Union County Historical Society

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

The story of the Union County Historical Society is not the traditional tale of a group of dedicated citizens who gathered in a living room in Lewisburg and established goals and a program that have forever been upheld. Rather, it is the story of an organization that has responded to a variety of leaders and to the particular needs of the county at specific times. It has been reorganized twice. and is at present going through another change of policy and direc­tion.

In 1905, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the New Century Club of Mifflinburg, and the Bucknell University Alumnae Club formed the Buffalo Valley Memorial Association to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Penns Creek Massacre. The ceremony so in­spired the eight hundred people who attended that they established the Union County Historical Society. The organization continued, though records are spotty, until the death of its two leaders, Alfred Hayes and George G. Groff, in 1912.

In 1918, the society was reestablished and its first program was the celebration of the Leroy Springs Mas­sacre. For twenty-two years the society continued to mark historic sites, conduct memorial services, and sponsor lectures. With the retirement of its inspirational president, Frank P. Boyer, County Superintendent of Schools, the society again closed its books.

The year 1963 brought new leadership and new needs to Union County. It was the 150th anniversary of the separation of Union County from Northumberland. A class in Union County history taught by John B. Deans, under the sponsorship of Bucknell University and Pennsylvania State University, decided to celebrate. And celebrate they did! Union County had never seen such a birthday party. Each community had its own heritage, heroes and heroines whom they commemorated with parades, plays, fashion shows, demonstrations, walking tours, and house tours. Buses brought people from one part of the county to the other. Each evening the stadium at Bucknell was filled with people from all over waiting to see the curtain rise on “The Story of the County,” a professionally directed pageant about Union County. In everyone’s attic there is probably one of the mementos (glasses, hats, buttons, ashtrays) sold by the enthusiastic committee to finance the celebration. On the bookshelves may be the first book entirely about Union County, con­taining articles by residents on churches, businesses, archi­tecture, and early life, and published in conjunction with the celebration.

Mr. Deans, a newcomer to the county, had remarkable plans for the “new” historical society, but his untimely death in 1966 prevented their completion. The John B. Deans Memorial Committee. under the direction of Lois S. Kalp, continued the school tours for children, began the publication Heritage, and opened Ray’s Church Museum on Sundays. This group was officially accepted in the historical society with the goal of improving the archives and raising funds for the establishment of a county museum. With Lois Kalp’s resignation, the society faced a crisis: 1976 was approaching and the bicentennial anniversary of the United States of America. Where was the leadership?

In November of 1973, the Union County Bicentennial Commission was formed under the leadership of Nada R. Gray, with representatives from the New Berlin Heritage, Union County Historical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Bucknell University, civic organizations, and interested citizens. The historical society responded to new needs. Its president, Dr. Charles M. Snyder, author. historian, and teacher, offered to write a comprehensive history of the county. Society members inspired their communities to participate and fourteen of them held festivals which strengthened their local historical pride. Jeannette Lasansky developed a program for recording the oral history of the area. Buck­nell and Allen Flock provided the leadership for a musical program combining for the first time the bands and cho­ruses of Lewisburg, Mifflinburg, and Bucknell. The school districts supported historical tours for the fifth-grade children. The banks of Union County supported a historical calendar depicting scenes of yesterday. Residents opened their homes for a county-wide tour.

At the final meeting of the Bicentennial Commission, the board voted to give its projects to the historical society for a trial period. It is too early to tell if the society
can meet the challenge, but the willingness of the board to accept the projects and to reorganize is a strong indication that once again the Union County Historical Society is
responding to the needs of the people.


