Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Research Library - Part 1 - Family and Subject Files

I want to spend some time this winter highlighting the variety of material that is available in our research library. We have a more complete collection than many county historical societies. That is, in part, due to the close connections we maintain with our county officials who have made it a priority to see that our county archival records are properly preserved. Although the Bradford County Historical Society is not an agency of the county, we are designated as the official "county historical society." This means that we are the repository of original records dating back to the beginning of the county. I hope to talk about some of these records in a future post.
Other than the county records that we hold, BCHS has been collecting research material for over 100 years, but especially within the past 50 years. This leads me to my topic for this post - family and subject files.
Our library contains multiple filing cabinets. Seven four-drawer cabinets contain our family files which number in the hundreds. A file exists for each Bradford County related surname that we have researched in our quest to help patrons discover their roots. Many files also contain data, obituaries and other information that may have been donated by visitors. Family files are always a good place to start. You may discover that someone else has already researched your family, thereby saving you time and effort. There may also be a clue that will lead you in another direction.
Similar to the family files are the subject files that have been created in the same way. These files are about places, events, stories, buildings, and more. The important part is that they are all related to Bradford County history. The subject files fill two four-drawer cabinets.
Staff and volunteers will find the files that you are looking for and will copy any material that might be relevant to your genealogy or local history project.
In Part 2, I will discuss another helpful part of our collection!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What Would They Think

When the Bradford County Historical Society was formed in 1870, a group of local people basically started from scratch. There had been little attempt made to collect our history in an organized fashion so that it would be available for future generations.
Over the years, the society grew in leaps and bounds to the point where it is today. It is very common for visitors to our museum or research library to comment on what a treasure we have here in Bradford County. Many of these people, myself included, have been to other county historical societies and have seen varying conditions in the quality of research facilities and museum exhibits. We were once there too.
What would our historical society "forefathers" think if they were here now to see the Bradford County Historical Society that we now maintain. I'm sure they would be speechless.
BCHS is entrusted with an important task. Preserving Bradford County history. In a county like ours, that is a huge task! Not only are we the third largest county in the state of Pennsylvania, but our history is very diverse. We played important roles in the Sullivan and Hartley expeditions, we were a vital area for the Native Americans, we were a major coal and lumber producer, we have a vast railroad history, we have an even larger agricultural history, we were home to famous actors, actresses, vaudeville performers, composers, statesmen, and the list goes on and on!
When you become a member of BCHS or make a donation to the society, you are actually making it possible for our county history to be preserved for those young Americans who have not yet been born. After all, the founders of the Bradford County Historical Society were doing the same thing almost 140 years ago. Aren't you glad they did?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

