Research Library and Museum
570-836-5303

20th Anniversary of Wyoming County Historical Society

WCHS logo

from Lest-We-Forget Wyoming County Pioneers Vol. 16 #2 p. 51-55

by Jean Brewer

I was asked to write this article in recognition of the 20th Anniversary of the Reorganized Wyoming County Historical Society. It is hard to believe the Society has been back in operation for this many years. In order to write the article I will use a first person format. I will tell you from a personal position how the reorganization came about, and to do that I will refer to several of the important events of the past twenty years in chronological order.

The story began in Feb. 1975 when I met Paula Radwanski at the County Court House. Her father, Michael Vargo, came into the office of the Prothonotary where I worked and we started talking. He told me his daughter was in the Register and Recorder’s office doing some genealogical research. I had had an interest in doing some family research of my own for years, but had never gotten started. So I went over and met Paula. Since that day, until the present, we have worked together toward the preservation of not only our personal family records but any and all records pertaining to our county and its early settlers.

Soon after we met Paula’s mother-in-law, Dolores Radwanski, joined us in our first major projects. That was to catalog all the legible tombstones in all the cemeteries we could locate in Wyoming County. The New Age printed an article about our efforts in the April 22, 1976 issue. We gathered information on the location of cemeteries from anyone who offered it. Perhaps the most difficult to find were three single graves sites located deep in the woods at various locations on Dutch Mountain. These were Noah Adams, Casper Henry and Samuel Daddow. We trudged through the woods for what seemed like miles until we found Samuel’s grave. Toward the end of the project a few members of the newly organized Society helped finish the project. Over 90 cemeteries and individual plot sites were located and all legible tombstones were copied. These have all been typed on 3″x 5″ cards and filed in card files at the Historical Society.

About the same time in 1976 we began to talk about the tragedy of having no place for Wyoming County to store and preserve records of its heritage. Every neighboring county had had a Historical Society for decades. Being told there had once been a County Historical Society, I began to check Court House records for a trace of it. In the Continuance Docket, Case #51 June Term 1946, I located the Petition for Incorporation of the Wyoming County Historical Society, filed May 13, of that year. Those who signed those original incorporation papers were; Judge Edward B. Farr; Blake Tewksbury; Edwin H. Kehril; John G. Wilson; H. F. Metcalf; R. W. Trembath; Frank Dolbear; J. K. Hefferan; Henry M. Dunn; and Stewart Hulslander. The document was signed and dated 31st January 1946.

Finding these papers I consulted Attorney John B. Farr to inquire what steps would be necessary to reestablish the Society. He informed me that since item 4 in the document stated, “The term for which said proposed corporation is to exist is perpetual.” all we had to do to reorganize was elect new officers and write new By-laws. By letter dated July 21, 1976 he formally said, “It is not necessary to do anything but have new officers and new directors and follow the dictates of the original Incorporation.”

The original Society had become inactive in the 1950’s when complicated legal entanglements arose over the Estate of Henry Metcalf. Numerous artifacts with local connections were sold from the Metcalf Museum.

And although attempts had been made to reorganize the Society had remained inactive. One such attempt at reorganization was made in 1973/74 by Richard Daniels, a teacher at the Tunkhannock Middle School, and a group of his students called the Tree Trotters. The group had bake sales and sold decals they designed to try and start an archaeological museum in the old Harrison Street School. On December 14, 1973 Dick Daniels requested use of the school to store his archaeological artifacts and on January 11, 1974 the School Board gave him permission to store them at the building.

The Tree Trotters had raised $492.87, which Mr. Daniels, Patty Gingher and Jennie Lee presented to me for use of the Wyoming County Historical Society on July 6, 1977.

In March 1977, I contacted 7 others besides Paula and myself to attend a meeting at the Farr, Davis and Turrell law office, on Marion Street, to talk about reorganization of the Society. The meeting was held on Tuesday, March 15th and those present were; George Gay; Ray Lybolt; Barbara Walters; Helen Montanye Dolores Radwanski; Foster and Hazelle Brooks; Paula Radwanski and myself, Jean Brewer. The body of those present decided to go forward with plans to reorganize. I was asked to act as Temporary Chairperson, Helen was Temporary Recording Secretary and Paula Temporary Corresponding Secretary. We set March 21, 1977 as the date for the first public meeting.

