Holliday antiques returned to borough

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Craig Vermes likes old things.

He drives a 1928 Ford Model A, collects and repairs antique telephones and recently restored a family heirloom dining-room set from 1914.

So, when he decided to part with family photo albums, daguerreotypes and a gold-and-ebony cane inscribed with his great-great-grandfather’s name, the decision was a tough one.

“I’m a very sentimental guy. … It’s very hard for me to get rid of things from my father or grandparents,” he said.

The cane belonged to William Reynolds Holliday, grandson of Hollidaysburg’s founder, Adam Holliday. And, according to Vermes’ grandmother, it was a gift from the borough to William for being Adam’s descendant.

Vermes, 55, of Ludlow, Mass., is the seventh descendant in the Holliday line, making the borough’s founder his great-great-great-great-grandfather.

And now, with his parents and two brothers gone, and only a few distant cousins left, Vermes said he is – for all intents and purposes – the last surviving member of the Holliday family.

Without any children to whom the items can pass, Vermes said he wants to see them taken care of by someone who appreciates their historical significance.

In November he contacted Judith Solomon, research secretary for the Blair County Genealogy Society, and the two have been exchanging emails and family information.

Solomon wrote in the latest society newsletter that the name Holliday has “local and historical genealogical significance to the founding of Hollidaysburg,” although the story about the cane’s origin cannot be confirmed.

Vermes said the cane, which features a 21-karat gold handle, had to have been a gift from someone.

“I’m sure nobody in our family, at that time, could have afforded something like this,” he said.

Originally, Vermes said he wanted to bequeath the cane and other items to a historical society in his will, on the condition that all items would be Hollidaysburg Borough property on permanent loan to the Blair County Historical Society.

However, after several attempts at contacting Hollidaysburg Mayor Joseph Dodson and council members, Vermes said he was put off by the lack of interest and rescinded the offer.

“I thought this cane would be very special to Hollidaysburg,” he said.

He said Solomon’s work went “above and beyond,” and with her help, the two were able to fill in a lot of blanks in the Holliday line.

“I want somebody to treasure these,” he said, and if anyone is the right person for the job, it’s Solomon and the historical society.

For his part, Dodson said he’d only been contacted once, via email, when Vermes explained his decision to turn the items over to the historical society.

“If he’s got something to give to the borough, present it to the borough,” he said.

Borough Manager Mark Schroyer said he’s grateful Vermes made the gesture to donate the cane and photo albums to be borough property, and he’s happy knowing they will be displayed.

Schroyer said there is no depository for such items in Hollidaysburg and borough municipal offices would not be appropriate for some of Vermes’ items.

“[The cane] looks like a wonderful piece,” he said. “It seems like Blair County Historical Society’s museum would be the best place for it.”

Historical society Executive Director Jeannine Treese said between 4,000 and 5,000 people visit the museum each year.

Currently on display is a Revolutionary War-era sword, which Treese said belonged to James, the son of Hollidaysburg’s co-founder and Adam’s brother, William Holliday.

James enlisted in the war at age 18, Treese said. He was killed Sept. 11, 1777, in the Battle of Brandywine near present-day West Chester, almost 20 years before Hollidaysburg was founded in 1796.

Historical society trustee Michael Farrow said the cane is the only other item of its kind that belonged to the Holliday family, and he’s looking forward to seeing the cane in person.

“It will make a nice companion [to the sword],” he said.

Treese said the historical society always welcomes donations with historical significance to the region.

And the cane might be coming home sooner than expected.

Because of all the help Solomon provided him, Vermes said he’s considering donating the cane as early as this summer, when he could deliver it in person and see it displayed with the sword.

The history of everything he owns, from his car to his old telephones, is important, he said.

“When you touch something that’s antique, you’re touching the lives of every person that’s owned it,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.