There are clubhouses and then there are clubhouses.
Kate Gauche was a little girl the first time she visited the site at Historic Curtin Village, small enough that it’s possible she still thought of the now 187-year-old Howard mansion simply as “Grandma’s house.”
During the summer, she and her cousins used to have their run of the third floor, a makeshift play area that was also a small segment of what was once a very large iron plantation run by Roland Curtin and his family from 1810 to 1921.
When Gauche’s grandmother died, the mansion was left to sit vacant and idle. Houses are stuck in one place — it’s people who get to move forward, only occasionally pausing long enough to circle back.
What you see today is only a small part of the entire complex.
Case in point, Gauche is now chair of the program committee for the Roland Curtin Foundation Board, the same group of dedicated locals who have spent the better part of the last two years working to give Curtin Village the facelift of its life.
More of a nip/tuck than a major nasal overhaul, the goal of the project has been to provide visitors with just enough of what they need in order to fully appreciate the scope of the history all around them — functional bathrooms, for example, were a good start.
“What you see today is only a small part of the entire complex,” Gauche said.
Years after her grandmother’s death, the family turned the property over to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which had the resources to restore the mansion and the neighboring furnace.
As interest and manpower dwindled, it became more difficult to keep the site open to the public. Gary Hoover, director of the Bellefonte Chamber of Commerce, was among a handful of people who began exploring the idea of a new Roland Curtin Foundation Board.
Hoover has an abiding fascination with history. He moonlights as the captain of Thompson’s Independent Battery “C,” a Civil War re-enactment group that has resurrected the past as a living, breathing and very uncomfortably dressed entity.
Convincing the state that Curtin Village could function in a similar capacity wasn’t as difficult as you might think.
“People have a sense of their heritage and local history. The iron industry basically made Centre County,” Hoover said.
People have a sense of their heritage and local history. The iron industry basically made Centre County.
In addition to the public bathrooms, the board is in the process of using a grant from the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau to restore the mansion’s kitchen and bring snacking back to Curtin Village.
In June, the site will host its first major event in years. Civil War Days will unite four or five different re-enactment groups, a historical tableau set against a Centre County backdrop. Foodies will want to keep an eye out for two festivals, one devoted to blueberries in July and another paying tribute to that great filler of pies, the apple, in October.
It’s a lot of progress, most of it hard won.
“None of it has happened as fast as all of us would like to have it,” Hoover said.
A few additional hands might help to move things along. The board is looking for volunteers of all stripes — the social media savvy, prospective tour guides, event staff — any warm body will do, really.