The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County celebrates a milestone this year, celebrating 85 years of existence. It was organized by several members of the community who believed that the history of the County, both genealogical and social, should be preserved for current and future generations. It was to this end that six people gathered their meager collections of books, pamphlets, and artifacts and held a meeting on November 16, 1938 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Hicks (the second meeting was held at the Helman’s household). Those in attendance were: Lawrence Hicks, Vesta Hicks, Mabel McQuown, Frances Strong Helman, Blaine Helman, and Ira Kelly. They voted on officers, decided on membership dues, and performed other business necessary to the startup of such an organization. Incidentally, Lawrence Hicks was voted president, Mabel McQuown was voted secretary-treasurer, Frances Helman was voted corresponding secretary, with the remaining members to fill as researchers. This meeting also named the first life member, Frank Wilder, who paid $15 for the membership. Thus the Genealogical Society of Indiana County was born.
At first, meetings took place in the homes of the members, the Helman and Hicks households used most often, and consisted of general society business as well as fun facts or small presentations made by a person in attendance. At the third meeting on January 4, 1939, the word “Historical” was added to the society’s name. The June 1939 meeting consisted of a reading of the “Three Reasons Why Indiana is Kept on the Map:” those reasons being the new type of plumbing being tried in the County for the first time in the US, that it leads in the production of Christmas trees, and that it has the only Girl Scout band in the world. In June of 1942 a Clipping Committee was formed to clip the local war news with Velma Widdowson as chairman. In May, 1945, Dr. Heiges recommended that someone “interview old residents” and record their recollections, by the following meeting two such old people had been interviewed, Joe Dickie and John Stevings.
It did not take long for the society to out-grow member’s houses so an agreement was made with the Indiana Free Library that they would be able to store their holdings and continue meetings at the library. At this time the Society’s collection consisted of 14 books and several pamphlets, and the meetings were held in the janitor’s office. By word of mouth and the devotion of its membership, the first annual report in November 1939 showed a total of forty members. They did not meet at the library long, though, as in 1940 Dr. Leroy King invited the Society to hold meetings in Wilson Hall at what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s campus. At this point the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County gained an official charter and became a member of several state and national organizations including the Federation of Pennsylvania Historical Societies, Association of State and Local History, Pennsylvania Historical Association, and the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology.
By January, 1951 the Society was given the opportunity to hold its meetings at Memorial Hall, what we now know as the Clark House. They were allotted two rooms for the library and collections and were given space in the second floor auditorium for meetings. Here they shared the space with the DAR and often held joint meetings with the group. Meetings held the same format, official business followed by a talk or paper given by one of the members. However, by this time the Society did much more for the community than record its history, they also held contests for art projects and conducted essay contests County-wide for 7th and 8th grade students. On May 4, 1949, Doris Edwards of Keith School won first place for the essay contest and was given a $10 prize. That same year, the Art Award was given to Mrs. Mohr who had painted “Old White House Across Tracks.”
The Society continued to grow, acquiring new members, artifacts, and books over the years, even a building or two. The Society eventually attained the Clark House, and in 1999 the Armory Building was incorporated into the Society’s holdings. After several years of work the armory was finally turned into the Historic Museum by 2003. Currently, the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County is responsible for the Clark House, the Armory Building, a well house in Brush Valley, and innumerable historic artifacts, books, and records pertaining to local history. But none of this could have been made possible without the countless volunteers who have helped it to grow over the years. Several such volunteers deserve recognition for their many years of service to the organization. To Frances Strong Helman for her undying devotion to the organization she helped to create, to the formidable Peg Ruddock who could find any piece of information you could possibly want or need (even those you didn’t realize you needed), and to Jean Williams who worked incredibly hard to organize and catalog the Society’s holdings. From Society presidents and board members to Executive Directors (paid or otherwise), the list is extensive and their work shows in every room you walk through. From its meager beginnings to now, the changes and accomplishments of this Society would make those original six members proud to say that they organized the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County.
Be sure to join us on Thursday, November 16, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. as we celebrate our 85th Anniversary. The evening will feature tours of our facilities, a display honoring our founders and refreshments. While this event is free, we do ask that you RSVP so that we can properly plan.