Welcome 2019!!

Happy New Year!! Just last week we rang in 2019, and this new year is looking to be very exciting for the Indiana County Historical Society. The first event we have coming up in the new year is our second annual trivia night. If you or someone you know is a history buff and you think you can answer any question about Indiana County’s past then you should join us on Friday, February 15, 2019 from 6pm to 8pm to test your knowledge. Tickets are $15 and will be available in advance starting on January 15, 2019. Prizes will be awarded to the most knowledgeable players. Please call the Society at 724-463-9600 for more information and to purchase tickets. We hope you can join us for this wonderful event; rumor has it that this makes for a wonderful Valentine’s Day outing for couples.

We also have some exciting news regarding our blog. Over the next months we will be introducing our Board of Directors; these introductions will give you a chance to get to know those in charge at the Historical Society.  Stay tuned for further events at the Society so you can be involved in all the exciting events that are about to occur over the next year.  We hope you come and visit us this year, whether that is to see the exhibits in the museum, do some family research, or just some research regarding Indiana County.

A programming note for 2019 is our annual closings:

April: Closed Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th

May: The Society will be open from 10 am to 12 pm on Memorial Day

July: Closed Thursday July 4th

November: Closed Thursday the 26th through Saturday the 30th, reopen December 3rd

December: Closed Saturday the 21st through Monday the 31st, reopen January 2nd

Annual Christmas Open House

Last week was a busy week at the Historical Society as the holiday season is in full swing.  On Wednesday afternoon the public was invited to join the Historical Society to view recent interviews of long-time residents of Indiana County conducted by students from IUP’s history department. It was a great afternoon as we got to experience what life was like during the first half of the 20th Century through individual stories.  These stories ranged from life in the coal towns, to time at the University, and military service. We would like to thank everyone who came out and shared the afternoon with us along with the students from IUP’s History Department who completed the interviews, and of course the residents of Indiana County who shared their memories.

community choir
IUP Community Choir

Then on Friday evening the Historical Society welcomed the community to celebrate the Christmas Season.  The weather was perfect, as the rain held off for most of the evening. The community came together to tour the festively decorated Clark House while enjoying holiday refreshments and to tour the museum. There were even gifts in the gift shop for people to do some holiday shopping for family and friends.  Our guests enjoyed holiday music provided by the IUP Community Choir, afterwards guests made their way to the Clark House for a holiday sing along around the piano in the parlor. If you were lucky you got to have a conversation with some historical figures, including Harry and Anna White who were in the Clark House. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate the season with us and to the Evergreen Garden Club for decorating the Clark House for the holiday season.

The whites
Harry and Anna White

As a reminder the Historical Society will be closed from December 22, 2018 through January 1, 2019. We will reopen on January 2, 2019. We are excited to see what the new year holds in store, stay tuned for future events such as programs and fundraisers, or just come in to visit the museum or do some family research in our library. Whatever the reason for your visit we can’t wait to see you at the Society. We wish everyone a happy holiday season and a happy new year.

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Clark House

Frances Strong Helman: The Society’s Founder

It started in 1928, when Frances Strong Helman traced her ancestry to Indiana County pioneer John Lydick. Ten years later, in 1938, in her living room, Helman and five others founded the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County. She loved finding and telling stories – ranging from genealogical to historical to folklore – and she gave generously of her time and talent to the Society’s needs.

The Indiana Evening Gazette reported on April 1, 1939 that the Society had been formed with twenty-six members. The request to move their materials to the Indiana Free Library had been granted. The holdings by the Society included: fourteen books, pamphlets, and tombstone inscriptions from local cemeteries.

By 1940, members reached one hundred thirty-four members and the Society was officially incorporated. The Society was invited to Wilson Hall, on the IUP campus, by Dr. Leroy King, where they shared a room on the first floor and the newspaper files were stored in the basement.

Fast forward a decade to the winter of 1951, when the Society moved into the Clark House, known at the time as Memorial Hall. The story behind the move from Wilson Hall to the Clark House is an interesting one. AS it was the winter, the books from the library were piled onto a sled and then pulled to a parking lot and loaded into a car. This process was repeated once they arrived to the Clark House. At the time, the library collection did not fill the bookshelves in the study of Justice Silas M. Clark. As time went on, the name of the home changed to the History House and then to the Clark House; along with the name change the library also grew, holding over two thousand surname files by the 1960s.

