Mercer County Historical Society

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

Efforts to establish a historical society in Mercer County began with an October 1929 meeting at the home of Dr. L. H. Beeler of Grove City. The group drafted bylaws and elected Dr. Beeler president but apparently ceased to function soon thereafter. There is no record of any activity after January I 929. Dr. Beeler’s ill-health and the onset of the Great Depression perhaps account for that fact.

Another effort following World War II succeeded when. in December 1947, the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County granted a charter to the Mercer County Historical Society. The organization’s constitution stated as its purpose “the collecting of data dealing with the early history of Mercer Coun­ty; the acquisition and preservation of documents, records, relics, and mem­orabilia having to do with pioneer days; the encouragement of local his­torical research; the investigation of existing extra-historical tradition; the appropriate marking and care of his­toric sites and the possible publication from time to time of papers and articles treating of events and persons connected with Mercer County’s story.” The organization has pursued these goals vigorously for the past thirty-four years.

In 1951, the society acquired Magoffin House Museum as a perman­ent home. A gift from Miss Henrietta Magoffin, the house at 119 South Pitt Street, Mercer, opened to the public in 1953 with an addition of a fireproof vault for storing particularly valuable items. It is the center for society hold­ings and activities, and contains a wealth of materials from Mercer County’s past – furniture, clothing, tools, books, documents, newspapers, photos, etc. The society library is also actively used by those attempting to study the county’s past. Census reports and cemetery records attract many genealogical researchers, and the museum staff devotes much time to answering queries of this nature.

A prized collection is that of Dr. John Goodsell, a member of Robert Peary’s 1909 North Pole expedition. Goodsell, who served Peary as chief medical officer, lived in Mercer Coun­ty for many years before his death in 1947. The Goodsell collection includes a variety of arctic artifacts as well as his unpublished manuscript on his adventures in the frozen north. Be­cause of a dispute over publication rights with Peary, Goodsell was the only principal participant who failed to publish a book on his experience. The society is now sponsoring the editing of the manuscript for publica­tion in the near future.

In its efforts to provide additional space and preserve historic county structures, the society has acquired several other buildings. The fast, ob­tained in 1960, was Caldwell School, the last of more than two hundred one-room schools to operate in the county. Located near the center of the county, it contains hundreds of items gathered painstakingly over the years which are reminiscent of the one-room school era.

In 1973. the former St. Edmunds Episcopal Church, Mercer, having been deconsecrated and scheduled for de­molition, was moved to property adjacent to the museum (the Hender­son Historical Area) and restored as the Helen Black Miller Chapel. It now serves as a display area and a meeting place, and has become a favored site for many local weddings. The follow­ing year, 1974. the Thomas McClain Print Shop of Mercer was also relo­cated. The building has been restored on society grounds and some of its equipment put back into working order. Its one functioning hand-fed press now meets some of the organi­zation’s more modest printing require­ments.

The most recent acquisition is an authentic log cabin dating back to the early nineteenth century. Discovered beneath the modern veneer of a house being razed, the Raisch Log Cabin now stands relocated in Sharpsville. Cur­rently. the society is also cooperating with other interested groups to “save” the county’s only remaining covered bridge.

The Mercer County Historical Soci­ety, however, is more than buildings and sites. It is also people and activi­ties. Membership peaked at nearly 1,000 in 1966 before declining and steadying at the present level of 700. Its many activities are possible only through the generosity of many donors and supporters and a county government which provides an annual subsidy. This support has enabled the society to conduct a variety of pro­grams. Throughout its history, the organization has sought out and marked historic sites, many in con­junction with the PHMC. It has, in the past, sponsored annual bus tours of historic sites, essay contests for stu­dents and slide presentations on coun­ty history. Since 1964, the society has also maintained an Indian cemetery in the county. For the past several years, a concert series held at the Helen Black Miller Chapel featuring local and guest musicians, an annual dinner meeting and program in June, and a picnic in August have been successful in attracting enthusiastic audiences. Society publications include a journal, Mercer County History, and a quarter­ly newsletter, Mercer County Heritage.

These facts testify to the energy with which the Mercer County Histor­ical Society has pursued the objectives of its founders. It is truly the guardian of the county’s heritage.