Visitors to the old Harrison Street School in Tunkhannock took a step back in time Sunday afternoon during the Wyoming County Historical Society’s 28th annual open house.
Veteran educator Dick Daniels sat at the teacher’s desk in a refurbished classroom upstairs with a paddle firmly in hand, joking about the need to maintain order.
On this day, in his classroom, order was unnecessary as obliging community members’ eyes darted to displays and exhibits and the hundreds of photographs on the walls and hanging off bookshelves which revealed some of the county’s former scholars in front of that historic relic - the one-room schoolhouse.
The larger schools weren’t shortchanged to be sure, and the builders of the school at the corner of Harrison and Bridge streets would no doubt be pleased that it was still educating the next generation of people interested in providing a link to the county’s past.
It is frankly unbelievable to consider the range of the historical society’s collection - from an Olympic medal won by a Tunkhannock man in his 20s in the 1900 Paris games to a black hood used to cover the head of a man hanged in the town’s jail-yard in 1892 for murdering his wife with an ax or the tickets that were given out to watch that very hanging. The ax he used that got him in trouble is also on display.
If visitors took the time, they would discover a vast array of surprising things they probably never knew about Wyoming County as well as things you might expect such as a considerable display of Native American artifacts that were commonplace long before the county’s formation in 1842.
Yes, you can learn about the largest reinforced concrete bridge in the world in Nicholson in 1915 and who was behind it, but consider also long before it the building of the Vosburg Tunnel to open rail markets to the West or even before that with the construction of the North Branch Canal.
And did you know there was a rail line that once connected Tunkhannock to Montrose?
Or that tanneries were a very big deal - particularly in Tunkhannock and Noxen.
Or that a major action during the American Revolution - Sullivan’s March - went straight through the region and soldiers spent not one, but two nights in the village of Tunkhannock in 1779. A room downstairs at the historical society is devoted to and shares former residents’ commitment to serve Uncle Sam through all wars as well.
And another room in a ‘new’ wing opened a year ago shares how former generations lived and worked off the land.
During the open house, Kent Ward shared a larger than life personal collection of glassware that not only gave clues to an earlier generation but showed how tastes for certain decorative arts had changed over time.
In another room, Doug Gay, proprietor of Gay’s True Value, gave up an afternoon of selling lawn tractors and the like, to share a fantastic collection of currency - coins and bills - used through the years and he talked about the less than obvious meanings that literal cash had.
There was a 1795 flowing hair silver half dollar in the midst of federal bank notes with odd names like Meshoppen, Tunkhannock, and New Albany on them which he explained were issued as currency when local banks had a greater sway than they do today.
He even had 1840s-era Wyoming County notes which he explained he got from someone who had purchased them from the heirs of Henry Metcalfe who once had a town museum in Tunkhannock.
“These notes also worked when bartering didn’t,” he smiled.
If you missed the open house, you missed a great opportunity to get connected to your community’s roots.
But not to worry.
The historical society is open every Wednesday and the first and third Saturdays of the month with volunteers eager to help or let you explore at your own pace.
And there is a lot more than meets the eye, with a substantial library, and card files of all the graveyards in the county, a microfilm collection of the U.S. censuses of the region from 1790 to 1940, and old newspapers just waiting to be explored.
You owe it to yourself and your ancestors to check it all out.