Blair County Historical Society offers programs; president sets goal to make sites community hubs

By Amanda Gabeletto

The Blair County Historical Society is aiming to make the sites it oversees a place for the community to gather. This summer’s lineup will make it hard to resist.

The Historical Society is currently hosting Summer Concerts on the Lawn at the Baker Mansion on Sunday afternoons.

“It makes for a nice day,” Jeannine Treese, the society’s executive director, said of the concerts. “There’s always a breeze here at Baker Mansion and the concerts are on the back lawn so it’s under the shade of the trees,and people enjoy it.”

“The concerts represent a way to bring people to a setting they might not otherwise experience,” Scott Cessna, society president, said in an email. “While our mission is reserved to the presentation of local history, I love the idea of reaching out to people in as many ways as possible. Hopefully, if the concerts interest someone and we can get them to the site, maybe their curiosity will be stirred enough to make another trip out to see what we offer inside the mansion. It’s part of my goal to have the Society’s sites, and in this particular case Baker Mansion, serve as a community hub for many activities.”

The society oversees four county sites – Baker Mansion, Altoona; Royer Mansion, outside Williams-burg; The Dick Schoolhouse, near Roaring Spring; and Etna Furnace, Catharine Township.

The private organization has faced a financially tough last few years.

The state eliminated funding to museums and historical societies five years ago, making it a “struggle,” Treese said.

The society is looking for volunteers to help with events at Royer Mansion after former volunteers had to step down for issues such as health, she said.

“The Blair County Historical Society has much to offer the public,” Cessna said. “We not only offer the opportunity to tour the Bakers’ grand home of the mid-1800s and learn about life during that time, but the contents of Baker Mansion also covers other aspects of local history from transportation to schooling to railroads to local business history.”

Both of the mansions are available to rent for events such as taking wedding photos, small meetings and receptions, Cessna said.

The society has “an extensive library for those interested in researching local history including specific family genealogy. Use of our library is but one benefit of membership in the society,” Cessna said. “We also plan to announce a series of special events for the remainder of 2013 and early 2014 that we hope the community will embrace such as photo exhibits, holiday events and much more.”

An exhibit of photographs from the Pennsylvania Railroad’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Expositions 1893 are currently on display in the Wolf-Kuhn Foundation Gallery at Baker Mansion.

And a Civil War Weekend is taking place at Baker Mansion July 27 and 28. The two-day event is in its second year.

It will include re-enactors, a fashion show, the 46th Pennsylvania Regiment Band and book presentations and signings from authors Eric Lindblade and Robert Broadwater.

A Civil War-era church service will be held at 9 a.m. July 28.

“This year, being the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, it was only logical that we present this event again,” Cessna said.

The society has hosted WWII and Civil War history weekends before, and plans to look at the popularity of the events to see if it makes sense to host them annually or periodically, he said.

Food and drink will be available, and children activities will also take place.

“For the children, we have a children’s table and they’re going to get to eat like a Yankee and make their own hardtack,” Treese said. “There’ll be a children’s battle. They get to form their own regiment and learn how to march and step together, and then they free the mansion from those dirty rotten Rebs.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.