Bradford Historical Society Hosts Annual Meeting
The sun shone brightly through the skylights of the Great Room at the Bradford County Historical Society (BCHS) headquarters on Sept. 25 as board members, employees, and officers of the organization gathered for their annual meeting. BCHS president Henry Farley welcomed guests and set the tone for the event with good news about the current state of the organization, as well as some indication of what BCHS has in store for the upcoming celebration of Bradford County’s bicentennial.
The county will reach its 200-year milestone on March 24, and Farley related that BCHS will work with the Bradford County Commissioners to recreate the program that marked the county’s centennial in 1912. One of the elements of the celebration held a century ago, a tradition that actually continued for a number of years, was the special veneration of the county’s oldest residents that was, at that time, called Old People’s Day. Farley hopes to involve citizens who are 100-years-old or older at some time over the course of the bicentennial celebration.
Farley also thanked members and supporters, past and present, for putting BCHS in a position of sustainability that will lead the organization into the future. He marked the passing of longtime BCHS members Sylvia Wilson, Ted Calkins, and Bill Beamer, each of whom was credited with bringing a specific talent or skill to BCHS and the museum that it maintains in the former Bradford County Jail at 109 Pine Street in Towanda.
Wilson, Farley noted, was a curator at the society’s former museum and helped to establish its library. Calkins was instrumental in helping to preserve numerous museum pieces, including an elk affectionately known as “Oscar.” Beamer was well-known for his fundraising abilities, which included helping to raise the $2 million needed to renovate the former prison into the unique and functional facility that it has become.
“We do not owe anybody money, and it was people like Bill Beamer that we were able to do that,” Farley said in reference to BCHS’s success at paying for modifications and upgrades to the building as the project progressed.
Farley extended honors to a number of current BCHS members as well, including research clerk and librarian Denise Golden, who has been with the organization for 15 years. The Clement F. Heverly Outstanding Service Award was presented to the Bradford County Regional Arts Council, and Guy Abell was named to the Emeritus Board, having completed the three-term requirement for emeritus status.
Museum curator Matt Carl conceded that his annual report gets longer each year because BCHS continues to take a more active role in the community. “We have increased what we have been doing each year, and all of the events help us to meet our goal of preserving Bradford County’s history,” he stated. In a condensed version of a report that had been printed for members to read, Carl credited the contributions of 2010 Northeast Bradford High School graduate Drew Boardman for his services during the summer as museum tour guide. Carl noted that more than 1,000 people visited the museum or used the BCHS research center between May and September of this year. An additional 6,000 people accessed the organization’s website, most of them looking for information about the research center.
Both Farley and Carl cautioned members that, while the facilities still feel new to many of them, the building is in need of maintenance that will put strains on the BCHS budget.
“Our building is starting to show signs of age,” said Farley. “We have experienced problems this year with the elevator, the heating system, and the air handling system. We have to expect these types of occurrences and therefore have to budget for repairs as they happen.”
Before turning the program over to scheduled presenter Kurt Lafy, Farley shocked the Civil War buff by presenting him with the Leo E. Wilt Historian of the Year Award. Lafy modestly admitted that he had only just begun to scratch the surface of the deep history involving the men and boys from Bradford County, including his own great grandfather, who became the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. “I’m not done yet,” Lafy said of his research, as he wiped a tear from his eye and regained his composure so that he could continue with his highly informative program about the historic monuments of Bradford County.
Lafy began his presentation by defining the word “monument,” which he explained, is a broader concept than the erect statues and pillars that one generally associates with the term. In fact, he had placed the Grand Army of the Republic Highway (more commonly known as U.S. Route 6) at the top of his list. Promotion for its construction began in 1934, Lafy related, and ground was broken for the highway at Cape Cod, Mass., in 1937. Fourteen states from the east to west coasts were eventually covered by the expansive thoroughfare, which, upon completion, was the longest highway in America at 3,652 miles. Route 6 remains the second longest highway in America, having been surpassed by federal Route 20 in the southern United States.
Lafy went on to offer details about more traditional monuments in Rome, Ulster, East Smithfield, and Athens. Most were constructed after fundraising efforts by community-based groups, while the $10,000 price tag for a dramatic statue of a soldier and drummer boy on a pedestal in Athens was covered by Joseph and Charlote Stickler, a wealthy couple who later settled in New Jersey. Lafy has a unique skill for conveying the passion of both the artisans who designed the monuments and the civilians and officials who dedicated them. He also has a keen eye for detail, noting minute discrepancies in uniform pieces and insignias on statues such as the five that comprise the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of the Bradford County Courthouse. Lafy caught the attention of meeting participants as well with his examination of the pathos involved in the creation of two reliefs, one each of the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg that adorn the monument at Towanda that was erected and dedicated in the fall of 1901.
In addition to Farley, current BCHS officers include president elect Mary Neiley, vice president J. Kelsey Jones, secretary Mary Skillings, and treasurer Lois Crandell. For information about ways to support BCHS and hours of operation, readers may log on to www.bradfordhistory.com.