2008 Annual Curator's Report

The following report was presented at our Annual Meeting, held on October 6, 2008 at the Towanda Country Club.
I am pleased to report a long list of accomplishments made at the Bradford County Historical Society this past year.
Exhibits and Displays
The Natural History exhibit cell was completely changed last winter and now offers the visitor new things to see. The exhibits includes various unusual minerals discovered in the county, the Lilley Leaf Collection (which was cleaned and repaired), enlarged photographs of the Spring Lake Wooly Mammoth excavation, and several other items. Ted Kier also loaned items from the excavation at Spring Lake for a temporary display.
Several other rotating exhibits or displays were created for the 2008 season. One such display in the lobby showcase was a collection of Barclay Mountain artifacts. This was replaced in July with a display celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. A display of CCC photos and other WPA projects were also set up in the Great Room during July. The Rotating Exhibit room featured a display of old toys and a series of four different voting booths used in Bradford County over the years. A display case of newspapers with headlines about presidential elections was also created. Portraits of early presidents of the Bradford County Historical Society were placed on display.
Thanks to a grant from the Allen F. Pierce Foundation, the piano, reed organ, and melodeon in our museum were all restored and are capable of playing again. The piano and reed organ were made in Towanda. A Pianomation computer system was installed inside the piano in order to make the keys play by themselves. This is a wonderful new feature in our museum and will allow us to have “live” music for our events.Several of our windows received UV protective film to guard the items on display from deterioration. Also, several improvements were made throughout the museum such as stone repointing in the Great Room. These projects were done as a result of a grant received through the efforts of Vince Amoroso and Senator Roger Madigan’s office.
Community Outreach and Partnerships
This past year I spoke to the Foster Grandparent group at Towanda Elementary School, the Towanda Lions Club, the Wyalusing Senior Citizens Club, the Canton Senior Citizens Club and at the Bradford County Heritage Association (Farm Museum) annual meeting. Guy Abell and I went to Barclay Mountain with the Men’s Group from the Independent Baptist Church in Towanda and gave a tour of part of Laquin, identifying for them the location of the Laquin Baptist Church.
BCHS also participated in the Treasures of the Past exhibit at the Blue Heron Art Gallery in Wyalusing by displaying five framed Barclay Mountain photos that told the story of lumbering on the mountain. I attended the opening reception for this month long exhibit and gave a presentation about the mountain and the new book. I also began meeting with other museums in Bradford County to get an idea of what type of collections they have and to discuss how the county historical society can work together with them. These organizations so far have included Tioga Point Museum, Wyalusing Valley Museum, Susquehanna River Archaeological Center of Native Indian Studies (SRAC), and the Troy Historical and Genealogical Society. The board also visited SRAC to see their progress and meet with theirboard.
Storage and Organization
Tremendous reorganization has taken place in our storage rooms to make material more easily accessible and to provide additional storage space. Our deed room had more shelving installed and 500 deed, mortgage and record books were reshelved. Our entire oversize map collection was placed into new map tubes. The remainder of the maps and large certificates were organized into flat files.
A series of 85 new engraved signs were mounted throughout the museum and library. About 60 of these were room numbers to correspond with our Past Perfect inventory system.
The older paper inventory records were also reorganized and centralized in one location for easy retrieval. I compiled a binder of information extracted from the historical society minute books (1870-1960) about items in the historical society collection. All of this information will eventually be entered into our Past Perfect database so that it can be located at a moments notice.
Printing and Publishing
I concluded several months of design work on the Barclay Mountain history book and sent it to the printer. Several thousand dollars were saved by completing all of the book design “in-house.” The books were received early in December and were ready for 2007 Christmas sales.
I also designed a new BCHS brochure and applied for Room Tax funding in order to have it printed. We were awarded enough funding to print 3,000 brochures, half of which were distributed to state rest stops in three Pennsylvania counties. The remaining brochures were distributed throughout Bradford County. A second application has been submitted for funding to continue this promotional effort.
A new quarterly newsletter, the Society Journal, was created to keep our members up-to-date on upcoming events, ongoing projects, interesting stories, and a variety of other material.
We began a series of monthly programs this year known as “Thursday Night at the Museum.”
The first step in making our new programming series a success was to upgrade our audio/visual equipment. Thanks to the Hilliard Foundation and the Allen F. Pierce Foundation we now have all of the equipment necessary to present PowerPoint slideshows, videos, music, and voice.
We kicked off the season of programming with a speaker provided through a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council on the life of a Civil War Officer. Other topics presented this year included Spanish Hill, the Civilian Conservation Corps, David Wilmot, Harry Davenport (Canton’s actor), and the last program in October will feature letters from Civil War. Almost 200 people have participated in these programs. Several have indicated that it was their first time visiting the museum.
Museum Visitors
The museum opened for the season on May 29th with our summer tour guide, Amanda Rockwood, a student at Millersville University. Besides operating the museum and gift shop, Amanda worked on data entry for us, part of which involved entering the entire BCHS membership list into Past Perfect. Her last day was August 23 and her replacement for the fall, Amy Masters, will finish out the season.
The museum has hosted over 800 visitors since the last annual meeting. These visitors have come from the following states and countries: California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, New York, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Florida, South Dakota, Canada, France and England.
Over 500 students have visited the museum during 2008. We have hosted the following group tours: Outstanding Young Woman Program; North Rome Christian School; Union Valley Christian School; St. Agnes Cub Scouts; Keystone College students; Serve, Inc.; Troy first through third grades; St. Agnes School fourth through sixth grades; Northeast Bradford fourth grade; Towanda Elementary Fourth Grade; Canton High School Library Club; Beacon Light ages 7-16; Bradford County Day Care ages 4-9; Canton Red Hatters; and Futures.
Contributions to Our Collection
Several deliveries of county records were received this year from the courthouse including property assessment cards from the assessment office and several other ledgers such as “inmate records” from the Bradford County Poor House (later the Bradford County Manor).
Patricia Chubbuck from Broome County, NY donated a wonderful collection of Laquin photographs and other material. Many of the photos and other items that she donated are not found in the Jim Smith collection from which we compiled the Barclay Mountain history book.
DuPont donated a collection of items pertaining to the Patterson Screen Company in Towanda. This helps to round out our collection of DuPont/Patterson Screen Company history. We also received a great collection of material pertaining to the Sylvania company in Towanda.
Peoples State Bank donated the 1889 “cannonball safe” from their New Albany bank branch. It weighs 2,400 lbs. and is a fascinating piece of history.
The following donors have given artifact and manuscript items over the past year: Roger Keagle, David Westcott, Suzanne Tebo Tearno, Ruth Bloss, Leslie Norton, Shirley Mancuso-Zettel, Fred Coolbaugh, Robert Bullard, Rowena Ward, Elma Young family, Terry Peet, Jean Lundy, Carol Rockwell, Donald L. Vanderpool, Henry Farley, Ruth Harvey, Patricia Chubbuck, Victor Hand, Chris Foard, Marland Earnest, Janice Hicks, Mrs. Robert Gauss, Fanna Proper, Marjorie Templeton, Peggy Richards, Jane Carey, Theodore & Maxine Roy, April Tvorak, Carl McMorran, Chris Shaffer, Niles Stroud, Donna Esposito,James Seeley, Vine Crandall, Millie Landis-Coyle, Jill Covenover, Mark and Delores Crane, Sylvia Race, Letha Boughton, Frances Bogaczyk, Julie Them, Joan Phelan, Dale & Kay Fulmer, Phyllis Mulcahy, Frances Clark, Matt Carl, Sue Wheeler, JoAnn Werthner, J. Kelsey Jones, Gerald & Lesley Smith, Linda Lundy, David & Carol Brubaker, James & Marie Walsh, Sylvia Wilson, Marie Parks on behalf of Northeast Bradford School, Norma Maryott on behalf of the Lt. Asa Steven’s Chapter of the NSDAR, St. Mary’s County Historical Society, Lackawanna County Historical Society, Waterloo Historical Society, Dupont, Peoples State Bank and Towanda Public Library. Loans were received from the Troy Presbyterian Church, Doris Morgan Huegal, and John Watson.
Thanks again to all those who contribute in some way to the success of the Bradford County Historical Society. Your support makes our work possible. I look forward to another eventful year ahead.

