Historical Societies: News and Highlights

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

Bicentennial Celebration Spurs Society Projects

In the June [1977] issue of Heritage an accounting of Bicenten­nial achievements of historical societies in Pennsylvania was begun. Because the list was so long and impressive, several issues of Heritage will be needed to present the material. Even a brief scanning of the various activities confirms the impression that the industry and imagination of societies and their members was remarkable. For in­stance, the Friends of Caleb Pusey House held training sessions for children on making colonial apple dolls. At Honesdale the Wayne County Historical Society launched a “Week of History” which included historical tours, arts and crafts, and the burying of an historical time capsule.

Not many societies were able to welcome foreign roy­alty. But at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia, King Carl XVI of Sweden opened an exhibit highlighting “200 Years of American and Swedish Friend­ship.” The Washington County Historical Society refur­bished the LeMoyne House in Washington. The Martin’s Mill Bridge Association sponsored a Civil War re-enact­ment and old-fashioned hay rides. At DuBois, patriotic booklets were sold, a musical “I Love America” was pre­sented, and town meetings discussing freedom were held. The Columbia County Historical Society sponsored the creation of the Central Susquehanna Genealogical Society. In Nazareth the Moravian Historical Society sponsored an arts and crafts show, the Pennsylvania Mobile Museum, and the restoration of the “Indian Cemetery.” Historic Bethle­hem, Inc., was particularly active. A garden of colonial medieval herbs was planted. A Moravian love feast dedica­ting the planting of crops was held, and the 1762 Water­works, the first municipal water-pumping system in the colonies, was restored. Slide programs and a photo exhibit on Bethlehem during the Revolution were also created. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania presented an award winning exhibit entitled “A Rising People: The Founding of the United States 1765 to 1789.”

The restoration of a 1936 amateur movie film of the founding of McConnellsburg and the establishment of an historical society library were central events for the Fulton County Historical Society. The Shackamaxon Society intensified its efforts to restore Old Fort Mifflin in Phila­delphia and actually arranged for restoration work to be done by U.S. Army reservists. The Cameron County Historical Society updated local history by taping eighty hours of senior citizens’ memories, and expanded the Little Museum. The American Catholic Historical Society sponsored a display by the Irish societies of Philadelphia. In Perry County the local society initiated a restoration project on the old Blue Ball Tavern. The Lebanon County Historical Society completed restoration of its new headquarters, toured the old Union Canal, and published Leb­anon County, Pennsylvania – A History. The society in Potter County restored its headquarters and cooperated in the publication of Historical Sketches of Potter County. Celebrations such as “At Home on Independence Day” and “Happy Birthday America” were sponsored by the New Berlin Heritage Association. At Harrisburg the Dau­phin County Historical Society cooperated in the re-enact­ment of a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Lectures on colonial times, publications, tours, a garden party, and an antique sale constituted the efforts of the Muncy Historical Society. The New Hope society con­tinued its preservation work on the Parry Mansion. Aaronsburg revived old crafts, such as apple butter mak­ing, hog butchering, grain flailing, and tar making. A mock revolutionary battle was also fought: Restoration work of a museum was completed by the Clinton County Historical Society.

An award winning endeavor of the Chester County Historical Society was Project 1776. This educational program provided workshops on colonial crafts for teachers and students in the form of a “Living History” program. Mile markers were restored and plaques installed by the Historical Society of Fort Washington. The society also formed a society to provide the restoration of Farmar’s Mill. The Plymouth Meeting Historical Society opened its Meetinghouse to tourists for the first time. The Arm­strong County society prepared an exhibit, “The Die Is Now Cast,” and sponsored relevant lectures.

