Historical Societies: News and Highlights

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

Old Mill Village Associates to Move and Restore Post Office on Village Grounds

A special program was offered at a recent meeting of the Associate Members of Old Mill Village Museum. The pro­gram dealt with a history of the old Post Office building, located on the corner of Ward and Main Streets in New Milford, and was presented by Mrs. Dorothy Grinnell.

The structure, which has been used for several years by the First Baptist Church as a Sunday School room, has been given to Old Mill Village, and it is expected that it will be moved to the Village in the near future, where it will be set on a foundation and preserved along with the other Village buildings.

The Associate Members of Old Mill Village Museum are planning to initiate a Fund Drive to help defray the expense of moving the building. It is estimated the cost of moving the structure alone will be $3,500.

The former New Milford Post Office building is believed to be more than 85 years old. It was built by Charles Shelp, a cattle dealer and justice of the peace, who had an office there. Shelp was an early real estate agent in the New Milford area.

Prior to setting up the Post Office in the Shelp building, postmasters had been appointed by Presidential resolution, and almost every time there was a change in the political powers, a new postmaster was appointed.

In most instances, when a new postmaster was appoint­ed, he established a location for the Post Office, frequently in his home.

In 1889, Jesse Vailes was appointed to the postmaster­ship by Benjamin Harrison. The post office was again moved, to a rented building at 174 Main Street, the Shelp Building, where it remained until 1957 when it was moved to its present location next to the Catholic Church on Main Street.

Shelp built an addition to the back of the building, for his office, where he handled not only the justice of the peace duties, but also insurance and real estate businesses.

On July 4, 1890, the fire which destroyed the block from Depot Street to Ward Street endangered the post office, but it was finally contained. The Shelp Building was scorched by the heat, but was undamaged.

In 1893, at the beginning of Cleveland’s second adminis­tration, Charles Shelp was named to the position of postmaster. During his term of office, in 1896, Rural Free Delivery service was introduced. Four carriers served as many routes.

Included in the collections at Old Mill Village Museum are some of the special sleighs and wagons which were used by these early rural carriers. The bodies of these vehicles were especially designed and built to protect the mail and drivers from the weather. They had sliding doors, windows in the sides, and a windshield under which a slot was provided for the reins in guiding horses. The average route took eight to ten hours a day of steady driving.

Also among the collections at Old Mill Village Museum are the original call boxes which were removed from the Shelp Building in 1957, when the post office was mo􀀷ed to its present larger quarters.

There are many other relics which relate to the New Milford Post Office, or to mail service in general, which are part of the collections at the Village. It is expected that these will be consolidated for exhibit in the old New Mil­ford Post Office when this structure is set up on a new foundation at Old Mill Village, where it will be open for visitors.


Bicentennial Activities of Member Societies

Recently members of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies were asked to report on the manner in which they commemorated the Bicentennial. The list of accomplishments is impressively long and cannot all be listed at this time. Subsequent issues, however, will complete the record of achievement for societies during 1976.

The Newville Historical Society celebrated the Bicenten­nial with a pageant at Big Spring High School which pre­sented the history of the area. The Radnor Historical Society participated in a slide and sound show of Radnor history, mounted a photographic exhibit of Radnor’s past, renovated the museum rooms in the society’s headquarters, and assisted in the publication of two pamphlets: Historic Wayne and Radnor in the War of Revolution. A major bicentennial exhibit depicting “The Pennsylvania German Influence” was the central activity of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County, which also reprinted the 1880 edition of History of Indiana County.

An array of bicentennial activities characterized the celebration of the Lehigh County Historical Society in Allentown. Restoration was completed on the interior of Trout Hall. The Frank Buchman House was acquired and the staff of volunteer guides was expanded to service the society’s four homes and museums. The society republished Roberts et al, History of Lehigh County, Pa. and published its Proceedings containing articles dealing with Lehigh County during the Revolutionary War. A successful membership drive also highlighted the Bicentennial year.

An outstanding example of what a small society can accomplish was demonstrated by the McKean County Historical Society. The society completely renovated its museum, installing new educational exhibits; new registra­tion techniques using photographs of each artifact were employed. An archives room was established and articles of interest were taped from early newspapers which had not been microfilmed.

Other smaller societies marked similar achievements. The Jacobsburg Historical Society used a grant from the Pennsylvania Bicentennial Commission to conduct a local archaeological project and held a craft fair. The Tioga County Historical Society reprinted two county histories and a county atlas and held displays and programs on early Tioga history. A narrated bus tour of county history was sponsored by the Clearfield County Historical Society, as well as museum renovation. Mercer County also combined an early county history and an atlas into one publication.

