While you’re not supposed to name names when thanking groups of people, for fear of forgetting someone, I will be doing that in this column. In the past I’ve written about how I became interested in local history, but recently thought about another group of people who encouraged my interest in history when I was still a teenager. Those people were my teachers at Canton High School in the mid-to-late 1990s.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t become interested in history because of any American history, Pennsylvania history, Problems of Democracy, or World Cultures class. I was an average student in these areas and put little to no time into studying. On my own time however, I was collecting, researching, and studying about local history. Occasionally, my own interests crossed with topics in the classroom. Other times, I would come across local history in the school that I would find interesting.
One of the first times my interest crossed with the classroom was in Jared Wilcox’s communications class. We were required to research any topic and then write a speech that would be presented in front of the class. I chose Canton history. Visiting the Green Free Library, I learned for the first time about an actor who had lived in Canton named Harry Davenport. I presented a speech about Harry Davenport along with a display of photocopied images. In the same class, we were shown an old embosser that had been used by the LeRoy Township School District to seal its official documents. This, of course, caught my attention. On seeing my interest in local history, Jared Wilcox told me that if I was still interested in history when I graduated from high school (at that point at least four years away), he would give this piece of history to me at the end of my graduation year. About four years later, a few months before graduation, he stopped me one day in the hall at CHS and told me to stop by his classroom. There he gave me the LeRoy Township School District seal. Today, that seal is on display in the exhibits at LeRoy Heritage Museum.
In an American History class with Patsy Baxter, I first noticed booklets and unpublished material written by Elwyn Kie about the history of Canton. I say “unpublished” because these were small, typed booklets that were not part of his photo history books. Patsy encouraged me to borrow the material, which I copied and returned. I think it is worthy of mentioning that shortly after I graduated, the Canton High School renovation began, and Patsy took charge of organizing and distributing historical files pertaining to the local schools that had been consolidated into the Canton Area School District decades ago. These records would have been sent to the dumpster, but many of them have found their way to LeRoy Heritage Museum over the years thanks to Patsy’s efforts.
In Wheldon Shaffer’s class one year, my assigned seat was at the back of the classroom. Directly behind my seat I noticed the 1,320-page “History of Bradford County” by H. C. Bradsby, published in 1891. As I recall, anytime there was free time at the end of class, I pulled that book off the shelf from behind me and looked up names and places in the book.
The high school library, as I discovered, had various other local history books available. Most of them were kept in the office of the school librarian, Gwen Ritter. This meant that I made repeated requests at the checkout desk for these books. Perhaps the books were intended to be used in the library only, but after several requests to look at the books, she allowed me to borrow them instead. On the library shelves I also first discovered a book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and that is where I discovered for the first time that Harry Davenport’s father had encountered John Wilkes Booth just before the assassination occurred.
I took two years of Journalism with teacher Susan Sliwinski and also worked on the high school newspaper, the Crimson Echo. In a cabinet in her classroom, I was fascinated by many old issues of the Crimson Echo and the other newspapers that came before it, going back to the early days of the school. I volunteered to organize this box of newspapers and had the opportunity to copy some of them. During my senior year, I wrote history articles and included photos of both high school history and Canton history in the Crimson Echo. This sparked an interest in doing more writing about local history and in the 23 years since graduating I’ve worked on numerous book projects, magazines, guides, and brochures.
In a class with teacher Ron Kirby, we learned about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. In a paper we wrote relating to this topic, I worked into the narrative a story about the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program, being at Laquin. Again, classroom learning of history didn’t interest me too much, so I needed extra credit, and Ron discovered a way for me to earn it. The Canton High School history department had received a letter from a person who was researching the history of Whitman’s Phototypes of Canton. The Whitman name was connected with the Canton World, once a newspaper in Canton. They were also connected with postcard printing and did a series of commercially printed cards from around the United States, including Canton images, under the name, Whitman’s Phototypes. The gentleman contacting the high school wanted someone to research this topic further and provide him with information. So, Ron explained to me that if I could research and write a history to help this person with his research, that would earn me extra credit toward my average. I jumped in and ultimately typed up the information which was mailed back. The person was pleased with the letter and told me to keep the original Whitman postcards he had sent with his letter.
While I never had Vicki VanNoy as a teacher, she often stood outside of her classroom door in between classes and that is where I first met her. She told me about her mother who has ties to LeRoy and was appreciative of the local history projects that I had worked on at that time. Later, her mother became a board member at LeRoy Heritage Museum and she and Vicki have volunteered in the museum for many years. Vicki has been instrumental in making sure that many years of CHS audio/visual history, as recorded by the Interact club, has made its way to the LeRoy Heritage Museum.
During my Junior year, the high school did an evening event titled, Joining Family and School Night, and I believe it was Deb Keppler who asked me to set up a display of local history at the event. As part of the display, I pasted together several poster boards of copied Canton photos. When the event was over, the school laminated the posters and displayed them in a display case near the principal’s office for a month. Bill Krause, who was principal at the time, sent me a letter congratulating me on the display and encouraging me to keep up the study of local history.
I can’t forget Kirk Bower, who had a particular talent at making historical and government topics interesting. In almost 23 years of working with both the LeRoy Heritage Museum and the Bradford County Historical Society, I’ve returned to topics that were once covered in classes with Kirk Bower, Ron Kirby, and Patsy Baxter and spent time studying them further when I discovered their connection to local history. This especially occurred in 2017 while I compiled a 500-page book on the history of Bradford County in World War I.
Finally, Rosanne Morgan who was secretary in the Guidance office, upon learning of my interest in local history, showed me the massive card file of former students dating back to the early 1900s. I was fascinated with all the information found there.
With all this said, I’m not sure when I had time to do actual schoolwork in high school. Certainly, I have had other former teachers that have been supportive of my work in the years since I left high school. Over the years I’ve worked with many school teachers from all over Bradford County on creating museum tours and other types of field trips at both museums to which I am connected because I know first-hand that teachers played an important role in my local history journey.
Writing: Matt Carl | Bradford County Historical Society
Photography: Bradford County Historical Society
Produced by Vogt Media
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