Historical Societies: News and Highlights

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

Historical Society Notes

The new president of the Warren County Historical Society is Milton A. Peterson. Mr. Peterson is a retired Pennsylvania Gas Company executive.

The Centre County Historical SocietY has recently dedi­cated its new headquarters. It is important to all societies to note that Centre County is planning to provide revenue and security for its headquarters – an old mansion – by using part of the building for apartments which will be rented.

The Jacobsburg Historical Society of Nazareth received a $40,000 reimbursable grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources to assist in the restoration of the Henry Homestead. The society must expend the amount before it can be reimbursed by the Common­wealth. A local fund raising campaign has already been launched.

The Museum and Historical Organizations Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities is again ac­cepting applications. Grants are awarded in four areas: ex­hibitions, interpretive programs, interpretation of historic sites and personnel development. Information can be obtained by writing the program at Division of Public Programs (Mail Stop 402), NEH, 806 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20506. Support in sponsoring public programs is also available from the Pennsylvania Public Committee for the Humanities, 401 North Broad Street, Philadelphia 19108.

The resolution passed by the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies in support of the Historical and Museum Commission’s attempts to secure a tercentenary stamp for Pennsylvania in 1981, has provided some impetus for the idea’s success. Senator Richard S. Schweiker, Pennsylvania’s senior senator, has begun contacting other members of the state’s congressional delegation in order to have them jointly seek such a stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. Senator Schweiker took the move at the request of the Historical and Museum Commission and the Federation.


Federation Meeting Set

The annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies will be held on May 5, 1979 at the Keller Conference Center, State College.

All award nominations for the meeting should be sent by March 1, 1979 to the Federation at Box 1026, Harris­burg 17120.


Nonprofit Museums Eligible for Surplus Property

The General Services Administration has announced that nonprofit, tax exempt museums are now eligible to receive federal surplus property. Museums thus join other public agencies and nonprofit educational organizations such as historical societies in becoming eligible for this material. Surplus property may include tools, office machines, furniture and even motor vehicles.

GSA defines a museum as “a public or private nonprofit institution which is organized on a permanent basis essentially for educational or aesthetic purposes and which, using a professional staff, owns or uses tangible objects, whether animate or inanimate; cares for these objects; and exhibits them to the public on a regular basis either free or at a nominal charge.”

For specific instructions in obtaining this property, a coordinator has been established in each state. Pennsylvania organizations should contact: Pennsylvania Bureau of Surplus Property, 2221 Forster Street, P.O. Box 3361, Harrisburg 17125, or telephone (717) 787-5940.


Important Legislation

In July 1978, Governor Shapp signed Act 120 which has a bearing on historical societies in Pennsylvania. A copy of the act is printed below.

Act 120

Amending the act of August 9, 1955 (P.L. 323, No. 130), entitled:

“An act relating to counties of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth classes; amending, revising, consolidating and changing the laws relating thereto,” further authorizing county commissioners to make grants or appropriations to historical societies.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1. Section 1929, act of August 9, 1955 (P. L. 323, No. 130). known as “The County Code,” amending July 31, 1968 (P.L. 1026, No. 307), is amended to read:

Section 1929. Payment to Historical Societies – The board of commissioners may pay, out of the county funds not otherwise appropriated, a sum of money not exceeding … Ten thousand dollars (10,000) annually to the county historical society, to assist in paying the running expenses thereof. If there is more than one such society in the county, such payment may be made only to the oldest society. Where any such society is comprised of residents of more than one county, the commissioners of said res­pective counties may jointly pay said sum in such proportion as they shall agree.

No such appropriation shall be renewed until vouchers have been filed with the commissioners showing that the appropriation for any prior year has been expended for the purpose herein designated.

Section 2. This act shall take effect immediately.


George Bonfield Show at Philadelphia Maritime Museum

The Philadelphia Maritime Museum has scheduled the first exhibit in this century of works by Philadelphia mari­time artist, George R. Bonfield (1805-1898). The exhibit, consisting of a large variety of works spanning the artist’s long career, was opened on Friday November 17 and will be on display until the end of April 1979. The exhibit is being held in the special exhibits gallery of The Philadelphia Maritime Museum, 321 Chestnut Street.