Suggestions for Historical Societies

  1. Check your constitution and by-laws. Are you incorporated? Do you have an article that states that no members or direc­tors shall profit from any of your projects, that upon dissolution your assets shall be transferred to a similar non-profit corporation; that your assets shall not be used for political purposes. Change your by-laws to include them.
  2. If you meet these requirements, have you filed with the IRS for a federal tax exempt number under 501 (c). This is es­sential for you to accept tax-exempt gifts and receive g,ants and avoid income tax. Forms are available from IRS. You may need professional help to complete them.
  3. Do you have an employer’s tax number from IRS? Write your district office for a form. It is postcard size and takes about two weeks to obtain.
  4. Have you registered with the Pennsylvania Commission on Charitable organizations? This permits you to solicit funds in the Commonwealth.
  5. Do you have a Pennsylvania sales tax number? This per­mits you some sales tax exemption. Read the forms carefully. Some Bicentennial organizations are in trouble because they misunderstood their obligations.
  6. Does the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies have your correct mailing address? Have you updated the informa­tion in the current Pennsylvania Directory of Historical Organiza­tions?
  7. Does your organization have a recognizable logo? Do you use it for posters and letterheads? A public design contest with emphasis through the schools will give you maximum publicity and minimum cost. A good prize for students would be $25 to $50.
  8. Does your organization have a membership letter that you circulate through the Welcome Wagon? It can be multilithed or duplicated at very moderate cost. Leave it at a desk in your community libraries and local stores.
  9. Have you met with your school district to see how you might help? You might be surprised to find that local history is generally ignored; sometimes there is no material available. Appoint a committee to work with the social studies department. Contact your intermediate unit. Offer teacher-training courses through them. Let them know you are a valuable resource. Ask them to help you develop a project such as Project “1776,” de­veloped for schools in Chester County.
  10. Do you have a person on the local or county planning commission who is concerned with historic preservation? Appeal to your commissioners. If there is no opening in the commission, form a citizens’ task force. Write newspaper articles. Keep them short and use pictures. Register properties with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
  11. Have you conducted a walking or house tour of your area recently? It helps make the public aware of your architectural heritage.
  12. Plan a special night in one of your historic homes with decorations, refreshments, and activities that are in keeping with the period of the house. Christmas is a lovely time. Charge ad­mission. Invite the public.
  13. Have you ever sponsored a bus tour of your local historic sites? Do you include your teachers and students?
  14. Do you have a tape recorder? Everybody has oral history in his or her community and one enthusiastic person can organize a collection that is invaluable. Union County’s greatest success story has been its Oral Traditions Program, directed by Jeannette Lasansky. She began with an idea and a $300 matching grant from the America the Beautiful Fund. From the very beginning all material was indexed and filed for easy reference. She trained her interviewers to ask questions and direct interviews, rather than merely absorb reminiscences. The interviewers were expected to know something about their subjects, such as folk medicine, pumps, butchering. Most of the information is supported by visual material, such as slides. At present the collection contains more than five thousand slides and more than two hundred interviews, more than half of which are transcribed. These are loaned as library material. There are seven slide shows and one color movie, all featuring crafts, available on a rental basis. Ms. Lasansky has published a book, Made of Mud, on central Pennsylvania stoneware, which was inspired by the rich oral material available from the Ack family. She is presently working with her seventh major grant to prepare a book and an exhibit on central Pennsylvania basketmakers.
  15. Do you have a speakers list which is available to local organizations? Take your concerns to the merchants’ council, tourist promotions agency, chamber of commerce, civic clubs, and governmental bodies. Creating an awareness may itself produce support. We sometimes forget that not everyone knows about us.
  16. Do you have a good publicity chairperson? Use the news­paper and the radio. Announce the anniversaries of special days in your history like the Penn’s Creek Massacre. If it doesn’t offend your purists, get the merchants to hold sales on founders days. It hasn’t hurt Lincoln’s or Washington’s image.
  17. Do you have your program planned a year in advance? Have you considered producing a calendar? The UCHS is now printing its third. The first calendar in 1975 was sponsored by the local banks. They agreed to pay the bill and sell calendars at cost and donate the proceeds to the Bicentennial Commission. The second year the commission and the banks co-sponsored the project and shared the cost, and each kept the proceeds. This year, the society is using the calendar as a money-raising venture. Area historical societies have submitted their meeting dates. County residents were asked in June and July to submit photos of early days in the area. A committee selected fourteen that represented a geographical diversity and showed a variety of scenes. All other photos were displayed in locked cases in the courthouse for one month. At this time the society asked permission to copy some of them to improve its archival material. The calendar photos were secret until the calendar was made available for sale in late October.
  18. Have you special craftspeople in your area practicing traditional arts such as the making of redware or stoneware, weaving, rugbraiding, hooking or quilting? A gift shop or even a yearly bazaar specializing in well-done replicas of things traditional in your area is profitable. A limited edition of a stoneware pitcher from your museum collection is a good project. Do you have note­paper with scenes from your area available at the chamber of commerce or local store? Most every society has an artist who would make sketches as his or her contribution.
  19. Do you have a project you want to complete and no money? Most counties have a grants officer in one of their agencies. They can help you find the agencies that are most likely to support you. Sometimes they will help you write your proposal. Some agencies will let you match service instead of cash. It is work, but if your project is worthwhile, try it. The next one will be easier.
  20. Check your professional memberships. The American Association for State and Local History offers its members services well worth the $35 membership fee. The Victorian Society, the Oral History Association, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have special interest.
  21. Do you use newsletters to keep your members informed? A bulk-mailing permit (two hundred pieces) is within many budgets. Check with your local post office.
  22. Share your antiques. Plan a major exhibit of the work of local craftspeople, such as a metal show-copper, tin, pewter and brass; or a show of pottery, quilts, or baskets, old and new. Area collectors and antique dealers are willing to display if the security is adequate. Take your students on tours of the exhibit.
  23. Sponsor classes in traditional crafts for adults and students.


Nada Gray is President of the Union County Historical Society.