Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on March 5, 2017. Later picked up by the AP.
NORTH ATTLEBORO – Few teens would give up their Saturdays to voluntarily scour through the town’s historical archives.
But that’s exactly what North Attleboro’s Cameron Killian did in an effort to bring the Historical Commission’s documents up to 21st century standards.
When considering his Eagle Scout project after nearly seven years with Boy Scouts Troop 23, Killian, a senior studying computer information systems at Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School, hoped to sidestep a traditional labor-intensive project for something more in line with his interests.
The idea for the unique approach to the service project came about after a walk around historical districts when the 17-year-old knew he was surrounded by history – but had no idea what it all meant.
“Going around town, I realized there was very little easily accessible information on the town’s historical districts,” Killian said. “North Attleboro is a very old town, with several historical sites – but the only way to get more information was to head to the historical commission’s archives.”
When Killian got there himself, he realized what a challenge that presented.
All of the town’s historical information was kept as hard copy, stuffed away in several filing cabinets.
“That probably deterred people from looking for more information,” Killian said.
So, with approval from the town, Killian set about kickstarting the digitization of the commission’s archives.
He organized a team of classmates and fellow scouts to help him pour through the documents, scanning them through an OCR software program that digitizes the paperwork into malleable word documents. But, as with any sort of technology, the program comes with its own set of errors, so Killian and his crew had to manually edit each document to clean up the mistakes.
From there, they converted the documents into searchable PDFs and handed them over to the historical commission.
The next step was to make the information accessible to the public. Killian worked with the town to add QR codes to five of the 10 existing signs marking the beginning of a historical district. Residents passing by can scan the code with their smartphone and will instantly be routed to a website full of information about the site.
“Now they have a way to learn about the history of the town at their fingertips,” the scout said.
The signs are available at Commonwealth Avenue, Freeman Street, the Old Town district, Towne Street and at the intersection of High, Church and Gould streets. The information can also be accessed directly through the historical commission’s website.
The project took about a year to complete, but Killian was right in his realm.
His team worked around the schedules of two of Killian’s vocational teachers, who volunteered their Saturdays to supervise use of the computer labs at Tri-County. Experience using the software and developing programs came from his classwork. And, it gave Killian a taste of the future.
The senior hopes to study computer engineering when he goes off to college next year.
“The leadership project is meant to reinforce everything you’ve learned up until now in scouting,” he said. “One of the key things is that the scout isn’t doing the majority of the work, but instead leads others in the project. It really taught me how to delegate and be a leader.
“I’d like to thank the leaders and scouts of Troop 23 and Tulpe Lodge, the historical commission, FastSigns North Attleboro for donating the signs, my parents, Mr. Cadorette, Ms. Zogalis, and my Eagle mentor Dan Sharples. Without them this project would not have been possible.”
But, the town isn’t fully equipped just yet. While Killian originally planned to tackle websites for all of the town’s 10 historical districts, he realized the project was too big for one scout to handle. But, he hopes to have opened the door to other prospective Eagle Scouts.
“Hopefully someone else can take up the mantle and pick up where I left off,” Killian said.