Local Historians to lead free Walking Tour of Historic Morgantown

Morgantown resident and Tri-County Heritage Society founding member Jere Brady will be leading the free Walking Tour of Historic Morgantown on October 13 starting at 4:30 p.m. Participants will meet at Brady's historical home at 3312 Main Street, located directly across the street from the Caernarvon Township Municipal Building. Photo by Justin Finneran/Tri County record

On Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 the Friends of the Village Library is offering a free Walking Tour of Historic Morgantown. The tour will be led by local residents Jere Brady and Diane Bowman, who will provide facts about homes and businesses and take questions from attendees. The tour will cover a four block area of Main Street which is the commercial and residential center of historical Morgantown.

Developed for all ages and walks of life, the tour will be especially beneficial for those who are relatively new to the area and interested in learning more about Morgantown. Free parking for the event is available at the Municipal Building on Main Street. Participants will gather for the start of the tour in front of Brady’s home, the first stop of the tour, which is located directly across the street from the Municipal Building.

Approximately 30 sites have been scheduled as stops in the ninety-minute tour. Brady and Bowman will offer insight on the history of every location. Some the locations have relatively brief histories, while and others have more expansive and impactful stories. The tour is this first of its kind to be held since the 1970s, when an open house tour of Morgantown was conducted.

According to Sylvia Firth, a member of the Friends of the Village Library, the idea for the walking tour came about following a pair of successful tours of the St. Thomas Church cemetery that provided information on the history of those buried in the cemetery.

“(The Friends of the Village Library) always look for something different to do,” said Firth. “The mission of the Friends of the Library is to do things for the community, which is why this tour is free. We saw success (with the St. Thomas tours) and chose to offer this tour with Jere and Diane.”

Firth first brought up the idea of the tour to Brady over this past summer. Firth thought to invite both Brady and Bowman to serve as guides due to their accumulated knowledge of local history.

Brady came to Morgantown from Elverson in the 1960s, and moved into a home which was built by Bowman’s grandfather. He has authored and co-authored books on local history as well as an artist who has painted an impressive collection of local landscapes and landmarks. Bowman is a lifelong Morgantown resident with a wealth of knowledge on local history. Both are founding members of the Tri-County Heritage Society, which was formed in 1970 following the publication of a book that was put together by themselves and others celebrating the bicentennial of Morgantown. The money that was raised from the sale of that book “A Picture History of Morgantown, 1770-1970” (available in the reference section of the Village Library) was used as start-up funding for the society.

“I was always hearing about the history of the area from my grandparents,” said Bowman. “I guess people like myself are just geared towards (becoming historians). I was there when the turnpike came through Morgantown, and then suddenly there were a lot of tourists who wanted to know (about local history). Many times the more research you do the more you hear the different sides of history, but in this area we are (quite certain) of the history.”

According to Brady, the center of Morgantown was originally settled by the Welsh, who were focused on commercial business, whereas the population of German heritage who made the area well-known for agriculture settled in areas close by.

Bowman and Brady offered bits of history on two of the many sites to be visited on Main Street:

The Pilgrim Tours building, 3071 Main Street – this was formerly the site of a blacksmith shop owned by J. Howard Ames, where blacksmith Sands Richard worked (both men lived in another historical building across the street from the building that was owned by Ames, a building which currently houses Café 110). The blacksmith shop, which was to be the last village blacksmith shop in Morgantown, was purchased in the 1940s by the Kurtz-Smoker family and became Morgantown Supply, selling variety of items such as appliances and gifts. The building housed other businesses as well. It was a former location of the floral and gift shop The Greenery, and became the home of Pilgrim Tours Travel Agency in 2010. There are also residential apartments on the second floor of the building.

The Brady’s home, 3312 Main Street – construction began in 1924 for the home and office of Dr. Joseph and Mattie Zook. The home was a Van Dine ‘kit home’ which was purchased from a catalog and finished in 1925. Dr. Zook’s office, which was separate from the residence, had its own approach. The residence was purchased in 1961 by the Brady family. An addition, which would become an art gallery and rock and mineral shop, was added in 1973.

Other locations on the tour will include the former sites of: the Morgantown Caernarvon School/Caernarvon Twp. Municipal Building; the Odd Fellows Building/Girls School; the General Store/Boys Academy; Lyceum Hall; and the Morgantown Hotel (which was demolished and is the current home of the Rite Aid Pharmacy).

Brady said that he is hoping for a good turnout, as he would like to see the tours continue and expand to other areas. He added that the Tri-County Heritage Society is planning to relocate to a space within the Caernarvon Township Municipal Building, which will make it more readily accessible to those passing through Morgantown.

Be sure to come out to enjoy this free event and learn about the history of Morgantown. The rain date for the tour is October 14 (4:30 p.m.).

Visit the Tri County Heritage Society online at http://www.tricountyheritage.org/

The Tri-County Heritage Society is located at 4979 Twin Valley Rd., Elverson, PA 19520. The society mailing address is P.O. Box 352, Morgantown, PA 19543. The society can be reached by phone at 610-286-7477 and by email at tchs@dejazzd.com

The Friends of the Village Library of Morgantown will be sponsoring a Victorian Tea at St. Thomas Church on November 4, 2012. Tickets for the event will be limited. The ticket price is $25, and tickets are available at the Village Library, 207 Walnut Street, Morgantown, PA. Call 610-286-1022 with questions.

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