Clearfield County Historical Society

Historical Societies: News and Highlights presents news and information about Pennsylvania's regional and county historical societies.

Clearfield County’s Sesquicenten­nial Celebration of 1954 led to the organization of the present-day Clear­field County Historical Society, which marked its 25th anniversary last No­vember. Records show, however, that the present society was not the first. The Historical Society of Clearfield County was formed in 1910 and existed as late as 1914 with Thomas H. Murray, prominent Clearfield attorney and historian, serving as its first presi­dent. But the records are sketchy, and exactly when the society was dissolved or abandoned is not known.

Enthusiasm generated many years later by the Sesquicentennial Celebra­tion continued well after the festivities, and before the end of the year, a meet­ing at Clearfield was called to explore the possibility of forming a permanent organization. The November 1955 or­ganizational meeting was held in the courthouse with 40 persons from all parts of the county present; Judge John J. Pentz was elected president.

By July 1956, the society had 405 charter members, but it was not until 1960 that it opened its first museum in two upstairs rooms of a downtown Clearfield office-store building. In March 1961, the society began pub­lishing a semi-annual bulletin to in­form members of its activities and to share historical information about the county. In addition, society members were polled about their specific his­torical interests, and annual dinner meetings featuring speakers on specific county historical subjects were begun.

A milestone in the society’s history came in 1962 when it purchased an historically significant house in Clear­field for its museum and headquarters. The property was the home of one­time Congressman James Kerr (1851- 1908), who had achieved prominence not only as a politician, but as a coal operator and railroad promoter as well. William Jennings Bryan, the famous Democratic leader and several­-times candidate for the presidency, was a close friend of Mr. Kerr and in 1898 was a guest at the Kerr home.

For the next several years, the em­phasis of the society’s activities was directed toward the development of the museum and acquisition of ex­hibits. W. Howard Stewart, who served as president (1969-71 ), played a major role in these areas. Through Mr. Stewart’s work and the interest and generosity of hundreds of Clearfield countians, valuable gifts of county historical items were collected, in­cluding an extensive collection of Indian arrowheads, early furniture, books on genealogy and tape-recorded recollections of elderly citizens.

A major addition to the museum’s exhibits came in 1979 when a room in the one-time carriage house of the museum property was transformed, with the help of the Clearfield Volun­teer Fire Department and interested donors, into a County Firemen’s Ex­hibit. The exhibit now houses a 1901 steam fire engine, as well as numerous pictures, uniforms and an 1895 hand­-drawn hose cart, all of which combine to tell the story of fire-fighting since before the turn of the century.

As of December 1979, the museum was the storehouse of nearly 5,000 items from 942 donors. Today, in fact, officers and directors are confronted with the problem of a lack of space for adequate display of all the items avail­able, not to mention new acquisitions.

In the past two years, the society has expanded its program by spon­soring free band concerts by the Al­toona-based 28th Division Band and by reprinting two major histories of the county – Caldwell’s Atlas of 1878 and Lewis Cass Aldrich’s History of 1887 – both of which had been out or print for many years.

The Clearfield County Historical Society continues to serve not only its members, but the community as well. The museum is open to the public Sunday and Thursday after­noons, except during the winter months, with men and women from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) serving as hosts and hostesses. It is also open on special occasions, by appointment, to school children and other groups.


C. Fred Ralston is President of the Clearfield County Historical Society.