The Pike County Historical Society

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Recent interest in history generated by Bicentennial celebrations and his­torically oriented television programs has resulted in an increased demand for information regarding local heri­tage in Pike County. Interestingly, the demand is coming not only from local citizens but from many of the nearly one million visitors who come to the county each year. The Pike County Historical Society, county officials and an ever-increasing number of local citizens have been continually finding new ways to meet this demand.

Most recently, the historical society took one of the area’s most representa­tive one-room school houses and re­located it near a major tourist artery. Staffed by volunteers, the site is open to the public seven days a week from May to October. The exhibit includes original hardwood blackboards, two­-seater desks, the handbell used to sum­mon students, primers, original com­positions and, of course, the tradition­al apple on the teacher’s desk. To its credit, the two-year-old display has attracted more than ten thousand visitors from 36 states and 15 foreign countries. The Pike County Historical Society occupies the second floor of the Mil­ford Community House, which is also home to the Pike County Public Li­brary. The stately Community House, donated by the family of Gifford Pinchot (former Pennsylvania governor and noted forester) is situated in a park-like setting that is reminiscent of a New England commons.

Indeed, except for the constant bar­rage of truck traffic, the borough of Milford is free of contemporary in­trusions and its homes and storefronts suggest a more tranquil period. Accord­ingly, the society is in possession of a reminder of the days when transporta­tion was less noisy and less frenzied. At a nearby private park/animal farm, the “Hiawatha,” a stagecoach that carried passengers and mail between Port Jervis, New York and Milford, is exhibited. In return for the right to ex­hibit the stage, the proprietors of the amusement center keep the “Hia­watha” in a pavilion, sheltered from the elements. In this fashion, the society accomplishes the goals of preserving and displaying their acquisi­tion without incurring costly mainte­nance expenses.

Upstairs a! the Community House, the foremost display of the museum is the Lincoln Flag. Stained with the President’s blood, the nag was laid under Lincoln’s head in an attempt to comfort him after being assassinated. Jennie Gourlay, an actress who had performed at Ford’s Theatre that night, later brought the flag to Milford where it remains today as one of the proudest possessions of the Pike Coun­ty Historical Society. Other displays in the museum include the William Jen­nings Bryan Hat left in a Washington, D.C. church by the “silver tongued Crusader” and retrieved by a Milford resident visiting the Nation’s Capital, photographs and memorabilia from the life of philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, and an extensive collection of Indian relics which depict the habits and customs of the earliest inhabitants of the area.

Admission to the museum is free and the collection is maintained and administered entirely by volunteers. Currently, the curator and assistant curator are in the process of cataloging the extensive collection of old news­papers which are in the society’s pos­session. One of the fruits of this work is a record of obituaries which has proven useful to those visitors inter­ested in discovering the genealogy of local families.

While the historical society guards and protects those remnants of local history that can be displayed indoors, there is much activity directed at focusing attention on that part of the county’s heritage that is not protected, or which exists only in the memories and personal effects of private individ­uals. Pike County Days, a cooperative effort of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and the Milford Borough Council, is held annually during the summer. The three-day affair is held on the streets of Milford in a fair-like atmosphere.

In 1977, the County Board or Com­missioners created the office of a Pike County Historian and at the same time requested each municipality to appoint a knowledgeable resident as a town­ship or borough historian. The county historian’s post was established in an attempt to promote a coordinated program of historic preservation and education. Already, several booklets and numerous articles have been com­piled by the office and made available to area schools, colleges, newspapers and individuals. In addition, lectures and special programs have been pre­pared for various groups. Township historians, given the task of soliciting and compiling a record of past events within their particular district, have collaborated with the county historian on a Pike County Road Atlas. Infor­mation for a similar publication on the streams and lakes of the county is cur­rently being collected.

Two years ago the county historian was assigned a worker paid under CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) funds for the purpose of cleaning and painting the small iron historical markers scattered through­out the county. More recently, the Pike County Planning Commission, working closely with the office of the county historian, has received CETA funds to conduct a survey of historic and scenic sites. The end result will be a thirteen-volume (one for each munic­ipality) illustrated guide to local points of interest. Another soon-to-be-pub­lished volume, “The Homes of Mil­ford,” is a pictorial essay being pre­pared by the Milford Garden Club. When completed, the monograph will contain photographs and descriptions of more than one hundred Milford residences.

With the establishment of the coun­ty and township historian positions, the Pike County Board of Commis­sioners began a program of designating county historic sites. All homes and other structures which have been in existence for over one. hundred years are eligible. Township historians are responsible for initiating applications and a complete record of county his­toric sites is kept on file with the historical society. Endorsement of a structure entitles the owner to an attractive certificate of recognition. The program has also prompted fur­ther submission of applications to the Pennsylvania Inventory and the Na­tional Register of Historic Places. Several new Pike County sites are cur­rently under consideration.

All things considered, the future looks promising for Pike County’s past.

 

John S. McKay is a graduate student of history at East Stroudsburg State College. He serves as a Historic and Scenic Site Technician for Pike County under a CETA grant.