Clarence Stephenson

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Painting of Clarence Stephenson by Jonelle Summerfield.

Clarence Stephenson suffered from an affliction known as the ‘history bug’ since a young man. While a student at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s, he was told that 90% of local history goes untouched. Initially skeptical about this claim, Mr. Stephenson took up the gauntlet and set out to explore old newspapers and private journals and, to his surprise, found this statement to be true. He began doing research, keeping notes and, while working fulltime, became the premier Indiana county history sleuth, an endeavor that resulted in the Indiana County 175th Anniversary History.

​Stephenson wrote many words about Indiana County. He stands alone in his scholarly investigation and elucidation of the lives and activities of Indiana County residents since its history began.

Born in East Mahoning Township, Indiana County, Mr. Stephenson attended Shamokin and Marion Center Public Schools, graduating

from Marion Center High School in 1937. He received his B.S. in Education at Indiana State Teachers College (ISTC, now IUP) in 1941 and taught 1941-42 in Brackenridge, Pa. Jr. H. S. prior to joining the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

After being discharged from the Army Air Corps in December 1945, he began working on his Masters in June 1946 under the G.I. bill at the University of Pittsburgh. Taking a course called “History of Western Pennsylvania,” taught by Dr. Alfred P. James, he read and took notes on 4” by 6” cards at the Carnegie Library, Darlington Library (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Immersing himself in local history, he read the Indiana Progress in DeWitt Ray’s basement, became acquainted with Frances Strong Helman and joined the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County in February 1948. Research at the Historical Society and at ISTC resulted in a 68-page term paper, “Indiana County During the Civil War” and in September of 1948, Mr. Stephenson received a Masters of Letters degree from the University of Pittsburgh. 

After a couple of years teaching at Wilmerding, Pa. and Springdale, Pa., Clarence Stephenson landed at Clymer H. S., where he taught from 1947-52 and organized a Junior Historian Club which, with his editorial guidance, published the Clymer-Cherrytree Story in June 1953. Mr. Stephenson continued researching locally, as well as traveling to Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Washington, D.C., Greensburg, Boston, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut. In 1956, an article, “The Wipey Officer,” about a murdered Indiana County Native American, was published in Pennsylvania History magazine. 

Mr. Stephenson decided to do some publishing on his own and purchased an electric mimeograph to publish his first book, Pennsylvania Canal--Indiana and Westmoreland Counties, in 1961. The Impact of the Slavery Issue on Indiana County came in 1964, Penn’s Manor of Cherrytree in 1965, Buena Vista Furnace in 1968, Early Salt Industry of the Conemaugh-Kiskimentas Valley in 1968, and Marion Center-East Mahoning in July 1969.

The idea for an Indiana County history in book form came about 1974. It had been over 60 years since the last comprehensive history of Indiana County, J.T. Stewart’s 1913 tome, had been written. A good friend, Arthur Halldin, who had bound Stephenson’s previous publications, had recently purchased scanning equipment and could print sheets of books that would then be sent to a bindery. Cost of printing and binding the books was raised in 1977-78 by publishing a prospectus offering a reduced price for advance payments on the first four volumes. Because it had been 175 years since Indiana County was founded in 1803, the series was called Indiana County 175th Anniversary History. Volume 1 was published in 1978. Volume 2 came out in 1989, Volume 3 in 1979, Volume 4 in 1983, and Volume 5 in 1995 finished the series. (Yes, Volume 2 was published out of chronological sequence due to amount of research involved.) There is also a paperback appendix and a 10-page index to photographs. This five-volume set has been a major contribution to the history of Indiana County.

Mr. Stephenson also published, in conjunction with his wife Marcella Manner Stephenson, a genealogical treatise on the life and ancestors of Richard Herbert Manner in 1989. The History of Public Transportation in Indiana County, PA by Mr. Stephenson and Lewis Poorman was published in 1983. Many other articles, such as a statement to the Board of Trustees of IUP urging the saving of John Sutton Hall, also came from Mr. Stephenson. In no way do these few words cover everything Mr. Stephenson has written or researched. His work has been prolific and, in the County’s Bicentennial Year of 2003, the Stephenson Room, which houses his research notes, was dedicated.

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Clarence and his wife Marcella.

Clarence received many honors. He has won IUP’s Medal of Distinction in 2002; Phi Delta Kappa of IUP named him Lay Leader of the Year for his significant leadership in education, and served as President of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society. After many years of being the ‘unofficial county historian’, in 2003 the Indiana County Commissioners named him the Official Historian of Indiana County. These are but a few kudos that have been bestowed upon this gentleman. 

Mr. Stephenson applied to the Pennsylvania Historical Markers Program, a division of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, for a plaque to commemorate Dr. Robert Mitchell of Indiana, an abolitionist who harbored freedom seekers and assisted them along the Underground Railroad to freedom. Mitchell was convicted for violations of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act after an 1845 raid on his home in Clymer where he had hidden five freedom seekers. Approval of this project was received on April 9, 2007, and later that year a bronze plague was erected to honor this action. It was Mr. Stephenson’s persistent endeavor resulted in this plaque being approved.

More precisely the Board of Directors commissioned a portrait of Clarence Stephenson to be painted by Jonelle Summerfield, a local Indiana County artist of note.

Clarence Stephenson passed away on August 13, 2011. The Historical Society is indebted to Stephenson’s hard work and dedication to the history of Indiana County.