SUNY Plattsburgh Special Collections Mystery Archives Series

Episode One: A Doorway to Discovery!

The name's not important, but if you need to give me one, Inspector will do just fine.

My job? I solve mysteries. Not the easy ones. I leave those to the amateurs. Y'see, I work in the archives. And when your average historian, genealogist, lawyer, demographer, filmmaker, or clergy person throws in the research towel, that's when they call me.

Believe me, there are a million secrets hidden in those collections. Some people say they're secrets best left undisclosed, best kept quiet, best forgotten by time. Oh yeah? Not on my watch.

When I first arrived on the scene, the archivist was going on about her nails. Turned out she meant horseshoe nails made back in the 19th century. My mistake, lady. What's the big mystery?

She led me over to the photo archives. I should have known. There's always some kind of trouble in the photo archives. She laid out five rare pictures on the table.

"I take it that these are the machines that people used to make those horseshoe nails. So what do you want me to find out?"

She pointed to one particular image of a contraption standing outside the doorway of a stone structure. Snow frosted the nearby railings.

"Find out where this machine was located and who used it to make those nails."

Not so fast, lady

"I'm gonna need to see some ID."

With her customary aplomb, the archivist reminded me that many photographs arrive in archival collections with little to no identification attached. Yeah. It's as I said: photographs always mean trouble.

I needed a little background information. I needed to do some networking. Oh, I knew what this machine was alright, and I suspected that it might have been used at the old Ausable Horse Nail Co. of Keeseville, N.Y. The joint operated from 1863 up into the 1920s. 

"I'm going to need one of your fine copies of this one. I'm a little short of cash, but my credit's good for it."

"You can have it for our special affiliated rate.. And just for the record, your credit's never been good. Still, if anyone can solve this mystery, I know it's you."

Just for the record, she says. That's an archivist for you. Always keeping such perfect records of everything.

It was a long-shot, but I took my copy of the nail machine photograph to Steven Engelhart, Executive Director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, a non-profit historic preservation organization in Keeseville. I wanted to see if Engelhart thought the stonework of the doorway in the photo could be identified from out of the many original buildings that are still standing. Maybe the one that had housed the nail factory would be one of them.

Engelhart found the very doorway. He was able to identify it clearly by the pattern of the surrounding masonry. It was an exterior door to the second floor of the nail factory, in the place where “pointing” of the horse nails was done. So that's how that machine was used! I had my answer. The archivist would be pleased.

Success was written in the smile on my face as I swept in through the Special Collections front door. I gave her the good news and turned to leave.

"Don't bother to thank me. Stitching back together the loose fragments of history is just what I do. Time for me to waltz away into the Adirondack sunset."

"Hold on there, Inspector. We just received another undocumented donation. It looks like your cup of mud."

She had me there. I've never been a Starbucks man. The archives are my stimulant of choice.


Learn more about the Ausable Horse Nail Company in the early 1880s

Several nail company structures are now home to Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH),  the regional, nonprofit historic preservation organization for the Adirondack Park.

Read about Architecture of the Champlain Valley - Keeseville, provided by AARCH.

With such discoveries, greater contextualization, meaning, and significance can be given to our rich historic record.

The Mystery Archives Inspector

Oh, he's real alright. Would you like to meet him? Well, that just might happen when you visit Special Collections on a mystery adventure all your own. 

It's just another great reason to come on in and explore!

View more Mystery Archives episodes

Contact Special Collections at Feinberg Library

Debra Kimok
Special Collections Librarian
132 Feinberg Library
(518) 564-5206

Michael Burgess
Special Collections Associate
132 Feinberg Library
(518) 564-5206