At the Greater Latrobe Historical Society a 1938 film of Latrobe was found, cleaned, and shown. A special historical issue of the local paper was prepared by society members. The Trappe Bicentennial Commission organized a costume ball, craft fair and parade; developed a borough flag, and launched a restoration project of the Dewees Tavern.

In Stroudsburg, the Monroe County Historical Society published “Bicentennial Return to the Monroe County Frontier” by Dr. John C. Appel, sponsored a bus tour which retraced General Sullivan’s expeditionary march through Monroe County, and arranged appropriate museum exhibits. The Cumberland County Historical Society held three symposia marking the highlights of the county’s con­tribution. In May, 1976, on the 200th anniversary of the public meeting held in Carlisle which instructed James Wilson to support independence, Robert Crist outlined the political strife between Wilson and Robert Whitehall. Over three-hundred attended.

At Somerset, the Historical and Genealogical Society conducted Mountain Craft Days, arranged three classes entitled “Teaching Living History in the Classroom” in cooperation with the local intermediate unit, hosted the National Wagon Train at the Somerset Historical Center, presented a program of “Bicentennial Flashbacks” on a local radio station, and sponsored junior historian and oral history projects. The reconstruction of the Fort and “GAOL” (jail) at Hanna’s Town was completed by the Westmoreland County Historical Society as well as the reenactment of the trial of the Indian Mamachtaga. The society also established a historic literature booth at the local arts festival and sponsored a German/Scotch-Irish festival with folk dancing and speakers.

In Towanda, the Bradford County Historical Society paid special recognition to Century Farm owners and hosted a regional meeting of the D.A.R. The Connellsville Area Historical Society constructed a replica of Colo­nel William Crawford’s cabin on the banks of the Youghiogheny River, known as Stewart’s Crossing. The Lackawanna Historical Society featured monthly programs with Revolutionary era themes and held a special dinner pro­gram. At nearby Wilkes-Barre, the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society reopened their museum with new exhibits and reprinted Charles Miner’s History of Wyoming.

Warren County opened the Honorable Charles Warren Stone Museum in September, 1976. The museum contains displays of early county artifacts, a large firearms col­lection, and was a year in planning. The Ephrata Cloister Associates served as a base for operations for the Ephrata Area Bicentennial Committee. Activities included framed letter reproductions of the Ephrata ABC Book, concerts by the Cloister Chorus, and the awarding of a plaque honoring the home of Conrad Beissel as a “landmark of American music.”

Herbert C. Bell’s History of Northumberland County was republished by the Northumberland County Histori­cal Society. The society also published Northumberland County in the American Revolution which contains much information on the Sullivan expedition. The Union County Bicentennial Commission undertook an extensive range of programs in county history, oral traditions, home tours, bicentennial crafts, and participated in the “My America Program.”

The Central Council of Polish Organizations in Pitts­burgh participated in funding and dedicating a plaque to the American Revolution veterans and a marker in tribute to Helena Modjeska, a prominent Shakespearean actress on the American stage, and Marcella Sembrich, a soprano for the Metropolitan Opera. The council also held a bicentennial dinner at the William Penn Hotel and cooperated in research pertaining to Revolutionary era veterans buried in Allegheny cemetery.


Course in Old German Script

To make highly specialized German script transcription and translation service available to local families, research­ers, and institutions, the Lancaster Mennonite Conference Historical Society is commissioning Noah G. Good of Lan­caster to serve in this new capacity. Formerly dean and principal of Lancaster Mennonite High School, Good pres­ently teaches German at the high school and works part time as a researcher for the historical society.

Southeastern Pennsylvania historical materials such as fraktur, letters; diaries, wills, family Bible, and church rec­ords were written in German script handwriting, which is no longer taught even in Germany today. Consequently, the number of persons with ability to read the script is rapidly diminishing.

According to Carolyn L. Charles, director of the histori­cal society, many people do not realize the time involved in making an accurate transcription and translation of the old German script handwriting. The older the time period, generally the more difficult the task.

Any individual or institution desiring to have manuscripts transcribed and/or translated should address inquiries to Noah G. Good, Lancaster Mennonite Conference Historical Society, 2215 Mill Stream Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17602 (717-393-9745). The cost will be computed at the rate of $5.00 per hour in an effort to make this very specialized service available as reasonably as possible.


