Lebanon County Historical Society

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

On June 18, 1897, fifteen promin­ent men met in the office of Lee L. Grumbine, an attorney in the City of Lebanon. At this meeting, concern was voiced that many items pertaining to the early settlement, development and history of this locale had been lost, discarded or destroyed. These gentlemen pledged themselves to “the establishment of a society dedicated to the collection of historical and bio­graphical data concerning Lebanon County for present and future edifica­tion and future preservation.”

The first meeting of the Lebanon County Historical Society was held in the county courthouse on January 14, 1898, at which time officers were elected and a constitution and by-laws were adopted. The records show there were forty-five persons in attendance at this first meeting. In order to be eligible for funds from the county government and for other legal reasons, the society was incorporated on September 11, 1901, and the charter recorded thirteen days later.

From the beginning, the society searched for a permanent home. In the early years, meetings were held either in the Eagle Hotel or in the grand jury room of the Lebanon County Court House. The books and collections of the society, however, were being housed in the office of Lee L. Grum­bine. In 1916, two rooms were rented at the Young Men’s Christian Associa­tion, where meetings continued to be held until 1921. In that year, the so­ciety was compelled to move again, this time to the basement of the Far­mers Trust Building. This remained home until 1934.

After living and meeting at five dif­ferent locations, the society at last found what at the time seemed to be a permanent home. On October 13, 1934, the society accepted a two-and­-one-half-story dwelling at 601 Walnut Street in Lebanon, in addition to the proceeds from the sale of other prop­erties left to it in the will of Sarah Hauck. Accordingly, the building was named the “Samuel Hauck, Jr. and Sarah Hauck Memorial Building.” After the society settled in, an open house was held on November 11 and 12, 1935, with over one thousand persons visiting.

It was not until late in the 1960s that, due to the pressing need for a larger and more suitable building, a new committee was appointed to sur­vey possible buildings and historic sites. Th.is pressing need resulted from an increased membership and greater attendance at general society meetings. In addition, steady increase in library and museum accessions created storage problems. As a temporary solution to the space problem, meetings were moved to the City-County Municipal Building. Seeking a permanent solu­tion, the building committee, after much deliberation, recommended the purchase of a building offered for sale by a fraternal organization at 924 Cumberland Street in the city. The trustees and executive committee sup­ported the recommendation and on March 27, 1972, at a general meeting of the society, it was voted to pur­chase the new property.

The historic two-and-one-half-story limestone colonial structure was built in 1773 by Rev. William Henry Stoy, M.D., as a residence and office. From 1813 to 1818 it housed the courts of newly formed Lebanon County. Among the attorneys to practice in this courthouse were John Andrew Shulze, the only Pennsylvania gover­nor (1822-1830) to be elected from Lebanon County, and James Buchanan, who became the only president of the United States elected from Pennsyl­vania (1856-1860). Today, the build­ing is listed on the Pennsylvania Inven­tory of Historic Places.

In addition to its headquarters, the society owns the oldest canal tunnel in the United States, built from 1825 to 1827. The Union Canal Tunnel and Canal Bed are part of an eight-acre tract maintained by the society about two miles north of Lebanon. The tunnel, because of its historic and engi­neering significance, has been desig­nated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the Society of Professional Engineers.

The Lebanon County Historical So­ciety has taken a lead in preserving the past. Among its many activities, the society erects historical markers and plaques to commemorate outstanding events and places in the early history of the county. It sponsored the Histor­ic Sites Survey of Lebanon County. a project which listed and photographed most buildings built in the county be­fore 1875. In addition, it works with the Historic Preservation Trust of Lebanon County to preserve and re­store old historic sites and buildings.

The educational efforts of the so­ciety have been directed through a variety of projects. Included.are guided tours of the society building, genealog­ical assistance in the library, micro­filming of old newspapers, special events and programs, an annual dinner meeting, and bus tours to sister soci­eties, museums and national historic parks.

Yearly, since 1898, the society has issued a scholarly publication free to its membership. The society has also reprinted Egle’s History of Lebanon & Dauphin Counties, a basic county his­tory, and published Lebanon County, Pennsylvania – A History, a classroom textbook, in 1976. The society also sponsors a yearly craft show in co­operation with the society museum store. For its varied programs and dis­tinctive contributions made in the ad­vancement of Pennsylvania history, the Lebanon County Historical Soci­ety was granted an Award of Merit by the Pennsylvania Federation of His­torical Societies in 1977.

Lebanon County is an area rich in history and culture, adding in un­limited ways to Pennsylvania’s rich heritage. In respect to the contribu­tions made by Lebanon County, the Lebanon County Historical Society re­news the pledge made in 1898 to dedi­cate itself to the collection and preser­vation of the history of the county and to pass it on to future generations.


Ray S. Bowman is secretary of the Lebanon County Historical Society.