I drove up to Clinton County, PA today to give a talk on the revolutionary courtship of Philip Vickers Fithian and Elizabeth Beatty. It was a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Speakers lecture and my hosts were Anne and Lou at the Clinton County Historical Society (CCHS) in Lock Haven.
The audience had a particular interest in Fithian because he had traveled through this area in the summer of 1775, preaching to small congregations of English and Scots-Irish Presbyterians along the Susquehanna River. (See Chapter 7 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home–now on sale in paperback for $17.95 at Amazon). Many of them link Fithian’s visit to the founding of the Great Island Presbyterian Church in Lock Haven.
Since I was the speaker for the historical society’s annual meeting I got a chance to observe the yearly business session. The CCHS is running a variety of wonderful programs, but there is a serious possibility that they may have to curb programming or perhaps even furlough some staff if the Ed Rendell budget passes–a budget that will make huge cuts in the funding operations of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The CCHS, like many other Pennsylvania historical societies, relies heavily on PHMC funding to help carry out its programs.
As I sat and listened to the executive director and curator of the CCHS talk about the struggles they will almost inevitable face in the coming year, I began to think about what a tragedy it would be if places like this cannot fulfill its mission.
I realize that we are in difficult economic times. Sacrifices are necessary. But if we cannot preserve our past and the institutions that promote it, then we are in danger of forgetting who we are as a people. History is the story of the human experience, but human beings are grounded and embedded in local places like Clinton County. If Rendell wants to build stronger communities during these times of economic crisis then he should reconsider some of these budget cuts. During hard times people turn inward. They take a deeper look at who they are and draw inspiration from the those who came before them–people who dealt with similar problems.
It would be a shame if the opportunity for such historical exploration is eliminated, especially now.