The next order of business was to find a permanent location for the Society, a place that could be used to maintain and store records acquired. For help with this I approached the Wyoming County Commissioners and by letter dated March 17, 1977 they offered us the use of the former Domestic Relations Office. “We have authorized the use of space on the second floor of the Court House Annex on Warren Street for the Historical Society. Signed Willard H. Baker, Harold Grow” and Cecil R. Brown who was ill at the time did not sign it. This office was over Murray Fisk’s Penn State Coop Office in the old Citizens Bank Building on Warren Street. The space being available after May 1st. Next I sent the New Age an open letter to the public announcing the March 27th meeting. “The purpose of the Wyoming County Historical Society will be to bring together those people interested in history, especially the history of our county. A better understanding of our county and community history can help us appreciate our American Heritage to a greater degree. We anticipate the society will collect and preserve printed documents and museum pieces which will establish and illustrate our local heritage.”

The first formal reorganization meeting was held at the Penelec Building on Eatonville Road on March 27, 1977 with 36 interested county residents in attendance. Three committees were appointed: nominating committee: Richard Harding, Richard Squier, Jean Pownall, Foster and Hazelle Brooks; organization (By-laws) committee: Jessie Davenport, Walter Miner, Ed Shaffer, Paula Radwanski, Bonnie Radwanski, Ray Lybolt, Millicent Wilson, and myself: program committee; Dolores Radwanski, Betty Tewksbury, George Gay, Richard Daniels, Olive and Tracy Hibbard.

I made a request of Judge Roy A. Gardner for use of the Court House to hold our April 24th meeting. By letter March 31st he gave his permission even though “the Courtroom is being refurbished.” So the first official meeting of the Wyoming County Historical Society was held at the Court House on April 24, 1977. The following were nominated and elected as officers; Jean Brewer, President; George Gay, Vice-President; Paula Radwanski, Corresponding Secretary; Barbara Walters, Recording Secretary; and Richard Harding Treasurer. A Committee was set up to write By-laws for the Wyoming County Historical Society. We were off and running.

April 7th I wrote to William P. Lewis, Executive Director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, in Scranton; William H. Siener, Executive Director of Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, in Wilkes Barre; Director of the Susquehanna County Historical Society, in Montrose; and the Director of the Wayne County Historical Society, in Honesdale to secure copies of their By-laws. I requested information on how their societies were run; including duties of the officers and directors; terms of office; elections; how gifts and loans were made to the society and what kinds of local, state and federal funds were available. This information would be used by our By-laws committee to write By-laws for our society.

For the first several years our meetings were held in churches or community halls around the county. For example at the April 2nd, 1978 meeting in Forkston there were 24 members and guests present.

Now looking for a permanent home we expressed an interest in the Old Harrison Street Primary Building. By letter April 13, 1977 the County Commissioners informed the Tunkhannock Area School District School Board that they would sponsor our request to acquire the Old Harrison Street School for the purpose of a County Museum. Clarifying it, “With the understanding that the Historical Society would be fully responsible for all expenses, maintenance upkeep and all liability.”

At the May 22, 1977 meeting held at the Court House the By-laws were adopted and dues were set. Annual dues were established at $5.00 individual; $8.00 family; $1.00 student; $25.00 supporting and $100.00 life. To avoid any problems with donations, or loans of artifacts as in the Metcalf situation the Society very carefully spelled out terms of acceptance in the By-laws. We also announced to those present that we had moved into the Court House Annex Room.

Clarence Eastwood of Nicholson was a big help in getting set up there; Lou Cavalier and Foster Brooks built shelves so there would be space to display items we anticipated getting. There were others that also gave of their time to help. But what I remember most was having nothing to start with. Paula and I brought personal records and antique artifacts from home so anyone who stopped in to see the new Society would have something to see. Also at that May 22nd meeting plans were made for a trip to visit the Wayne County Historical Society in Honesdale.

The trip to Wayne County was taken on June 5th, 1977. Our guides were Walter and Helen Hook. Thirty-one made the trip, we paid Gale Bedford $3.00 an hour to take us. After a tour of the Historical Society which contained an excellent display of glass from the Dorflinger Glass Co. of White’s Mills, we went to the Farm Museum at the County Fairgrounds and to see the Stourbridge Lion steam engine, both maintained by the Historical Society. The Lion was the first steam engine to run in America on August 8, 1829. The trial run was from Honesdale to Seeleyville. The group next toured the old D&H Canal which was started in 1848 and completed in 1853. The canal ran from Honesdale to Round Out on the Hudson. This provided and economical way to get coal from this area to New York City. The aqueduct was designed by Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. We ate lunch at a Honesdale restaurant and concluded the day’s tour at the home of Zane Grey. Mr. Grey lived in this home along the Lackawaxen River for 17 years. He wrote 13 of his 89 books there. He died there in 1939 at the age of 64. His wife died 18 years later and was buried beside her husband in the Union Cemetery which is located nearby, along the banks of the Lackawaxen.

