Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: E6

Date: Sunday, February 11, 2001

There's a new place in town where history and genealogy buffs can peruse old census lists and city directories, sort through century-old land records and review the exhibits presented to jurors at long-ago trials. The Albany County Hall of Records has tripled its storage space by moving to 95 Tivoli Street, the old Huck Finn's Warehouse site in North Albany. The space will house documents from the historic to the mundane for the city and county of Albany.

The county has moved in all of the contents of its former records facility at 250 South Pearl Street. The documents stored at a Bradford Street building leased to accept the overflow are headed for Tivoli sometime in April, County Clerk Thomas Clingan said.

The total floor space available for records at those spots was approximately 13,000 square feet, compared with 29,000 square feet at Tivoli Street. And because the records now can be stored vertically on metal shelves stretching more than 18 feet high, the usable space for records will triple, according to official estimates.

``We hope to get another 20 years, at least, out of this facility,'' Clingan said. ``I want to assure you that we know where everything is in here and if we need to find something, we can find it now.''

The county has some 25,000 file boxes of records and another 4,000 old ledgers and deed books wrapped in acid-free paper that are stored on the metal shelves at the hall. Each shelf in the new Hall of Records is equipped with its own row of sprinklers, allowing the targeted dousing of a fire without exposing the whole collection to damage.

A big chunk of the space in the Hall of Records is taken up by routine documents that the facility keeps for county and city departments, including health, jail and social services records. Eventually, some of those documents are destroyed when the required time for retaining them expires.

The real bragging rights at the Hall of Records are attached to a few prized historic items stored in the county archives portion of the hall.

The original 1686 Albany city charter, known as the ``Dongan Charter'' and the oldest existing city charter in the country, is there.

So is an early photocopy of a ransom note sent during the 1933 kidnapping of John J. O'Connell Jr., nephew of powerful city Democratic Party boss Dan O'Connell. The copy was used as an exhibit during the trial of one of the accused kidnappers, Manning Strewl.

Clingan is particularly proud of the ransom note because he found it some years ago, early in his career with county government, and recognized its significance among the old court files he happened to be handling.

There are three presidential pardons issued for Albany County Jail inmates during the 1890s and books of deeds, Indian treaties and bills of sale dating to the mid-1600s, when Albany was still a Dutch settlement and stockade called Fort Orange.

The new quarters will cost the county more, but Clingan said there was no room left at the old buildings. While microfilm can help reduce the volume of documents requiring storage, the process often is too expensive for seldom-used records and those that won't be kept permanently, he said.

The county expects to pay nearly $228,800 this year to lease the new records facility, Clingan said. The county has a 20-year lease with members of the Sperber family, owners of the current Huck Finn's store, and an option to buy the building in the third and fourth years of the contract, according to Clingan.

Last year, the county budgeted $166,280 to lease and maintain records space at 250 S. Pearl St. and a separate building on Bradford Street.