Publications by various societies included work on colonial times by the Schuylkill County society; a photo­graph collection by the Beaver Falls Historical Society; a Bicentennial Calendar by the Union County Bicentennial Commission; a reprint of the Early History of Ambler by the Wissahickon Valley Historical Society; two monographs on Cumberland County and the Revolution by the Cumberland society; a reprint of the 1877 Atlas of Perry, Juniata, and Mifflin Counties by the Mifflin County Historical Society and Lower Merion – A Portrait From the Welsh Tract to the Present by the society at Lower Merion. The John Timon Reily Historical Society reprint­ed a History of Adams County (1880); while the Penn­sylvania German Society published a two-volume set on The Pennsylvania German Fraktur of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Bucks County Historical-Tourist Com­mission published Episodes in Bucks County History and A History of Bucks County to 1776.


Federation Meeting

The 70th annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies was held at State College on May 21, 1977. Morning workshops focused on fund raising for historical societies, educational programs, and approaches to family history. The feature of the annual luncheon was an address by Dr. William Trimble, who spoke on his ex­perience editing the Western Pennsylvania Historical Maga­zine. President William Gilbert presided at the annual business meeting. Gilbert opened the session by reporting on the bicentennial accomplishments of various societies. William J. Wewer, executive secretary, informed the mem­bers of the work of the “task force” on classifications during the past year. Mr. Wewer informed the members that a study of various societies concluded that classifica­tion would be difficult at the present time. He also an­nounced a series of records preservation workshops for 1977-1978.

In other business, five resolutions were approved. The measures commended member organizations for their Bicentennial programs, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for its special Bicentennial edition of Pennsylvania Heritage; Historic Delaware County and the Delaware County Bar Association for their efforts in restoring the Old Chester Court House; the Commissioners of Haverford Township, the Friends of the Grange, and the Haverford Township Historical Society for their restora­tion of the Grange Estate; and the Conshohocken Historical Society for various activities including their efforts on be­half of the Edward Hector historical roadside marker.

Awards of merit were given to the Colonial Philadelphia Historical Society for its Mikveh Israel Cemetery project, to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for its exhibition, “A Rising People,” to the Lebanon County Historical Society for the restoration of a new headquarters, and to the Northumberland County Historical Society for pub­lishing Northumberland County in the American Revolu­tion. Honorable mention awards were presented to the Cameron County Historical Society, the Historical Society of Berks County, the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley, the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County, the Lower Merion Historical Society, the Middle­town Area Historical Society, and the Perryopolis Area Historical Society.

Officers elected for 1977-78 were president emeritus, William D. Gilbert, Sigel; president, Aimee Sanders, Read­ing; first vice-president, Robert G. Crist, Camp Hill; second vice-president, Carl Burkett, Meadville; third vice-president, John W.W. Loose, Lancaster; fourth vice-president, Fred E. Long, Altoona; executive secretary, William J. Wewer, Camp Hill; assistant executive secretary, John Bodnar, Palmyra; and treasurer, Ralph L. Hazeltine, Trucksville.

Elected to three-year terms on the executive committee were Mrs. George Urban, Clarion, and Andrew Grugan, Williamsport.


Indiana Society Revives Periodical

After a pause of several years the Historical and Genea­logical Society of Indiana County has resumed publication of its magazine, Indiana County Heritage. The re­sumption of the magazine was based upon several factors, including the belief that Indiana County Heritage would serve as an important vehicle for the preservation of county history. The editors expressed their hope of quickening the sense of local history in a modern, fast-paced, mobile society, lamenting particularly its neglect among school children. As the editors clearly state, “No single publica­tion can overcome these qualities of modern life, but we believe this magazine can make an important contribution by bringing the history of Indiana County and this region before the public.”

The spring, 1977 issue was edited by Dr. James M. Oliver of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and contained essays on Fourth of July celebrations in Indiana County and local personalities, such as “Parson” Fairfield. Future issues will have articles, documents, book notices, genea­logical information, and features on history in the schools. The project is part of a revived interest in Indiana County history generated by Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Local History Project.