Mrs. Helman was instrumental in the growth of the Society. She used her storytelling ability to add to the library. This began between 1939 and 1941, when she wrote several articles for The Indiana Countian along with serving as genealogical editor. From 1948-66, she published Your Family Tree, which was a quarterly genealogical magazine. Mrs. Helman also traveled across the country doing research and as a professional genealogist. She was a member of the National Genealogical Society as well as serving as the president of the Pennsylvania Historical and Genealogical Association.

Frances Helman.jpg

There were many articles written about the history of Indiana County, many of which were published but many more that were typed and deposited to the collection in the library. In 1953, Indiana County celebrated its sesquicentennial and Helman wrote a noteworthy article, “History of Indiana County.”

The Society was one of her main activities; she served five terms as president and became an honorary life member in 1955, but she also was active in many other historical activities as well. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and held office in that organization, and she helped organize and held office in the James Letort Chapter, Daughters of the American Colonists (DAC) and the Ann Letort Chapter, Children of the American Colonists. As general chairman of a five-county committee, she helped plan the 1956 bicentennial of the Armstrong Expedition and the Armstrong Kittanning Trail Society. She also helped organize the Indiana County Tourist Bureau.

On January 1, 1976, Frances Helman was officially honored by the County Commissioners by naming her Indiana County Historian. Also that year the Society did its first reprint, it was of the 1880 History of Indiana County by Caldwell. A reprint of the 1871 Beers Atlas of Indiana County and then a publication came with Clarence Stephenson’s Indiana County – 175th Anniversary History.

Mrs. Helman loved folklore, sometimes to the point of embellishment. Sometimes these embellishments, like those oral stories passed from generation to generation, came to life; however, these embellishments made the truth more difficult to decipher.

Mrs. Helman passed away in 1980, but she did not forget the Society, as she donated her entire collection of historical and genealogical material. In 1982, Attorney and Mrs. Don Miller donated their extensive collection. These materials were combined with the materials already in the Society’s collections, formed the foundation of the current library.

The library outgrew the Clark House. The Society bought the Armory Building and began renovations, and by the early 2000s it was time once again for the Society to move. Thankfully this time, the material only had to move across the parking lot, but it was still a major undertaking. Shelving units, hundreds of volumes, dozens of filing cabinets full of surname and subject folders, and the Helman Collection were rolled across the parking on flat carts and dollies.

Thanks to her love of genealogy, and hard work, the Society has the library and resources to serve the people researching the history of their family who trace their roots to Indiana County, PA. In honor of this marvelous lady the library is known as the FRances Strong Helman Library. We hope to see you at the library to do your research…who knows what neat and interesting stories you may discover.

“The clues you need are somewhere, just waiting to be found.”

The Pioneer Log House

People are fascinated by the way of life from days gone by, and museums love to show how people lived during different periods of time. It has been nearly thirty-five years ago since an old log house graced the landscape at the historical society. It was an extensive project to undertake for the society and played a significant role in the history and growth of the Society during the early years.

Log house 1

It was reported in the Society’s April 1961 newsletter that, “Our biggest project in many a year, the reconstruction of a Pioneer Log House as part of our forthcoming Museum, is under construction and the walls are rising fast. The project developed rather rapidly after the public sale of the former Rankin home in Shelocta several weeks ago. After numerous meetings and a unanimous vote to go ahead with the project at the April meeting, the Executive Committee contracted with the new owner of the house, Mr. Walter Roof of Clymer, to have it torn down, moved to Indiana, and re-erected as a permanent memorial to our pioneer forefathers and their way of life. This part of our heritage will attract visitors from far away in the years ahead. We hope you realize the scope of this project and the financial risks involved.”

