Susquehanna Historical Society and Free Library Association

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

The first expression or interest in the establishment of a historical society for Susquehanna County came through edi­torials published in the Montrose Demo­crat about 1889. The following, for ex­ample, appeared in 1890: “Remember the meeting for the purpose of consider­ing the advisability of organizing a County Historical Society, at the Court House, Saturday, May 31, 1890, at 1-3 P.M. All are invited.” Among the twenty-five who attended were Emily C. Blackman, author of the History of Sus­quehanna County, and W. C. Cruser, publisher of the Democrat. Mr. Cruser, who would later become the third presi­dent of the society, following Professors W. L. Thatcher and B. E. James. called the meeting to order.

Before too many years, gifts, bequests and donations allowed charter members to begin malting plans for a permanent meeting site. Toward that end, ground was broken in 1905 between the court­house and the high school building, where meetings were then being held. Before work progressed to the construc­tion stage, however, Francis R. Cope, Jr. of Philadelphia notified those in­volved that the Cope family wanted to provide a memorial library. The Copes had, in early years, owned large tracts of land in Susquehanna County and main­tain an estate and lands there to the pre­sent day. Through a combination of society funds and the Cope’s donation, a larger site was selected to house both a library and historical. society on Monu­ment Square in Montrose. The building was dedicated on November 8, 1907, the same year the Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library Association was chartered. In 1957 an annex to the present building, coming largely through a legacy from Gertrude Warner Howe of New Milford, was add­ed.

The society grew in its early years because of the dedication of a number of county residents. Much credit is owed to professors Thatcher and James for- their guidance, not only as its presidents but ,also as its record keepers, to W. C. Cruser for his untiring efforts to develop interest in starting a society, and to the early members for gathering, catalogu­ing and maintaining a large museum col­lection while at the same time establishing a genealogy department.

Pan or the first charter reads: “The purpose for which this corporation is formed is to collect, preserve and disseminate- the local history of Susque­hanna County and the genealogy of Sus­quehanna County’s families .. . and to make antiquarian collections … ,” Ninety-two years later, the goal remains the same, although new preservation techniques have been introduced. To­day, ultra-violet shields cover lights and windows; acid-free materials are used to store and frame fabrics, paper, and photographs: and painting restoration is done through the Art Conservation Center at Cooperstown, New York. New storage areas have been added, and even better utilization of storage space is planned for the future.

Just as important as the preservation of artifacts in the museum’s collection is the genealogical reference room which is visit,ed by researchers from all over the United States. For those who are unable to travel to Montrose, research inquiries are welcome through the mail, although a small fee is charged. Foremost in the genealogical collection are Volumes 1 through 112 of the New England Historic Genealogical Register; marriage and death records extracted from early newspapers, diaries and journals; coun­ty histories; local D.A.R. records; the Pennsylvania Archives; county atlases and maps; cemetery records; completed genealogies and a large number of published family histories and manu­scripts. Microfilm holdings include old newspapers; local census records from 1790 through 1900, with indexes up to 1850; county histories; the Biographical Record of N. E. Pennsylvania, and Beer’s Atlas. In addition to the perpetual search for genealogical information, the staff and volunteers are con­tinuing an oral history project which was initiated by the Junior Historians at Montrose High School in 1969.

The Historical Committee is the back­bone of the Susquehanna County His­torical Society and has been since its for­mation. Meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month to discuss the problems facing the museum and to make decisions regarding policy matters, the purchase of new equipment, fund raising and exhibits. AD decisions made concerning these and other areas are then reviewed by the Association’s Board of Directors and are subject to its approval. Over the years, the committee has sponsored the reprint of the two county histories, The History of Susque­hanna County (1873) by Emily C. Blackman and the Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pa. (1887) by R. M. Stocker, both with completely re­vised indexes. Mrs. Herbert Brewster, a committee member, indexed Miss Black­man’s history, and Beer’s Atlas of Sus­quehanna County (1872), which is cur­rently being reprinted, is also being in­dexed by staff and committee members.

Volunteer help from the committee has also made larger exhibits possible. On the Fourth of July and Christmas, for example, the museum is transformed to reflect a theme given to each exhibit. A 1976 Bicentennial exhibit featured flags. Other ambitious displays to date have included “An of the Common Man” (featuring examples of rural decorative arts), “Furniture Makers – Picture Painters” (from the county), “Victorian Clothing” and “A Toy Store.” A large portion of the artifacts used in each display for the month-long exhibits are loaned by local residents. This fact alone has generated much interest in the museum, and attendance has been at an all-time high. Another large Fourth of July exhibit is again planned for this year.

The society, staffed by one full-time and two part-time workers, is located on the second floor of the library. Admis­sion to the museum is free and the reference room is currently open Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 10 A.M. to 12 P.M. and 1 to 5 P.M.; Wednesday and Thursday, 1 to 5 P.M. Winter hours are Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 10 A.M. to 12 P.M. and 1 to 5 P.M. A $1 fee is charged for the use of all genealogical material.

The Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library Association, which this year celebrates its 7Sth an­niversary, faces many of the same prob­lems confronting most small historical societies, namely limited funding and a shortage of storage and display space. But, with an active and interested com­mittee, a supportive community and a solid foundation upon which to build, the future remains a promising one.

 

Betty Smith is the curator of the Susquehanna County Historical Society.