The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 2, 2013

History Found: 1937 in Mifflinburg and Surrounding Towns Comes Alive Again


The Daily Item

— MIFFLINBURG — Life as lived in 1937 in Mifflinburg and central and western Union County comes alive again for 36 minutes on a new DVD. Back in 1976, James Schwartz, Mifflinburg funeral director, now retired, rescued from the trash four reels of 16mm film as the old Mifflinburg Firehouse was being demolished to make way for the new larger firehouse. Schwartz kept the reels in his home until about 2010, when he offered them to the Union County Historical Society. At that time, Marion Lois Huffines was researching the history of Mifflinburg for her book, Mifflinburg and the West End, published by Arcadia in 2012. The reels contained 36 minutes of raw footage of Mifflinburg and surrounding towns, taken by an unidentified photographer in 1937. Under the sponsorship of the Union County Historical Society, Huffines contracted with McVicar Video Productions to have the film digitized and produced on DVD for sale to the public. She edited the film by reordering the segments more logically and provided subtitles identifying places and locations.

The 1937 film footage opens up a view of everyday life in the towns visited by the photographer. The black and white images are not fancy, not staged, and without sound or technical effects. The photographer traveled around the county, filming daily life and its routine activities. In the film, for example, gas station attendants pump gas while washing windshields and checking oil and water levels. The photographer filmed workers at Kooltext Knitting Mills, Kurtz Overall Factory, and Snook’s mills in Mifflinburg, Swengel, and Vicksburg. He shows shop workers and displays in shop windows: Gast & Sons Dry Goods, Edmund Shively’s Appliances, and Pete Pursley’s General Store and Post Office. Other workers are shown busy too: Ken Erdley delivers milk for Wehr’s Dairy, Knepp’s Grocery Bus sells peaches at 14 cents per pound and egg noodles for 8 cents, the men at Swengel Mill stack bags of flour in the back of a truck, and hunters with rifles and their hunting dog stand ready to leave outside of Mazeppa Mill. Vehicles line the streets, and 1938 Studebakers are already being advertised.

The photographer visited every school in central and western Union County. He filmed students and teachers at Mifflinburg High School, Hartley Township High School, and Lewis Township High School. He visited every elementary school, preserving for us today the images of students at recess while their teachers watch close by in Swengel, Millmont, Laurelton, Green Grove, White Springs, Pontius, Rand, Creek School, Red Bank School, Forest Hill, Mazeppa, Buffalo Cross Roads, Cowan Grammar and Primary Schools, and Vicksburg. Everyone who was in school in this part of Union County in 1937 is almost surely in the film. Another piece of history was not missed: he filmed the men at the Civil Conservation Corps Camps in Weikert, where one sees Raymond B. Winter, and at Halfway, even going up to photograph from the lookout.

Still other institutions were not missed: Mifflinburg Bank and Trust, Laurelton State Bank, Strunk Funeral Home, B.T. Lance Monument Works, Brown’s Buggy Factory (later Sterling Bros. Throwing Mill), and Herbster’s mills at Laurelton and at Laurel Park. Incredibly, the photographer filmed the residents at Laurelton State Village for Feeble-minded Women of Childbearing Age as they moved about the grounds and did their work. And he filmed a fire drill of town-wide proportions as the Mifflinburg fire trucks race to Gardner Gottschall’s shop to douse a “fire” and remove a “victim” in an ambulance provided by Strunk Funeral Home.

Things have changed since 1937, but modern viewers will recognize places and some of the people. The DVD, 1937 Mifflinburg and Western Union County, is on sale at the Union County Historical Society for $15 plus tax. The Historical Society may be reached at (570) 524-8666 or by email at info@unioncountyhistoricalsociety.org. It may also be purchased at Laurel Market and from Tony Shively in Millmont (570) 922-4297. It makes a great gift for those who want to know or want to remember what it was really like in 1937.