Just a few miles from downtown State College, history comes alive in Boalsburg, a historic village that tells the story of central Pennsylvania life in the 1800s. That history has a home at the Boalsburg Heritage Museum.
Located at 304 E. Main St., the museum has been home to historical documents, photographs, furniture and numerous 19th century souvenirs for more than 30 years.
Author Janice Sweet McElhoe has a special interest in the old farmhouse and the outbuildings that accompany it: It has been in her family for over a century.
“I’ve been connected my whole life, since my great grandparents bought the home in 1902,” McElhoe said. “My grandmother lived there and I grew up down the street. My father bought the farm from Grandma and, although he was a teacher, we always had cows in the barn, plus chickens and pigs. I had rabbits and once raised three pigs.”
According to publications produced by McElhoe, the Sara Sweet House was built by William Murray in 1825, on a parcel of land at the east end of the town called Springfield — later named Boalsburg. The house was built in three layers of plank construction: one vertical, second horizontal and third vertical; which is typical of homes built by Pennsylvania Dutch. When the Victorian era came along, long windows were added.
When Andrew Stroup began selling lots in his development around 1810, the property housed a tannery operation that was one of the earliest enterprises in the settlement. The horsehair plaster came from the tanning conducted there. By 1837, the 38-acre property was bought by Daniel and Jonathan Mosser, among several other tracts of land in the east end of town. They also purchased considerable mountain land, well timbered, from which to secure the bark required in the tanning process. The Mosser Tannery continued in operation through the 1880s, but the property was eventually sold.
McElhoe’s great grandfather, William Myers, purchased the farm in 1902. Electricity to light Boalsburg’s first street was produced in the property’s “lighthouse” during this time. Additional farm buildings included a summer kitchen, barn and corn crib.
After William died in 1932, his daughter Sarah Catherine bought the house from the estate. The house was Sarah’s girlhood home before her marriage to William Nathaniel Sweet. It remained her home for the next 51 years and became known as the Myers-Sweet House. In 1983, the house became the property of the Boalsburg Heritage Museum Association and is listed in the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks.
The association’s new developments and projects include maintenance of the property, the rebuilding of the barn, and most recently, the restoration of the original woodshed of the Myers-Sweet farmhouse into a climate-controlled archive for all documents.
“This project began about two or three years ago,” McElhoe said. “We did more replacing, rather than restoring, so it took more new materials and a lot of money. Also, the shed was lifted up so that the street runoff wasn’t going down under it; so it’s now on a dry space. Right now we’re working on the exterior.”
The 16-by-20-foot woodshed, which extends from the main farmhouse on the east side, along with a 11/2 story summer kitchen, remains as it was built in the 1800s. Originally used as a storage area, the woodshed’s post-and-beam framing was a traditional system of wood frame construction commonly used in the 19th century.
This area will be used for storage of historical documents that are sensitive to temperature extremes, as well as humidity, dust and other pollutants. Books, paperwork, photographs and other important items will no longer be exposed to deterioration from light or growth of mold, mildew or musty odors. Harris Township historical treasures of value and interest will be kept safe and preserved for future generations.
McElhoe became active as a board member of the Boalsburg Heritage Museum after she retired from teaching in the Mifflin County School District and the State College area. A special area of interest of hers has been museum publications.
The Boalsburg Heritage Museum is committed to the mission of preserving historical items significant to Boalsburg and Harris Township, thereby promoting community interest in the village through historical education.
“Learning to appreciate our past will provide a vital link with the families and memories that have made our community,” McElhoe said.
The museum is open to the public regularly each season from April through December. Visitors can view historical artifacts and more, with free admission, Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. Special tours are available by appointment. Call 466-3035 or visit www.boalsburgmuseum.org.