SUNBURY — In the early days of colonization, the central Susquehanna Valley was a hub for transportation, military activity, and pioneering determination. Today, its rich history is being kept alive by local storytellers, re-enactors, demonstrators, and historians – many of whom will converge at this year’s History Day, presented by the Northumberland County Historical Society.
According to the society’s president, Cindy Inkrote, the goal of History Day is “to make people aware of those who came before us and settled in this place we call home, and to appreciate their contributions large and small.
“Their lives were not easy, and their sacrifices were great,” she added. “Local history is no longer a strong focus in area schools, and we believe it’s important for everyone to learn about what happened here in the past.”
Event chair Mike McWilliams plans and organizes the event each year, being sure to invite presenters that are always excited to come and share their knowledge.
“They are great people that love history,” he said.
This year, McWilliams himself will once again portray Captain Mick, an old-time canal boat captain, and will share with visitors about the history of the local canals. The vice president of the historical society — who is also a tour guide for the Fort Augusta model and museum — has been portraying Captain Mick since 1990.
“History is important to me, and I and the fellow re-enactors all love passing it on,” he said.
He’ll be joined by Van Wagner, a longer singer/songwriter who will share songs he has written about the area’s history, as well as demonstrate whitewashing; Brad Becker, who will be shooting off his miniature cannons at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.; Dale Wolfe, who will be demonstrating the rifling of flintlocks; storyteller John Moore; and the Augusta Regiment.
Inside the museum, John Moore will share about frontier history at 10 a.m.; Lynn Otto about the French and Indian war in Pennsylvania at 11 a.m.; Rick Enterline, Civil War music, at noon; Van Wagner will present a History in Music concert at 1 p.m.; John Deppen will present on Civil War top 10 books at 2 p.m.; and Barry Stocker will share about the Shohola train wreck near Honesdale.
The event will also feature other local historical societies – Milton, Montour, and Mahanoy and Mahantongo – as well as the DAR, Friends of Joseph Priestley, and more.
New this year is a signature quilt that was once a fundraiser for a church, no longer in existence, in Boyles Run Valley of Lower Augusta Township. Inkrote said the quilt, believed to have been completed in the early 1930s, pays tribute to veterans of several wars.
“Local residents paid to have family names embroidered on the quilt blocks that surround the veterans section,” Inkrote said, “and many of the township’s residents took part in the project.”
The quilt will be on display in the museum’s parlor.
History Day will feature several different historical periods in the Valley. The Augusta Regiment reenactors will highlight the French and Indian War, while several presenters will offer programs surrounding the Civil War, while music and exhibits will feature the 19th and 20th centuries.
Storyteller John Moore said he has been a part of History Day for so many years that he’s lost count. He plans to have an outside table this Saturday, where he can talk with visitors about the role of Fort Augusta during the French and Indian and American Revolutionary wars. His anecdotes include, he said, “a pioneer woman who was abducted by an Indian war party from her home along the Juniata River”, and a surprise visit by 90 friendly Iroquois Indians.
Moore said he also will have artifacts, including cannonballs and coins from the 1700s, and his 10 a.m. talk in the museum is entitled “Tea, Gunpowder, and Lead”, will deal with Pennsylvania during the American Revolutionary War.
History Day is a good day to meet people and do a little impromptu storytelling about Fort Augusta and the Indian wars,” Moore said. “The people who turn out often have a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm about local history. They ask a lot of questions. I have fun talking and visiting with them. Sometimes they have fascinating stories of their own.”
Inkrote describes the atmosphere of History Day as “friendly and informal.”
“Those who participate are eager to share their knowledge and are extremely approachable,” she said.
Each year, they always get very positive feedback from those who attend, which is geared toward families.
While rainy weather has affected the event’s turnout the last few years, she said, “There are faithful supporters who come out each year, and many new faces as well.”
Formerly held at King Street Park in Northumberland, History Day has been held at the Hunter House in Sunbury since 2013. According to Inkrote, the house was built by Samuel Hunter, the grandson of the last commander of Fort Augusta. The fort was dismantled during the 1790s, but the commandant’s quarters, a log cabin inside the fort’s walls, she said, served as Samuel Hunter’s home until it burned down in 1848. The Hunter House that still stands today is a two-story brick structure that was completed for the family in 1852.