Meet the Curator

I became interested in Bradford County history at the age of 10 on a church youth group camping trip at the former lumbering town of Laquin, located in southern Bradford County. Laquin is filled with ruins of the old lumber town that once boomed in that area. I’ll have to admit, I brought home several old pieces of metal that were found around the valley, and still have them today. The most recognizable piece is a railroad spike from the S.&N.Y. Railroad that had passed through Laquin. When I arrived home, I was so excited that such a place actually existed right here in our area that I began a scrapbook about Laquin. It’s humorous to look at this scrapbook today but it certainly marked the beginning of a life of collecting and preserving local history.

Shortly after the Laquin trip, I learned that my ancestors, the Holcombs, were the first settlers of LeRoy in 1794. Couple this information with the fact that I lived next to a very old cemetery while growing up, and you have the ingredients of a well-grounded interest in the history of my home - LeRoy Township.

While growing up, I often thought that it would be great to have a museum in LeRoy. Stories were often told of how this person or that person had collected a great deal of history, only to have it destroyed by a negligent family member upon their death. I remember thinking, “The only way to permanently save our history is to have a museum. The only problem was that, although LeRoy had a great deal of history to be told, it now had a population of about 600 people. “We couldn’t do such a thing in our town!,” I said, “It’s too small!” Little did I know what the years ahead would bring!