Originally standing near the bridge on Route 156 near Crooked Creek had long been a landmark of Shelocta.  It had once been the home of Abner Kelly, son of pioneer James Kelly. It is believed the structure dated back to 1883; that is the year Kelly purchased the land on which it stood from Benjamin Walker. Amazingly the logs remained in excellent condition, mainly because at some earlier point, the structure was covered over with siding. Indiana County Commissioners at the time, Frank Barkley, J.W. Everett, and Dee Miller, granted permission to reconstruct the building on county property – the Wayne Avenue side of Memorial Hall north of the National Guard Armory – what is now the parking lot of the Historical Society.

The log house was a two-story, four room house that measured 18 by 32 feet. On the ground floor were the kitchen and living room, each with a fireplace. When it was rebuilt, it was done so as nearly as possible to its original state; although, the upstairs was left without a center wall to provide a larger space in order to accommodate group meetings. The final cost of restoration came to $2,250. The Executive Committee knew they did not have sufficient funds in the treasury to finance this endeavor. A letter was sent to members following the April meeting, about $1,000 had already been collected toward the goal by the end of May.

The timing of this project corresponded with the opening of the Historical Society Museum that summer. Society members were already hard at work preparing two large rooms that would house museum displays, a periodical and newspaper reading room, and a storage area – all housed in the basement of Memorial Hall (the Clark House). The log house was going to serve as an adjunct to the Museum. People around the county were prompted to contribute pieces of antique furniture to help furnish the house.

log house 2

An informal open house was held October 12, 1961, at which time the public was invited to view the various museum displays as well as the pioneer log house. The log house was furnished with articles typical of the early 1800s: a crane, tongs and andirons for the kitchen fireplace; a drop-leaf table; a hutch table and chairs and iron-stone china. The hope with this was that county residents would donate items of historical value to the area. Our collections today indicate that the county residents did just that.

The Pioneer Log House served to educate students, and adults, about how their ancestors lived in the 1800s, for over fifteen years. A report of the Society’s activities for 1966 noted a count of 786 persons visiting the log house. Sadly, the structure began to deteriorate through the years and it was eventually deemed unsafe. In April of 1979, the director of the county parks supervised its removal. The logs were stored at one of the county park sites until some determination of their disposition could be made.

2017 Society Summary

It is time once again for us to ring in a new year, and what a year it has been for the Indiana County Historical Society. We have done so much this past year and we take this time to reflect on what we have accomplished. We held a number of programs and workshops that we hope to continue in 2018, so be on the lookout for dates of those events. This year was a year of fundraisers and cooperation with many different organizations in the area.

eeefa-clark2bhouse2bchristmas

The Historical Society once again worked with the Indiana Art Association, sponsoring the Open Arts Show, that is exhibited at the Society from November to early January. We have also worked closely with IUP to bring interns to our Museum. Internships help students learn about how a museum operates and it also enables the Society to use young talent to expand our outreach. Thanks to the Evergreen Garden Club, the Silas Clark House is always beautifully decorated for the Christmas season. Along with decorating the Clark House at Christmas time the club also creates and maintains the garden at the point of South Sixth Street and Wayne Avenue during the Spring/Summer season.

This past year also bring with it new partnerships, including one with the Young Professional Organization (YPO). The YPO is a subgroup of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce comprised of individuals from 18-40 years old with the purpose of promoting networking between local businesses. This past October they sponsored the Haunted School Spirits program that brought approximately 75 people into the museum, along with funds paid by attendees. Also, this past September/October the Society worked with the Paranormal Society of IUP who investigated the Museum, Clark House and grounds for possible spirit entities that may still be roaming the buildings. The activities ended with a reveal of the investigations.

In addition to these big events, the Society also works with the Rainbow Diamond Glass Club, the Horace Mann Elementary School, and showcasing exhibits at the annual Air Show at the Jimmy Stewart Airport. Further, Board members and volunteers have given presentations at the Indiana Free Library and the Blairsville Historical Society. It is important for organizations to work together to expand our horizons; if you know of an organization that would like to work with the Historical Society please contact us at ichistoricalsociety@gmail.com or by phone at 724-463-9600.

A few closing notes about our 2018; we have many fun programs, events, and fundraisers planned so stay tuned to our various social media accounts, or consider becoming a member to learn about member exclusive events. Also, we have the following closings for 2018: March 30-31; July 3-4; November 20-24; and December 22-31.

