The Nella Braddy Henney History Room was added to the Conway Public Library in 1976. It holds state and town histories for New Hampshire and Oxford County, Maine, along with family histories, maps, photographs, and other materials, most of which are related to the immediate region. Its origin is described in the following article from The Reporter.
To use the title: "A Room For All Time", in describing the new Henney History Room, located in the basement of the Conway Public Library, may be optimistic. After all, when Eaton voters had built a small red brick tomblike building - the town vault - in 1912 they no doubt expected the volumes and scraps stored there would be safe "for all time." Yet a few short years ago, when Keith Henney and his late wife, Nella, got permission to enter the vault they found the "treasure trove" of historical data badly damaged by dampness, mildew and neglect.
With the memory of the hours and hours of enjoyable but arduous and patient work he and his wife put in saving these scraps and volumes of early history, following his wife's death a little over two years ago, Mr. Henney began to seriously ponder over what should and could be done to safeguard this material as well as the vast amount of paper material, including rare books, which the couple had accumulated over the years.
We interviewed Mr. Henney recently in the sunny yellow Henney history Room, where he said, " I'll be 80 next October. At my age it is time to start tying up loose strings. I don't wish to take on any more long term project as I have in the past, but I want this material available for others' enjoyment and for educational purposes." The options available to Mr. Henney were few. The extremely slim, neat gentleman told us he talked with representatives of the N.H. Historical Society and added, "However, I thought it over. I decided it was a shame not to keep the material closer to the territory it mainly deals with - available where people can enjoy it - use it in genealogical studies and in researching in other more or less local matters. Most importantly, I hoped to do something to safeguard it."
Mr. Henney said, "I'm not sure how I came upon the idea of interesting the Conway Library trustees in the project, but I feel highly satisfied that I did and that they were cooperative and definitely receptive to my proposition."
Mr. Henney's proposition was truly generous. He would give the very valuable historical collection, including books, maps and miscellaneous papers to the library if an appropriate room for it could be built - at his expense. The late Edmund Warren was chosen by the Library Trustees as chairman of a special committee to negotiate the matter. He and members of the board called upon Mr. Henney a number of times and plans were finalized and a written agreement drawn up and submitted to the selectmen.
Facing the library the location of the basement room housing the Henney History collection is at the left front. The resulting room, 16 by 20 feet, is very restful and quiet. The walls are a sunny yellow, it is very well lighted and heavily carpeted. The ceiling is the suspended type; shelves line two walls, but there is an excess of room there and in floor space as well. A homey feature of the room is a very long honey pine table which Henney had custom made by Gerald Stanley of Conway. It is a trestle type table, made of native pine and is handsome and sturdy. Keith Henney, peering through his thick eye glasses, is likely to run a thin knarled hand over its smooth top as he tells you that the room cost him between seven and eight thousand dollars and that the Board of Trustees also went to quite an expense to help make it possible.
He looked around a bit wistfully and said, "I believe it is as safe as anything could be, really." A brick chimney which bisects the room is painted soft yellow and does not distract from the room's charm, but adds atmosphere. On one side of this is to be hung a brass plaque, mounted on satiny dark wood. On it is inscribed very simply, "History Room - In Memory of Nella Braddy Henney".
The Henney's met while both were employed as editors for Doubleday Publishers in New York. Neither was a native of New Hampshire. Mr. Henney was born in Ohio, while Nella Braddy came originally from Georgia. She was in the general publishing business, while his field was in editing technical books. Asked how long he had been familiar with our Valley, Mr. Henney replied, "Oh, we bought property in the hills of Snowville some 40 years ago but it was not until about a decade ago that we moved here permanently."
Having lived with books for so long it is perhaps not surprising that the now retired Henneys became interested in writing one themselves. "The Early Days of Eaton" was written and researched to a budget figure - a somewhat frustrating set of circumstances, according to Keith Henney. The voters of Eaton in 1966 voted to raise $2,000 for the purpose of publishing a history of the village. In gathering materials for the book the Henneys flushed out a vast amount of material early residents had saved and which had been passed down to their descendants over the years. Much could not be used in the book. During 1970 and 1971 many of these bits and pieces were made available to interested readers in the community through the North Conway Reporter, and in 1972 the Henneys published "The Eaton Records". For at least a year Keith and Nella, literally with magnifying glass in hand at times, studied an accumulation of memorabelia - most of which came from the town vault.
"It was like an archeological dig - absolutely," Keith Henney agreed with us, a twinkle in his eyes. He spoke of how the sometimes almost illegible handwriting, the highly individual spelling and grammar of some of those early record keepers "brought those people alive to us". In fact, he said with a resigned shrug, "I found I could understand those people better than the young people I meet today!"
Actually The Early Days of Eaton was conceived because Nella Henney's grandfather was a Confederate soldier. She and her husband were upset at the way 'the north' celebrated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Hot dog stands and wax effigies of the men who gave their lives for their beliefs at the battleground of Gettysburg. Wanting, apparently, to show their own feelings in the matter, Mr. and Mrs. Henney decided to what the young people call protest - but in a mild mannered thoughtful way. On a shoulder of Foss Mtn not far from Eaton Village is a cellar hole, known in Eaton's record books as Brooks Pasture. A little burying ground, walled in with granite slabs, riddled with groundhog holes and other signs of decay and neglect contains the body of John Brooks. He was an Eaton boy who went off to war. The Henneys cleaned up the grave and decorated it with a flag. In doing this the Henneys apparently fanned the flames of their own intelligent curiosity - for the gesture started them on a search for other Eaton soldiers' gravesites, for background information for more of Eaton's history, in short. This led them to admission to the Eaton Town Vault built in 1912, and here they found everything in a sad mess. They obtained permission from the Eaton Selectmen to take the material out, clean and sort it and try to put it into some sort of order. It obviously was a chore of love, in fact Keith Henney recalls the year that preceded the completion of The Eaton Records as "a glorious adventure."
Keith Henney's only regret may be that building a modern room in the basement of the Conway Public Library (circa 1900) to house the collection necessitated hiding great impressive slabs of granite foundation. He may too, feel a bit as though he has 'farmed out' his beloved books - but he truly showed a generous heart in providing the Henney History Room for future generations. He says he sincerely hoped that officials in surrounding towns, may wish to store their historical data here as well (Freedom, Albany and Brownfield, Maine lost their early records). The room is dry, warm in winter and undoubtedly will be comfortably cool in summer. It is ideally suited to quiet research and is, of course, available for use by anyone during regular library hours.
The Eaton Records are here on loan and remain, of course, the property of the Town of Eaton. Part of the profits from the Henney's writing went to pay for having many of them handsomely rebound and covered.
There are old maps to be added, it is hoped that old photographs will also be available to add to the collection; the material on the shelves is still being catalogued - yet today, for a history buff, the Henney History Room is "A Room for All Time" thanks to Keith Henney of Eaton and the late Nella B. Henney.
A portion of the material physically in the Henney History Room is available online.