Howard Taylor, the Museum’s Assistant Director and John Groff, Curator, planned the show along with James McClelland, Special Bonfield Consultant. An elaborate catalogue, which is a definitive history of Bonfield, accom­panies the exhibit.

Many of the paintings in the exhibit are from private collections throughout the country never before exhibited to the general public. Other works come from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Franklin D. Roosevelt library, Hyde Park; Boston Museum of Fine Arts and The Philadelphia Maritime Museum.

George Robert Bonfield was born in 1805 in Portsmouth, England and came to America as a boy of eleven years of age with his parents, Robert Bonfield and Lydia Garret Abraham Bonfield. The boy learned his father’s trade as a stone cutter and when he was experienced, was hired by Richard North, a prominent marble dealer. While working for North, Bonfield was sent to Point Breeze, New Jersey, the Bordentown estate of Joseph Bonaparte, the exiled King of Naples and Spain. It was here that Bonfield was introduced to the great European art in Bon­aparte’s collection. Bonfield’s own inherent talent for painting was ignited and Bonaparte encouraged the boy to pursue a career in art.

At age fifteen, he exhibited a small seascape at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts which attracted the attention of the Academy president who then arranged for the boy to study under Thomas Vest.

He went on to paint numerous works, most of which were commissioned by his patrons. Bonfield did not stray far or long from the Philadelphia area and spent many of his summers in Beverly, New Jersey, where one of his sons, Sylvester, made his home; Bonfield had seven children, one of whom was William Van deVelde Bonfield, another artist popular in his day.

The artist exhibited his works at all of the major exhibit halls including the Artists’ Fund Society in Philadelphia which he helped found. His contemporaries were James Hamilton, Jasper Cropsey, Joshua Shaw and William Sidney Mount, to name a few.

The Philadelphia Maritime Museum is a nonprofit, educational institution dedicated to preserving the maritime heritage of the Bay and River Delaware. The Museum has three floors of exhibits and is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Sunday 1 P.M. to 5 P.M. A small donation is requested.


Fort Le Boeuf Historical Society Has New Home

The Fort Le Boeuf Historical Society was founded in 1973. In September of 1977, the historical society pur­chased the Eagle Hotel, a Georgian-Federal hotel built in 1826. The Eagle Hotel has been placed on the National Register, and the historical society, under the direction of the architectural firm of Berger-Spiers, is now in the process of restoring it.

Each year the historical society sponsors Heritage Days, a three-day festival held during the second weekend in July. The purpose of Heritage Days is to promote an awareness of northwestern Pennsylvania’s rich cultural heritage.

The historical society now puts out a semi-annual newsletter. Its membership totals over 200. For additional information, please write to Virginia Bullman, President, Fort Le Boeuf Historical Society, Waterford 16441.


Philadelphia Chair Exhibit

The Philadelphia school of craftsmen produced some of the finest handcrafted furniture of the Colonial period. In no piece of furniture was this more exemplified than in the grace and beauty of the Philadelphia chair. Outstanding examples of this craftsmanship comprised an exhibit on “The Philadelphia Chair, 1685-1785” at the Historical Society of York County during this past summer.

This major exhibit evaluated the development and influence of the “Philadelphia Chair” as it was produced from the period of early settlement in late seventeenth-century America until its culmination in the Golden Age of the late Chippendale era.

The Philadelphia chair progressed through six distinct phases of development as encompassed in the exhibit. These phases-The Early Oak and Walnut, William and Mary, Queen Anne, Transitional Queen Anne, Early Chip­pendale, and late Chippendale – displayed the gradual evolution of the most highly sophisticated school of fur­niture in America during the eighteenth century. Through a combination of exquisite carving and the tendency to ease away from the rectilinear forms carried over from restrictive English and European cabinetmaking traditions, this school achieved an elegance of form that has been unmatched since.

The exhibit also revealed the influence of the Philadelphia chair as it affected chairmaking traditions in the surrounding colonies, particularly in New Jersey, Dela­ware, Maryland, and New York, as well as in provincial Pennsylvania.

The society’s magnificent new gallery exhibit was made possible by the hard work and dedication of the society’s staff and Museum Committee under the guidance of Mr. Joseph Kindig, III, Chairman of the Museum Committee, and assisted by an energetic group of volunteers. The Philadelphia Chair exhibit represented a major new look at a significant period in the history of American decora­tive arts.