BGHS online archive system now available; new exhibit planned

October 5, 2018
By Marcy Shortuse

As they tirelessly work their way through the boxes, scanning photos, transcribing audio and sorting through a variety of other items, Jim and Rose Marie Blaha have been creating an online archive system at the Boca Grande Historical Society for the past year.
With assistance from Crystal Diff, there is a new “Archival Services” tab on the website that allows visitors to search for items that are historically significant to Boca Grande.
As of the end of September, there were more than 2,000 archived items available to search via the website. The public can now peruse photos, maps, documents and other selected artifacts across the globe at anytime.
Much of this effort is the result of hours and hours of work by the Blahas. The two work together, side by side, at the History Center on the island – and also from their home – seven days a week, listening to and transcribing audio tapes, scanning old photos, documenting items and then categorizing them using a software called Past Perfect, specifically designed for museum archiving.
“This is a defining moment,” said Jim. “It’s our first venture into online access for the public.”
Accessing the database is easy. Just go to the BGHS website at On the website home page, you can access the collections through the “Online Collections Database” button or through the “History Center & Archives” tab at the top of the page. There you can search by keyword or term. You can also do advanced searches and browse through random images and photos.
“As progress continues with our classifying, the number of items available to search online will continue to grow,” Rose Marie said.
Two years ago, the Historical Society received a grant from the Woman’s Club and a private grant from Mark Spurgeon, and that money was used to purchase a computer, scanner and printer to start the project.
“We are very grateful to the Woman’s Club, and it’s a pleasure to work with Mark – he truly cares about this community,” Rose Marie said.
The Blahas are at the History Center every Saturday. They encourage locals to stop in and talk and share their stories about island history.
Archival research and reproduction requests should be emailed to
For more information, visit
Also, if you are browsing through archives and see something misidentified, send an email to so the information can be corrected.
The next exhibit planned at the Boca Grande Historical Society History Center and Book Shop will focus on “Phosphate, Rail and Real Estate” in Boca Grande.
With the help of a grant from the Woman’s Club as well as other private grants, the organization has purchased two touch screens that will be used at the interactive exhibit.
“We have a wealth of materials that we plan to use, which will offer an in-depth interpretation of how important phosphate, the railroad and real estate were before Boca Grande became so populated,” Jim said.
BGHS Board Member Melissa Csank is working on an electronic memory book for the new exhibit to share with the community.
“It is a collection of remembrances from our community and the archives of a time when Boca Grande had a railroad,” Csank said. “From Carolyn Nabers’ memory of the train conductor, Mannzy, to Margaret Fugate’s recollection of the day Mrs. Crowninshield boarded the train to leave the island for good, the railroad was a central feature of life on the Island and had an impact on the development of Boca Grande as we know it today.”
The memory book will be presented electronically on a touch screen for the community to explore at the new upcoming exhibit, “Boca Grande: Once a Railroad and Industrial Town.”
The current bridge exhibit at the History Center will soon taken down, and the Historical Society is willing to loan out portions of it to other educational organizations if they have the space and security.
The History Center will be closed from October 8 through October 29, as the new exhibit is being installed. The office will be open for phone calls and emails.
The new exhibit will be available for viewing on Tuesday, Nov. 13. A special ceremony is planned for 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to commemorate the event. A private viewing for members only will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Guest speaker Richard Fifer will present “A Tale of Two Phosphate Towns” at the Boca Grande Community Center on Thursday, Nov. 15. The exhibit will be open to the general public on Friday, Nov. 16.
The Boca Grande Historical Society is located at 470 Park Avenue at the corner of Banyan Street.