Creating the Marlborough Historical Society's Site

We started building this site in 2007 and nearly all of the elements were in-place within 12 months.  From there, it was a matter of adding content and keeping it up-to-date.  The site was built and is maintained by volunteers without technical or engineering skills using the tools and services listed below. 

January 2013 update: If we were to build the site now, we would take a close look at some of the other easy-to-use platforms that include WYSIWYG editors ("Hosting" and "Site Creation Software").  There's no problem with what we chose, but there are several more today than were available then.  All the rest of the choices, including domain name registration, would probably be the same.

  • Domain name registration and hosting: 1&1, one of the largest and least expensive registrar and one of the largest hosting providers.
  • Site creation software: WebsiteBuilder Plus, which includes a WYSIWYG editor and templates, also from 1&1.
  • Accepting payments: PayPal.
  • Program and event list: The History List (free), which is where we list all of our programs and special events.  We then used their widget builder (click on the "Embed" button on any of your organization's pages on The History List) to create the code that we added to our home page and the main page or our "Programs and Events" section.  All of the event listings shown there are generated automatically from our listing on The History List. When we have events to add or changes to make to the existing list, we make the changes on The History List and they appear immediately on our site.  (Added in 2012.)
  • Event registration and reporting: Eventbrite (works with PayPal).  Free for free events; the cheapest we found for pay events (and doesn't have any fixed fees).
  • Photos: The Historic Photos slideshow and others uses the free PictoBrowser, which displays photos we've uploaded to our free account Flikr.
  • Newsletter: VerticalResponse, free for non-profits.
  • Document hosting and streaming: Scribd, free.  Easy to understand what it is and why it's desirable once you see it.  Here's one example from the site.  If you decide to use Scribd for your project, consider adding your documents to the "Historic Preservation" group we set up.  Making them available through Scribd also increases discovery, which brings more people to the site.
  • Video hosting: YouTube, free.
  • Presentation hosting and streaming: We upload slide presentations to SlideShare (free) and embed them in our site.  As with YouTube and Scribd, making them available through SlideShare also increases discovery, which brings more people to the site.

By making information about Marlborough and the Marlborough Historical Society available to anyone anywhere anytime, our site is an important part of delivering on our commitment to historic preservation, education, and celebration. 

Our site is built and maintained by volunteers and is supported 100% by donations, memberships, and purchases of Society merchandise.

Putting the property survey online

In 2008, as part of the Marlborough Historical Society's commitment to historic preservation and eduction, the entire contents of this five-volume printed report, Marlborough Survey of Historic, Architectural, and Cultural Resources, were scanned and put online here as searchable documents for everyone to use.

One of our central goals in this project was to make the information as easy to get to and use as possible, while recognizing that, other than a few-page narrative, the rest of the report was available only as paper files.

Because of this, the entire five volumes had to be scanned. 

Our tests using OCR software showed that because the critical first sheet of every property or area was typed on a form, the OCR output was not usable.  (View the test sheet scanned as an image and the OCR output of this same sheet.)

As a result, the scanning was done at 200 dpi and the text was converted into searchable PDFs using ReadIris Pro 11, which turned all of the text and some of the handwritten map notation into searchable text.   (More on ReadIris Pro 11 at Amazon.)

Each document was saved using the street or area that it described as the title.

Instead of using the slow WYSIWYG interface in WebsiteBuilder Plus for uploading and linking to documents, we FTP'd the documents up using FireFTP, the Firefox add-on.

We created the text for the HTML by capturing the file names from the directory using the free trial version of DDFileCatcher. Then we copied them into textpad, wrote the HTML by hand, and used the "Insert your own code" utility in WebsiteBuilder Plus to drop them into the page.

We also put the narrative (Parts I and II) up as HTML. 

Many improvements can be made to what has been done here, including adding anchor links to make the narrative page easier to navigate, breaking up the narrative page into multiple pages, adding pictures of properties, and linking from the references to houses, streets, and areas in the narrative to the PDFs that describe them in greater detail.

With the widespread availability of inexpensive tools and hosting, there are many ways that future surveys can be made much easier and more useful at every step of the way, from creating, correcting, approving, and publishing , to supplementing and updating by staff, consultants, and members of the community.