On July 9, 1977 a group called the Artist’s Collective sponsored an art show on Court House square. They asked if we would like to have a food booth. We sold funnel cakes an netted $69.00. The following year they decided not to do the show and asked if the Historical Society would like to take over. In 1978 our First Annual Arts and Crafts Fair netted us $535.00. There were 40 crafters displaying their wares. I felt we were “on a roll.” The General Chairperson was Kathryn Parkinson, Kathryn Stevens handled food and Jean Van Dyke did the booths.

August 15, 1977 I signed an agreement with the County Commissioners that the Society would store and preserve the Old Luzerne County Tax Assessment Records that I had located molding in the Court House basement. These records dated from 1806 to 1840’s. They also turned over a hand written copy of the 1880 census of Wyoming County residents.

Glenn Stark suggested I contact Evelyn Stark Smith (Mrs. R. E. Smith) of Sidney, NY to see if she would display her Zebulon Marcy artifacts for the October 23rd Open House that we were planning. In response to my September 23rd letter she said she would try to be there. She did indeed come and brought the display. Her ancestor Zebulon Marcy had been an original settler in Putnam Township (now Tunkhannock Township), in 1772. He surveyed out the original lots for the township. She agreed to leave the display with us for several months before coming to reclaim it. The Open House was such a success we held it again on Friday October 28, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday the 29th and 30th from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

November 17, 1977 Dr. Arthur Davenport made a motion and the School Board voted to lease the Harrison Street School to the Society for $1.00 a year for five years. Dr. Davenport moved for action, “Which would assure the school district use of the property if it so needed and that if the district so chose it could sell the property. The Youth Service Center and Nursery School currently occupying parts of the building will continue to do so under leased they have with the District.” The also approved a motion to lend historical School District records to the Society subject to return on demand if deemed necessary by the School District at any time.

February 5, 1978 Scott Mowry presented the Society with a portfolio of turn-of-the-century prints. By March we had 118 members and the same officers were elected for another term. May of that year we made a float in Paula and Ron Radwanski’s garage for the Memorial Day Parade. June 8th as mentioned was our fist Arts and Crafts Fair. And having signed the lease with the School District we began making plans to move into the Harrison Street School. September 29th the meeting was held in Centermoreland.

October 24, 1978 we hit a BIG SNAG!!!! Department of Labor and Industry inspected the school with our building committee chairman, Ed Shaffer, and told him the structure would need $7,000 worth of repairs before we could occupy it. The Society decided not to put that much money in a building we did not own outright. Kiwanis began helping us look for another location to consider.

November 23, 1978 the New Age reports “School up for Grabs – School District to Sell it.” Three local organizations had now expressed an interest in the building. Tunkhannock Ambulance Association, which would have to tear it down to build ambulance garages; Tunkhannock Nursery School and the Wyoming County Historical Society.

In February, 1979 we offered the School District $8,000 for the structure and we presented them with a petition carrying nearly 1,000 names of area residents that were desirous of having them turn the building over to the Historical Society. February 13th Dr. Roger A. Place informed me by letter that at the Board Meeting the matter was again discussed and tabled until the March meeting.

Board member Celia Remus wanted the Board to hold off making a decision until all long range needs of the District could be considered.
Once again on February 21st I wrote to the Board stating the value of a Historical Society as an education tool for teaching our children about their heritage. I restated our offer of $8,000, but suggested should the Board offer to donate the structure we could use that money to begin renovations.

Finally on March 9, 1979 I received the long awaited letter from Dr. Place telling me the Board would convey the Harrison Street Building to the Historical Society, with a reversal clause stating that it be returned to the School District in the event the Society ceased to be utilized as a museum.

“9th March 1979
To the Members of the Board of Education
Tunkhannock Area School District
In Re: The Harrison Street Primary School Building

On behalf of the members, the Board of Directors and officers of the Wyoming County Historical Society, I wish to “Thank” the members of the Board of Education. Your decision in favor of conveying the Harrison Street Building to us for use as a County Historical Museum and Genealogical Library is greatly appreciated. The acquisition of this building is the first “giant step” toward a dream held dear by many Wyoming County residents for a good number of years. I know in time we will have a Museum and Library you and the people of our county can admire, enjoy and be proud of. And last but certainly not least the Tunkhannock Nursery School will still have a home. Once again all of us, including the some 1,000 people who signed our petitions, “Thank you.”
Most sincerely, Jean M. Brewer, President

In a letter dated September 10, 1979 the Department of Labor and Industry approved the building with only minor repairs necessary. After writing to the School Board once more in April 1980 they finally issued a Deed, with the reversal clause. So now “all systems were go.”

