Marlborough archivist has a plan to keep track of city’s history

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By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Dick Cochrane
Photo/Jane Keller Gordon

Marlborough – Dick Cochrane is working hard to catalogue thousands of letters, maps, books, newspapers, and other items donated to the Marlborough Historical Society. Since 2012, he has volunteered as the archivist, with emphasis on organization.

“I’m not from Marlborough and I’m not a real archivist – that’s pronounced ärˌkīvəst,” said Cochrane.

In fact, he is a Shrewsbury resident with a deep connection to Marlborough, and an extensive knowledge of genealogical research. He has figured out a system to begin to make sense out of the society’s vast holdings.

Cochrane, 77, is a retired physical therapist who spent many years working in hospital administration. In that capacity, he developed skills in organizing materials and writing protocols.

His connection with Marlborough is his wife Jill, who is part of the Howe and Estabrook families.

“The Howes bought land in Marlborough from the Native Americans in the 1670s. We have the deed stashed away,” he said.

For a period of time, he and his wife lived in his mother-in-law’s house, which was tucked away off Route 85, near Marlborough’s schools and housing. It was built in 1940, just after the 1938 hurricane.

“I started going to the historical society to research the Howes and Estabrooks. Back in the late 1800s, genealogy was a big deal. I found out that someone wrote a book about the five Howe families that were in Massachusetts at that time,” said Cochrane.

He added, “Now I’m the archivist, and I’m here every Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon.”

As for organizing the Marlborough archives, Cochrane realized that he could use a $25 software package called Frostbow Collection Manager 3 to organize Marlborough’s archives.

“The software uses pieces of Microsoft Office to keep track of inventory selling on eBay. I realized that I could use it to keep track of anything,” he said.

With a policy on borrowing in print, and rooms and files named, Cochrane and two volunteers are approaching their task object by object.

“It can take 20 minutes to figure out the best place for a map. Not everybody can do this. We are 1 percent done with this huge task.”

Cochrane described one of his filing projects as a detective’s nightmare.

“We have notes from a meeting that took place on December 4, 1739, which were typed in 1941. The notes are about inventing roads. We’re trying to match these to today’s streets,” he said.

Thursday afternoons are the busiest at the archives, according to Cochrane.

“People come in looking for family history. We just had three older couples who stopped by wanting to see information on the houses where they grew up,” Cochrane said.

People drop off old pictures, maps, and yearbooks. Cochrane added, “We have a drawer filled with essays about Marlborough from junior high school students back in the 1940s.”

Cochrane, who has been retired since 1998, said, “Everybody has got to have a hobby. This is mine.”

The archives are located in two rooms on the second floor of the Peter Rice Homestead, built in 1688, which is located at 377 Elm St. The archive rooms will be closed for December 2018 and January 2019, while the floors, ceilings and walls are renovated. For more information, contact Cochrane at [email protected].