The Man behind the House: Silas Clark

Visiting a historic mansion can be an exciting experience, but viewing a house is much more interesting when you know the person who lived there.  The Silas M. Clark House is one of those buildings, and many people in Indiana, PA don’t know about the man who built the home, let’s look at the man behind the house.  Silas Moorhead Clark was born January 18, 1834 near Elderton, PA to James and Ann Moorhead Clark.  Silas attended the Indiana Academy in his early years (the Academy was the first institution of learning that is equivalent to our high schools today).  It becomes necessary to state that the site where the Indiana Academy stood later became the resident of Silas Clark.
Silas M. Clark (1834-1891)
Upon his completion of the Indiana Academy, he enrolled in Jefferson College (Washington and Jefferson College today in Canonsburg, Washington County, PA), from which he graduated at the age of 18, followed by teaching at his alma mater, Indiana Academy, for two years.  Clark began studying law in 1854, at the office of William M. Stewart.  When the Indiana Normal School (IUP) opened in 1875, Clark was elected secretary of the Board of Trustees, and upon the death of John Sutton on June 9, 1877, Clark became president of the Board which he held until his death.
Clark held many important positions during his lifetime; in 1873 he served as a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, serving on the committees dealing with declaration of rights, private corporations and revisions and adjustments.  The highlight of Clark’s life came in 1882 when the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania selected him as the nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  Justice Clark served on the bench until early November 1891, when he had to return home because of illness.  Silas M. Clark died about 9:15 p.m. at the age of 57 on November 20, 1891.  His funeral drew a large crowd, filling every available space and even more stood outside the Presbyterian Church.  He is buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Indiana, PA and his grave is marked by a small simple grave stone.
Silas Clark has been honored in many ways in the town of Indiana; Clark Hall located on IUP’s campus is named in his honor and at one time served as the boy’s dormitory and is now being used as administrative offices.  The Historical Society maintains Clark’s home for the public to enjoy and get a sense of how life was for the Clark family.

Indiana County PA’s Historical Society: The Best Kept Secret for Uncovering the Past

Silas M. Clark House, built 1869-1870.

Historical societies are commonly associated with history buffs, but they are actually important to all members of the community.  They preserve and collect artifacts significant to the history and heritage of the community.  Many are hidden treasures, as is commonly said about the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County, it is “Indiana County’s best kept secret.”

Local historical societies fact many issues today, especially financial and technological issues. For the Indiana County Historical Society, they maintain two historic buildings, the Silas Clark House and the Old Armory Building, and the cost to maintain them is always increasing.  The Society relies on membership to operate, but donations and volunteers are an important aspect as well.

As technology increases, historical societies face many issues, especially with so many resources online, but it is important to remember that Historical Societies have many things to offer that cannot be received through a computer.  For example, there are actual artifacts that can be seen in person, and there are also knowledgeable people readily available to answer questions.  With the advancement of technology, volunteers are need to use this new technology, whether that be scanning photographs or entering data into our museum software program, there is something for all ages and all people.  The use of teamwork is extremely important for the Society to operate.

It’s amazing how little the community knows about the operations of local historical societies and the work that goes into the up keep and operation of a museum, historic home, and research library.  Many people don’t understand why historical societies want to save old things, but it is part of our history and heritage that needs to be kept alive for future generations.  To showcase these items the Indiana County Historical Society has many programs throughout the year to educate the community about the past.

I urge everyone – students, teachers, schools, and individuals – to take advantage of this resource that provides education to our community through exhibits and research materials available to them in their own backyard.  Together we can turn the Indiana County Historical Society form “Indiana County’s best kept secret” to the “best place in Indiana County to discover the past.”