When word got around that Rich Allison was looking for pieces of history about Claysburg, the old books, postcards and memories started pouring in, he said.
One treasured item the Claysburg native received is an 1886 register from the former Eagle Hotel loaned to him by his niece. The register lists one night when a 34-man military regiment stayed at the hotel en route from Bedford to Altoona, at a cost of 25 cents per man. The proprietor at that time was a man named Paul Mauk, whose last name is probably familiar to many Claysburg residents today.
Allison said many people today in the area are descendants of the original settlers of the area.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Richard Allison of Claysburg stands in front of the Sarah Furnace Mansion at Sproul, which was owned by Dr. Peter Schoenberger, one of the Claysburg area’s earliest settlers.
"I don't think any of us realized what stories were out there,'' Allison said. "Until I got this [register], this was all lost history.''
Other histories of Claysburg have been written over the years, but they were not as detailed as what Allison has assembled.
Allison, whose farm has been in his family for 130 years, has composed 750 pages of research of the area where he was born and raised. The information is available online at www.allisonfarm.com. His work will be featured in a two-hour tour this October that will help raise money for the Claysburg Area Public Library and Claysburg Communities That Care, a nonprofit group that helps children and families in the Claysburg area.
The tour will have five narrators and 20 storytellers in costume who will board buses at various locations in town to tell different phases of the story of Claysburg.
Stories will range from its beginnings with the American Indians and the earliest settlers - such as Dr. Peter Schoenberger - through the arrival of major industries such as General Refractories in the early 1900s, to the boom town times of the 1940s when the main thoroughfare of Bedford Street and beyond was filled with retail stores.
Allison and his wife, Sandy, got the idea for the bus tour while visiting a town in Alaska. The town used posters around the area to highlight various aspects of its history, such as sports, arts or industrial heritage. When the couple returned from their trip, Allison started gathering historical items to glean information about the Claysburg area to create posters for his hometown.
He and his wife coordinated a test-run tour for some community-minded people to see if the tour would be successful for a larger group. They sent an e-mail to people who supported nonprofit groups such as the library and other community organizations in the town and asked them to meet for something special and to bring two $5 bills. The Allisons gave them few other details.
Then they took the people on the history bus tour that shows well-known and more obscure locations.
One little-known stop is the place where an amusement park once stood, with a swimming pool and somewhat exotic animals on display. That is right down the street from the former Biesinger's Indian Springs Lodge and Pool, where you can still see the swimming pool where kids used to cool off on hot summer days. The tour describes everything from brothels to a ghost on the second floor of the library to the site of the former town's movie theater, where you could once see a film for 16 cents.
Other sites include the town's current post office, where the old schoolhouse once stood, the location of the former Mckey Walter's Blacksmith Shop to a log cabin structure - the oldest house in Claysburg - which is still standing today.
"Everyone just goes 'wow,' they knew there was history here but they didn't know all these details,'' Allison said.
The only thing the Allisons asked in return was for the participants to give $5 to the library and the other $5 to Communities that Care. This fall, other tour participants will have the chance to see the same sights and also help out the town.
The library welcomes the donation because it has suffered greatly in recent years from state budget cuts, said Librarian Jane Knisely.
"This will be a big plus because we cannot continue to keep bleeding money," said Knisely, who went on the first tour.
The library is taking reservations for the October tour, although tickets won't be sold until Claysburg Community Days next month. So far, several people have made reservations for the fall tour, Knisely said,
"There's definitely an interest,'' she said. "I think we need to retain our history to know who we are and what we're about.''
To make reservations for the October tour, call the Claysburg library at 239-2782.