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A Door to the Past: The Historical Society of Dauphin County

By Elisha Neubauer

The Historical Society of Dauphin County works to preserve, exhibit, and promote interest in the history of Dauphin County for the benefit of the public. A not-for-profit organization, the Society maintains the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, a National Historic Landmark, and the Alexander Research Library, a sizeable collection of reference and archival material pertaining to Dauphin County's history.

The Society has a history of its own. It was born in a meeting at the Market Square Presbyterian Church in 1869. Although the concept was created within the church walls, the Society held its early meetings in the Dauphin County Courthouse until it was assigned one of the larger jury rooms in the annex building in 1900. It continued to house artifacts and exhibits in this location for eight years. After William A. Kelker's passing in 1908, the Kelker brownstone residence on South Front Street was bequeathed to the Society for use as a museum. The Society utilized the Kelker home for thirty-three years before it was acquired by the county and became the site of the new Courthouse in 1941. In April of the same year, the Society was fortunate again, when the heirs of Simon Cameron deeded their property to the Society for use as an archive and museum. The Society took possession of the three buildings: the mansion, carriage house, and stable.

Now in a permanent home, the Society focuses its efforts on education. Executive Director Nicole McMullen says, "The preservation of buildings, artifacts, documents, photographs reminds us where we came from and why we are who we are and do what we do today." The general public- community members, tourists, schools, and other groups- is able to take guided tours of the mansion and the exhibits year round. "The Historical Society also sponsors open houses, educational adult and family programs, and special events in the Mansion; opens the Mansion in conjunction with local tourism and arts events; and makes the space available to private individuals, community and business groups for meetings, weddings and other functions," McMullen explains.

On top of preserving the Mansion, the Society maintains and operates the Alexander Research Library, which contains over a million historic photographs. "Library and curatorial staff catalog incoming donations, digitize documents and photographs, perform research on request, provide access to primary sources and reference materials, provide copies of documents and photographs," says McMullen. The staff also assists individuals, organizations, and businesses with genealogical, local and architectural historic research. The Society supports local students by offering internships and offers exhibitions, heritage programs, and demonstrations for adults. Weekend and holiday family events, bus trips, lectures and workshops, and elementary education programs for local schools in the spring and fall are a few of the many other ways in which the Society reaches out to the community throughout the year.

If you're interested in history, the Historical Society of Dauphin County is always accepting new memberships. Be sure to stop by and take a tour of the stunning John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion or attend one of the many fundraisers arranged to support the full restoration of the exterior of this National Historic Landmark. The mansion is a door into the past- one that the Historical Society of Dauphin County will continue to hold open.

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About The Author

Elisha Neubauer is a freelance editor, ghostwriter, book reviewer, and author. She is...

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