Wilby, Eleanor S. 1939 July 24 1 10
Wiley, George M. 1912 July 24 4 18
1946 January 21 5 7
Williams, R.N. 1950 January 4 3 8
1950 January 5 3 8
1950 January 30 3 8
1950 March 10 3 8
1950 June 5 3 8
Wilson, Lewis A. 1946 January 28 5 7
1950 December 4 5 7
Wiltse, Marian P. 1946 January 1 5 7
Wolohan, Juliet 1946 February 24 5 7
Woodcock, Mabel E. 1946 January 22 5 7
Woodward, Roland B. 1946 January 12 5 7
Woodworth, Florence 1946 January 14 5 7
1946 March 1 5 7
Wright, Lyle H. 1950 March 22 3 8
Wroth, Lawrence C. 1927 July 6 1 10
1927 July 11 1 10
1931 December 11 1 10
Wyer, James I. 1912 August 14 4 18
1937 March 9 5 12
1946 January 1 5 7
Wyer, Malcolm Glenn 1950 April 17 5 7
Young, Owen D. 1934 October 30 1 10
Young, William E. 1946 January 16 5 7
Ziegler, Sarah T. 1946 March 26 5 7
Last Updated: May 11, 2017