Throughout high school I often did local history displays both in school and in the community. These always went over very well with people, and it encouraged me to do more. Whenever we were required to give a speech in high school, and the topic was up to us, I always chose local history.

While still in high school, I began writing a column for the Canton Independent-Sentinel, entitled Looking Back. This was also very popular, and I often received positive comments from readers on them. “Looking back” at the Looking Back column, I now see many gramatical errors, and a little misinformation here and there. But, it was another step in propelling me forward to the future.

I graduated from high school and while trying to decide what the next step in my life would be, I continued my hobby of local history. That summer I heard that the local Open Hand Grange was merging with another local grange. This would leave the building empty. It was well known that the grange building was not in good shape, and comments were heard about the possibility of the grange being demolished. I thought, “Could this be a chance to actually carry through with that museum idea I’ve had all these years?”

I sent letters to former members of the Open Hand Grange #153 and received one letter in return that seemed hopeful. A flurry of letter-writing followed in which I asked questions of about everyone I thought could provide insight on how this project could get off the ground. To make a long story short, the LeRoy Heritage Museum was formed in 2001 and we soon acquired the former grange building which would be our future home.

Over the next seven years, I was to learn first hand what it takes to start a volunteer based non-profit organization. I spent every hour of my free time learning grant writing, organizing and leading our museum board of directors through incorporation, the creation of bylaws, IRS 501(c)(3) paperwork, construction contracts, architectural plans, state and federal grant requirements, local fundraising efforts, and the ongoing process of collecting the history that was quickly disappearing. I also began yearly walking tours on Barclay Mountain that continue to be popular events each year.

In the midst of this work, I became a board trustee at the Bradford County Historical Society in the Spring of 2004. I remained in this position over the next three years and during that time my greatest contribution was the transition of the library computers from old outdated equipment to new state-of-the-art equipment. Most important, however, was the transition of our museum inventory software to the new computers, allowing for easier use for staff and board members.

In the Spring of 2007, after a need for a full time managing curator became apparent and after a great deal of planning on the part of the board of trustees, I was given the opportunity to transition from being a volunteer board member to being an employee. On June 26, 2007, I began doing what I have loved doing for over 15 years - preserving Bradford County history.

BCHS History

The Bradford County Historical Society, based in Towanda, Bradford County, PA, is one of the oldest county historical societies in the state. A foster child of the Bradford County Medical Society, the Bradford County Historical Society was organized on May 5, 1870, and incorporated on February 12, 1875. A singular donation of ten dollars constituted a life membership, with an exemption to the holder from further dues. Otherwise, an annual contribution of one dollar from members was required.

Christopher L. Ward was the first president and, in ill health at the time, died ten days after the inaugural meeting. The Society persevered, held frequent meetings and gathered considerable material relating to the early days of Bradford County. This was displayed and stored in two cases in the Grand Jury Room at the County Courthouse.

The Society continued in this mode until 1903, when the County Commissioners leased to the Society the small brick annex to the old courthouse. A museum and historical library remained there until 1974, when it was moved to 21 Main Street, Towanda. The museum and library were housed on Main Street until 2000, when the first phase of the “Jail Project” was completed for the genealogical and research library and materials. The remaining exhibit construction was completed in May 2002, when the entire facility became available for public use.

A Museum in a Jail

The old jail is located at 109 Pine Street in the center of Towanda’s Historic District. It was designed by Susquehanna County architect, Avery Frink. He had designed a jail for Susquehanna County and was experienced in the needs of this type of facility. The County Commissioners decided to build the jail themselves under the supervision of Avery Frink, rather than contracting the work. Construction of the massive stone building was begun in 1871 and within two years it was completed. The three-story structure was built with stone quaried from Barclay Mountain. Two distinct sections mark this remarkable structure - the dwelling house in the front and the cell block in the back. The first prisoners were moved in August 14, 1873 and the jail was used until its closing in 1991. The Bradford County Commissioners transferred the property to the Bradford County Historical Society in 1998.

Exhibits & Research Facilities

Today, the museum features two floors of museum exhibits, which are creatively arranged in what were the cellblocks. The third floor features a genealogical and historical research library that houses a variety of resources for researchers. Visit the Bradford County Historical Society website for more information.