The Columbia County Historical Society

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

Since its founding in 1914, the Columbia County Historical Society has traveled a difficult road. Conceived in an era of parochial loyalties, the society served as an early forum for Blooms­burg social and civic groups. Gradually, the initial sponsors withdrew active sup­port, leaving affairs in the caring hands of a small body of townsmen who nursed the organization through wars and the Great Depression. During the first forty years, the society experienced serious setbacks as it lost established headquarters, which led to the scatter­ing and loss of valuable items from its small collections.

In the late 1950s and during the dec­ade that followed, new enthusiasm and dedication converted the society into an aggressive promoter of the county’s heritage as well as a more active preserv­er of artifacts and records. Led, pushed and cajoled by Edwin M. Barton of Bloomsburg, whose home in town served as society headquarters and col­lections depository, the organization stepped forward to organize successful efforts to save and preserve covered bridges from destruction and decay. In Stillwater, a bridge scheduled for re­placement was relocated on a new site nearby, while a few miles south, in Forks, the society cooperated with the County Commissioners and others in­terested in convening the Twin Bridges into a recreation area. In 1963 the socie­ty played a major role in planning and directing the activities commemorating the county’s 150th anniversary. Also, it established an ongoing program of pub­lic meetings and excursions, enlarged the roles of a broadened membership, greatly expanded its collections and is­sued a worthy group of publications.

Additions to the holdings of the socie­ty seriously crowded its quarters, however, and the extension of its activities placed too heavy a burden on Mr. Bar­ton. To alleviate both pressures, the society reached an agreement with Bloomsburg State College late in 1969 which placed the society under the care but not the control of the college.

Although Mr. Barton stepped down to devote the greater part of his time to scholarly writing, his spirit and en­couragement continued to guide. Dur­ing the eight years the society occupied rooms on the campus, it revised many goals and practices to conform to the opportunities and obligations now be­fore it. It completed the task of transfer­ring leadership within the society to rep­resentatives from all parts of the coun­ty. It also entered into supportive work­ing relationships with many public bodies, such as the area tourist promo­tion agency, the services of which com­plemented those of the historical socie­ty. At its new headquarters it opened a valuable facility for genealogical and historical research which was developed and staffed by volunteers working under the professional guidance of the society and the college. As a means of serving the growing public interest in lo­cal history, the society ventured into an ambitious program of publishing origi­nal and reprinted books, briefer articles and essays. Finally, the society cooper­ated with archival and other historical associations in carrying out mutually supportive programs.

Toward the close of the seventies, the society again entered a difficult period when the college was forced to termi­nate the contract because of ics need for additional classroom space. For awhile, the society severely reduced and even cancelled activities and services, but as the direct result of a gift from Mr. Bar­ton, it purchased a vacant church build­ing in Orangeville two years ago and has established permanent quarters there. Once more, priorities have been under­going modification. The society main­tains its close ties with agencies and groups sponsoring awareness of Colum­bia County, and the library continues to expand as it serves a growing number of genealogists and other researchers. There is a renewed interest in gathering artifacts, and displays in the sanctuary room representing the county’s past have recently been made available to the public.

During the summer months, the Columbia County Historical Society is open Tuesday through Friday from IO A.M. to 4 P.M., and on Saturday and Sunday by appointment. For further in­formation about the society, call (717) 683-6011.


Craig A. Newton served the Columbia County Historical Society in several capacities between 1968 and 1982, includ­ing six years as executive secretary.