A Treasure Trove of History
Over the course of the past seven years, Belen Harvey House Museum volunteer research librarian Mary Hahn has worked to compile a list of every Harvey House employee in New Mexico.
“My big job — and I guess I made it my big job because people were asking about Harvey Girls and ‘Is my grandmother a Harvey Girl?’ — I started putting together a list of Harvey Girls using census and mainly newspapers.”
For nearly a decade of her work with the Harvey House and the Belen Public Library, the News-Bulletin has named Hahn one of the 2021 Unsung Heros.
Hahn has volunteered with the library for 12 years, working in the Belen Harvey House Museum’s library for 11 of the 12. She said she built the library up from its inception, starting with painting the walls and installing the single wall of bookshelves they had in the early days.
Now the Harvey House library, which houses the Southwest section of the Belen Public Library, has grown to envelope the room with several more bookshelves to hold the growing collection, including a series of books on the Civil War. This series is earmarked for mentions of New Mexico and all editions of the New Mexico Magazine from 1931 to 2000.
Hahn spent two days a week over the course of her research pouring over old editions of the News-Bulletin during the seemingly never-ending project.
On the list, which can be found on the Belen Harvey House Museum’s website, every name also shows which Harvey House the individual worked at, when they worked, how they found them and any other information they might have on the individual.
“I’ve sort of come to the end. I put in everything I could find,” Hahn said, later commenting how people are constantly coming in with new stories, making the list itself still an ongoing work in progress.
“We’re all volunteers and we don’t work everyday. If they put in who they are and what they want, then we can get in touch with them and say, ‘Yes, we found this,’ or ‘No, I’m sorry,” Hahn said, referencing the forms people can fill out to request more information about a potential employee. “Especially, if people have something, but most people, they come in and they just have a story.”
Hahn is patiently waiting for the day when someone comes in saying they knew their grandma was a Harvey Girl, complete with records and photos backing up the family story.
Her favorite experience at the Harvey House, she said, was someone who didn’t come in with a story, or in fact any knowledge of her connection to the former railroad stop. While looking through the museum a woman came across a large photo, and to her surprise in the middle of the photo was her mother during her time as a Harvey Girl.
Frances Zeller, the museum coordinator who has worked with Hahn since beginning at the Harvey House about six years ago, said the dedicated volunteer is the go-to person if anyone needs information on a Harvey Girl or any Belen resident.
“She has bulldog tenacity and she will find it,” Zeller said.
Hahn said it’s the people, including Zeller and Belen Library Director Kathy Pickering, who make her experience volunteering at the Harvey House museum worthwhile.
“She’s been volunteering there forever,” said Harvey House historian Jim Sloan, who nominated Hahn as an Unsung Hero. “She loves her job and she helps people out who come in and need something researched.”
During her research, she also compiled an archive of every news article written on the Belen Harvey House until the company closed its doors in 1939.
To her surprise, there was no article in the paper detailing the legacy the Harvey House had on the area, or the American Southwest for that matter. All she found was a simple advertisement for a large auction with Harvey House furniture listed as one of the items for sale.
“We always wondered when they stopped the Harvey House; what happened to everything? And so I kept working up to the date — 1939 — when it was gone,” Hahn said. “As important as it was, you would think that it would be a big article. All I found was in 1939 there was an auction sale and the description, and that’s all there was.”
Hahn also began assisting Sloan in the digitizing of Harvey House archives, which is still in the early stages of the project. During the project, both she and Sloan said they hope to digitize old editions of the News-Bulletin, photos, and any other paper-based record to create ease of access for the information.
“Everything sort of came to a stop with COVID and now my computer is down, so I’m at a standstill,” Hahn said. “I will continually work at collecting more on the Harvey Girls and hopefully more people will come in and say, ‘Do you have any information?’
“It’s never ending. The more it gets out to the world, the more people we are able to contact and it’s been fun.”