The Juniata County Historical Society

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

Following the Centennial celebration held in Juniata County in 1931, so many people became interested in local history that some residents decided to organize a county historical society. Eleven peo­ple came to the first meeting in Novem­ber 1931, but by the time the society was incorporated early in 1932 there were sixty-two members on the rolls. This growth was in a great part due to the tireless work of Miss Rebecca Doty and Dr. Robert P. Banks, who worked many long hours toward the establish­ment of the Juniata County Historical Society. Meetings were held in the homes of members until 1935 when an office in Mifflintown was rented. An­nual dues were set at one dollar in 1932 and remained so until 1980 when they were raised to two dollars.

From the beginning, the society had a dream of restoring the Tuscarora Acad­emy as a shrine and a museum. The Academy was the first institution of higher learning in the valley and today is the oldest educational institution stand­ing in Juniata County. II bas been said that the restoration of the Academy was discussed at every meeting of the organi­zation from 1931 to 1982. Over the years, joint committees from the society and the Lower Tuscarora Presbyterian Church, which at one time owned the building, met to repeatedly discuss the Academy’s future.

In the 1950s, Lester Zimmerman, who represented Juniata County in the General Assembly, worked with other legislators and the society until the state appropriated $15,000 to restore the building. As people donated antiques, the Academy began to look like a mu­seum. Years passed, and finally, on Au­gust 23, 1970, the Tuscarora Academy was opened to the public with a full­-time caretaker supported through Com­monwealth funds. The first visitor to tour the building was Dr. S.K. Stevens, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. He was joined by over 500 other visitors that day to view the art show and spin­ning demonstration and to partake of the refreshments.

In 1980, upon the retirement of Mr. George Jacobs, the caretaker, the Acad­emy was closed in an economy move by the PHMC, and society members, in conjunction with a representative from Harrisburg, worked out a management agreement. Since that time the Academy has remained open Saturdays and Sun­days from the end of May until the mid­dle of October, staffed mainly by so­ciety volunteers. The future of the Academy museum, like that of other such institutions, however, is uncertain.

In addition to the Tuscarora Acad­emy, the Juniata County Historical So­ciety has also dedicated a number of his­torical markers, such as the Fort Big­ham Marker, commemorating the site of Indian massacres in 1754 and 1766; the Patterson Marker, a monument to the memory of Capt. James Patterson, a gallant pioneer who distinguished himself as a soldier during the French and Indian War; the Cedar Spring Church Marker, where the first meeting house was established in the 1700s by Presbyterians; and the Orphan’s School Marker in McAlisterville, established in 1866 for orphans of soldiers killed in the Civil War.

Additional sites in Juniata County have also been of interest to the society and its members. Several early cemeteries and the Academia covered bridge are maintained by the organization, which also honors, from time to time, the grave of John Harris, founder of Mifflintown. During 1976, the Bicen­tennial Commission of the county worked with members to arrange tours of the entire county, which included many of these sites of historical interest.

The Juniata County Historical Soci­ety is also involved in preserving the written word. Toward that end the so­ciety has microfilmed records and some of the Pennsylvania Archives in its li­brary at the Tuscarora Academy. There is also a room in the courthouse where genealogical records are maintained. It is hoped that in the future these two collections might be kept under one roof to facilitate research by the public.

In the fifty years since the society was organized it has had only nine presi­dents, but the membership has risen to over 600. The increased interest in Juni­ata’s history can be credited, in part, to the programs the society presents at many of its regularly scheduled meet­ings. Recent programs have been dedi­cated to such topics as the “Glory Days in Mifflin with the Pennsylvania Rail­road,” “Early Juniata County Build­ings,” “A Canoe Trip Down the Juni­ata River in 1888” and “Military Col­lections in the William Penn Memorial Museum.”

Last year was of special significance, for in 1982 the society was awarded an honorable mention from the Pennsylva­nia Federation of Historical Societies for the publication of Juniata: A County For All Seasons, edited by Miss Helen Morris Banks and Mrs. Lucy Lehman. This book is but the latest ex­ample of the Juniata County Historical Society’s dedication to preserving the county’s past.


Ruth C. Waters is president of the Juni­ata County Historical Society.