We want to wish all our readers, followers, and members a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year. We hope to see you at the museum in 2018, either to visit the museum, attend one of our programs, fundraisers, or other events, or to volunteer. We will be closed until January 2, 2018 to give all our staff and volunteers a much-needed vacation.

A Victorian Christmas

Christmas is a festive time of year, here in Indiana we have It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas celebration which kicked off last month on November 17 with a parade, and there are festivities happening all month long.  Coming up on December 8, 2017 at 6:00 is the Historical Society’s Annual Christmas Open House, which the Clark House has been beautifully decorated by the Evergreen Garden Club. Refreshments will be served in the Clark House and at 7:00pm and 7:30pm there will be music played by two local groups in the Armory. This is a great chance to get into the holiday spirit.

The Clark House was built in 1869-1870, and that started a thought: What would have Christmas been like for the Clark family as they lived in the house? Technology was not advanced like it is today, there was not electric Christmas lights nor was there instant Christmas carols over the internet. A Victorian Era Christmas would have been much different than we experience it today.  One of the staple decorations in most people’s homes this time of year is the Christmas tree, although many of us have artificial trees, in the late 1800s these trees would have been real trees filling the home with the evergreen smell. Not only were the trees real, but they were elaborated decorated , this included fruit, garland, pine cones, and candles.

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Clark House Christmas 2016

Many people pride themselves with their Christmas decorating, from elaborate outside light displays and unique indoor decorating; however in the Victorian Era, decorating was much more simple. People of all economic groups decorated for Christmas, but those decorations were limited to garland and foliage. This would include the trimmings of pine trees and mistletoe.

And finally what is Christmas without Santa…the jolly old elf from Clemment Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.”  Santa has been a popular figure of Christmas, having different means for people all over the world; most countries and cultures have there own version of Santa. The Dutch have St. Nick, England Father Christmas, and the Germans have Kris Kringle.

The Historical Society has in its collection many vintage toys from bygone years along with beautiful displays featuring the history of Christmas in Indiana County. Be sure to stop by the museum, visit the Clark House and be transported back to a simpler time. We would like to thank the Evergreen Garden Club for their decorating of the Clark House, and for all the volunteers and staff members that make our Christmas Open House possible.  We hope to see you December 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm, and we wish everyone a joyous holiday season.

HGSIC 2017 Volunteer of the Year

The Society is able to accomplish many of its goals thanks to the dedication and hard work of its volunteers. Each year at our annual meeting we take the time to honor their work and recognize those who have gone above and beyond the everyday calling. This year after reviewing the credentials of numerous candidates, the nomination committee had chosen to bestow Andy See with the volunteer of the year award.

Andy and Jon Volunteer of the Year
Andy See and Executive Director, Jonathan Bogert

Andy graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2015 with a degree in history. Shortly after graduation, he began to volunteer at the Historical Society. Between that time and now he has used the skills he gained during his education to aid the Society in the maintenance and organization of its records. Andy also displays a high level of competence when it comes to computers, which made him the perfect candidate for the current project he is working on.

Stationed at a desk where the surname files are kept, Andy can be seen most days of the week chipping away at the massive pile of records. The contents of each folder are methodically scanned page by page. Like clockwork Andy knows precisely how many pages he can scan within a given time period and often will not stop until he reaches the goal he set for himself that day.

In this year alone Andy has logged over 200 hours of service for the Society. To put this in perspective, there are 26,000 surname files for Andy to scan. At this point he is about one-quarter of the way through. Andy will most likely clock an additional 50 hours before the year’s end. When the project is completed the records will be searchable and more secure than they were before, ensuring that future generations will be able to access the information.

The digitization is a feat within itself. However, Andy is not only diligent in his scanning, but he is also a fantastic writer and has contributed multiple articles to the Clark House News. A series of Andy’s articles spotlighted prominent individuals from Indiana County and brought to light the diverse talent the region has produced over the past century.

Andy treats his volunteer work like a full-time job and has exhibited a high level of dedication. He is also incredibly friendly with the staff and other volunteers and is not shy to strike up a conversation. We are incredibly grateful for Andy’s service to the Society and are thankful that he has chosen our organization to donate his time and efforts to. It is great to see a young individual concerned with the preservation of the past and the improvement of their community.