Historical Society Notes

A development relevant to all societies occurred recently at New Hope. The New Hope Historical Society did not receive an amusement tax exemption on its Antique Show, scheduled for May 20, 21 and 22 [1977]. Unlike previous years, a five per cent tax was added to the price of admission to the show. The society recently received a tax exemption from the 1977 amusement tax on admission to the Parry Mansion.

A concerned Herbert Sandor, at the March 28 [1977] Borough Council meeting, voiced his reasons for denial of the waiver request. “It is a difficult thing for me to say, since I support the historical society and know that it is a good cause; however I think council should look at exempting any organization, even though the final result is one of charity, that gets its charity from commercial enterprises. This council has just gone to court to collect money from the Bucks County Playhouse, which was also a good cause to the community. Even though it was important to the community, we asked them to collect the amusement tax for us.

“This enterprise is a similar one. For example, the exhibitors do pay rent and make money. An admissions fee is charged. I think the historical society is deserving but I do not think we should grant an exemption from the tax.”


A dozen watercolor paintings depicting Erie scenes, painted by the late Lester Roesner (1905-1973). one of Erie’s outstanding artists, were displayed at the Erie County Historical Society’s open house on May 1 [1977].

Through the efforts of one of the ECHS directors. George T. Griswold, a generous gift to purchase these Roesner paintings was given to the Society by the Erie Foundation. These funds also covered the cost of framing the pictures and providing covers for their storage.

Roesner was one of Erie’s most versatile and accomplish­ed artists. He began his artistic endeavors in Iowa, where he was a teenage student of Grant Wood and where a life­long friendship between the two was born. After graduating from Erie East High School in 1924, Roesner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and then continued to develop and broaden his talents during two periods of study in Europe. His accomplish­ments in both fine art and commercial art are a matter of record. Watercolor was his favorite painting medium and most of his watercolors were executed largely for his own satisfaction of expression.


After serving the cause of local history and genealogy for more than thirty years, Ira D. Landis died in February. Mr. Landis was secretary of the Lancaster Mennonite Con­ference Historical Society from 1958 until his death and had authored several publications on Mennonite history, including The Lancaster Mennonite Conference History and Background.


The Chester County Historical Society has announced that its new executive director is Kurt E. Brandenburg. Mr. Brandenburg replaces Conrad Wilson, who, for the second time, had returned to steer the society through major programs and activities.


A regional workshop of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies will be held on Saturday, Novem­ber 5, 1977. The meeting will take place at the Holiday Inn at the Beaver Falls exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and will be hosted by the Beaver County Historical Re­search and Landmarks Foundation. Details will be mailed to each society shortly or can be secured by writing the PFHS, William Penn Memorial Museum and Archives Building, Box 1026, Harrisburg 17120.


After serving forty years on the board, thirty-seven as president, twenty years on the program committee, and fifteen years as editor of the Muncy Historical Society, E. P. Bertin retired from these offices on June 30, 1977.

As a charter member of the society, Bertin served on the original nine-member Board of Directors, and is tine only surviving member, serving continuously throughout the life of the organization 1937-1977.

During the society’s existence, only four members have been chosen president: Dr. T. K. Wood, founder and first president; Dr. T. Montgomery Lightfoot, G. Grantham Painter, and E. P. Bertin, who served thirty­-seven of the society’s forty-year history.

He is also one of three members to edit the society’s historical quarterly magazine Now and Then, serving in that capacity from 1962-1977.


The thirty-seventh annual Chester County Day will be held this year, as in the past, on the first Saturday of October, October 1 [1977]. This annual tour of splendid and attractively furnished old houses lasts from 10 to 5 and costs $7.50 for an all-day ticket. The tour may be made by private automobile or by chartered bus for which a reservation and tour ticket cost $12.50. Bus reservations must be made by mail, the deadline being September 23 [1977]. For information September 19 [1977] through October 1 [1977], call 215-692-4322 from 10 to 4. Or write now to Chester County Day, Box 1, West Chester 19380. Include your zip code.