In the fall of 1980 renovation on the interior of the building began and the first room was completed in May of 1981 so that we could move in. Most of the work had been done by the following volunteers: Glenn “Ace” Shupp; Phil Broadhead; Ed Shaffer; Paul Miller; Thomas Lazarus; and Arthur Davenport. Supplies had been furnished by Decker Lumber Co.; George Urbanis; and Whipple Bros. Lumber Co. For their efforts and support we will be ever grateful.

Over the past 16 years the building has been entirely renovated on the inside, a new roof was put on three years ago and last year the repointing of the brick work on the entire structure was completed. This year as you know we have had to replace the retaining wall on the north side of the property. Most of the interior work on the second floor was done by Paul Miller and Bob Roemer. To help with the financial needs on all these projects; society members locally and nationwide, as well as numerous members of the county have given their support.

March 25, 1979 Charles A. McCarthy a noted historian and lecturer from Pittston was the speaker. April 27th our meeting was held at the Methodist Church in Jenningsville. September 23rd the Oldest House in Laceyville played host.

In July we had our second Arts and Crafts Fair on Court House Square. Paula Radwanski was the General Chairperson; Jean VanDyke and Kathy Stevens took over booths; Ruth Greenley took over the food concession and ran it wonderfully well for 14 years; Helen Lee was in charge of the entertainment and Kathryn Parkinson did publicity. By the July 12th 1980 Fair we had 80 booths. It soon climbed to over 100 dealers and at that point we decided that would be enough each year. The fair has had nineteen very productive years as our major fund raising event. This year will be the 20th Annual Arts and Crafts Fair.

For several years we also raised funds by sponsoring an annual Piano Concert presented by Stephen Brewer, a student at Tunkhannock High School.
On April 25th 1981 a 5 Year Anniversary Banquet was held at the Shadowbrook Inn. Charles McCarthy of Wilkes Barre was the featured speaker and Jennifer Canfield a 12 year old, 6th grade student at Tunkhannock Middle School played the piano for entertainment. Sixty-seven dinners were served at $10.00 apiece.

In October 1980 we sponsored our first of two Genealogical Workshops presented by the Everton Publishers of Logan, Utah.

The first issue of our semi-annual newsletter, “Lest-We- Forget”, was printed and mailed to members on September 15, 1981. Paula and I remember so well that the Bulk Mailing Permit required 200 pieces of mail be sent in one mailing. There are now 1,000 issues of the newsletter printed and 650 are mailed in September and February each year. These newsletters go to nearly every state in the union.

In March 1983 Dr. Arthur B. Davenport took over as President; Otto Keil, Vice President; Melanie Robinson, Recording Secretary; Paula Radwanski, Corresponding Secretary and Cecelia Taylor, Treasurer.

In September 1983 Dr. Davenport and Loren Butts drove to Penn State University to pick up two 72 drawer 3″x5″ card catalogs for $100.00 each. They went to get two more in September 1986. One new one would have cost $1,400.00 What a deal that was.

In June of 1984 Dr. Arthur Davenport and I went to New York State to purchase and bring back the old Wyoming County newspapers dating from 1842 to 1907. They had been sold out of the county when the Henry Metcalf Estate was sold. Numerous volunteers helped in abstracting vital records from those papers so they could be placed in 3″x 5″ card files for easy reference.

The current officers are Mark Mitchell, President; Kent Ward, Vice President; Mary Lu Shaffer, Recording Secretary; Paula Radwanski, Corresponding Secretary and Jean Brewer, Treasurer.

The dream of having a County Historical Society would never have been possible without the volunteers who have kept the Society open over the years. Those loyal workers include: Hazelle and Foster Brooks; Dorothy and Lou Cavalier; Dorothy Colbenson; Kathryn Keithline; Joseph Kovalchick (deceased 1996); Helen Lee; Heddy Chaffee; Dorothy Mickley; Connie Friedel and Harriet Himka. Also thanks goes to all the past Officers and Board Members; and the volunteers who have worked to keep the building in shape: Herb Davidson (deceased 1994); Ed Shaffer; Paul Miller; Glenn “Ace” Shupp; and again Joseph Kovalchick (deceased 1996). Most of all the dedication Paula Radwanski has given to working at the building and publishing the two annual newsletters can never be repaid.

Thank you to everyone who has a hand in helping our organization reach such a successful level over the past twenty years.

Personally, I have always felt that the 1976 Bi-Centennial for the State of Pennsylvania and the “Roots” Epic on television had something to do with the surge in interest of tracing family ancestry and the desire to preserve our local history.