German Mennonites Interpret Their History

Germantown, the first lasting German settlement in Pennsylvania, was also the first site of Mennonite worship in the New World. The first Mennonite settler arrived in 1683, and by 1690, persons of this faith were meeting together for worship. When the larger Mennonite migration brought farmers to settle in Montgomery and Lancaster Counties, the Germantown congregation ceased its growth. Nonetheless, a congregation has existed in Germantown to the present.

Today, Germantown is an urbanized ward in Philadel­phia. The Mennonite congregation has taken steps to form the Germantown Mennonite Church Corporation, which has functioned since its inception in 1953 as a historical society, archival depository museum, and community activities center. Ownership of the meetinghouse and the two ad­jacent properties allows the corporation to offer tours, seminars, lectures, and library resources to individuals and groups visiting Germantown.

The facilities of the Corporation are open every weekday to the general public. Through slide-tape programs, historical displays, lectures, planned tours of the area and a re­source library the Corporation attempts to present the story of Mennonite persecution and faith through the centuries. One exhibit is a basement well room from a 1770 house built by Mennonite Cornelius Engle. The other exhibits are housed in an 1870 Victorian building. The meeting­house itself was built in 1770.

Persons wishing to visit the museum or visitors center are invited to stop at the information center, 6117 German­town Avenue, or call in advance at 1-215-843-0943. School groups and other organizations are also welcome.


Regional Historical Workshop

State Senator James R. Kelley; Calvin E. Pollins, president of the Westmoreland County Historical Society; Joseph Makarewicz, editor of Milestones; Dr. John Car­michael, Westmoreland County Community College; George Swetnam and Helene Smith, authors – just a sample of the program for the recent Regional Workshop of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies. The event was sponsored by the Westmoreland County Historical Society and held at Mountain View Inn, Greensburg.

Senator Kelley, who spoke briefly, is also a member of the PHMC.

Makarewicz discussed “How to Produce a Historical Pub­lication,” and Carmichael talked about “Community Re­sources for the Local Historical Society.”

Swetnam and Smith presented “The Task of Doing a Guidebook.”

Other participants included Mrs. Daniel L. Whitehead, certified genealogist; Robert B. VanAlta, genealogist and author; Mrs. Janetta Tobin, president, Westmoreland County Chapter, Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society. All were panelists on “Genealogy: Methods; Uses; Forming a Genealogical Society.”

“Digging up History! – Significance and Evaluation of a Site; Methodology; Interpretation of the Findings” was the subject of a panel composed of James L. Schwauger, associ­ate director, Carnegie Museum; Ronald L. Michael, director, Center for Prehistoric and Historic Archaeology, California State College; and Margaret L. Fields, field archaeologist, Westmoreland County Historical Society.

A tour of Hanna’s Town concluded the session. William F. Porter, administrative vice president of the Westmoreland County group and a board member of the PFHS, headed the cavalcade.


Mechanicsburg Group to Restore Old Stationmasters House

In the late 1800’s railroad companies employed men to sell passenger tickets and handle freight packages, car-load freight, baggage services, and the U.S. Mail. In Mechanics­burg, the center of this activity took place at the little house at 4 Strawberry Alley. Here, the stationmaster for the Cumberland Valley Railroad lived and worked.

The Mechanicsburg Museum Association was organized for the purpose of restoring the Stationmaster’s House to its period of origin circa 1850’s and to create a museum depicting the heritage and culture of Mechanicsburg. The Associa­tion benefits from the active support of the Junior Woman’s Club, Civic League, Mechanicsburg Women’s Club, Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Jaycettes, and interested com­munity members.

Future plans encompass educational programs to enlarge our knowledge and appreciation of the ways our ancestors lived, worked and worshipped. Individual participation and local artifacts will be sought to assemble rotating exhibits in loan from private collections.

The Association welcomes visitors to its meetings which are held on the third Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 36 West Main Street.


Questions To Ask Before Beginning A Fund Drive

The American Association for State and Local History recently provided some thoughtful questions which should be asked before any historical organizations initiate a campaign to raise money.

Does a fund-raising project have the full approval of your board or governing body?

Do you have established means of communication with your membership and the community?

Do you have a good working relationship with the news media?

Have you carefully considered the timing of your pro­ject so that it will not be competing with similar fund­raising activities by other organizations in your com­munity?

Is the project you are considering in good taste and consistent with the basic purposes of your society or museum?

Have you figured cost-accounting carefully and real­istically at the outset so that you know how much profit you must realize in order to make the project worthwhile?

Finally, whatever project you choose, are you willing to Do It Well or not at all?