Editor’s note: This story is part of the Road Trips special section.
Founded by Jewish settler Aaron Levy in 1786, the town of Aaronsburg was the first settlement within what is now Centre County. Now, the small area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to its unique founding and interesting past.
Aaronsburg was an early attempt to create a successful settlement that was decidedly not strategically placed near a waterway. Because of this, during the late 1800s, it became more residential than commercial. Now, visitors can see much of the settlement as it appeared in the 19th century, a primary reason why the space was chosen as the location of the Penns Valley Historical Museum. When granting the area its status as a historic place, the National Park Service noted that, “the town retains the sense and character of its origins as a frontier settlement.”
While the museum covers the history of other areas in Penns Valley, Aaronsburg is the main focus, museum collections chairwoman Kay Gray pointed out.
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“(The museum) adds value to the community by collecting, preserving, interpreting and presenting historical and cultural traditions, (and) also by promoting the ideals of the Aaronsburg story — respect and tolerance for all mankind,” she said.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Aaronsburg story, which is the focus of a new exhibit at the museum, was part of a 1949 pageant that celebrated the tolerance and acceptance of the original founder, who had deeded the town to local German Protestants in about 1789. The event attracted national attention, with more than 40,000 attending the celebration.
Other new exhibits at the museum this summer include “Flax: From Plant to Fabric,” “Christmas of Yesteryear” and “Hats by Hess,” a history of John Hess, builder of the home that houses the museum and hatter in Aaronsburg in the 1800s. The structure, built in 1816, is one of the several Georgian-style log houses that can be found within the village.
In addition to exhibits, the museum also has a large genealogical library, and the genealogy chairwoman, Vonnie Henninger, is available to assist visitors who make an appointment with their research.
For community members, the Penns Valley Area Historical Museum provides a selection of outreach presentations to groups, such as schools and social organizations, on everything from local architecture and area forts, to Civilian Conservation Corps camps and Pennsylvania Dutch communities. Memberships can be purchased for exclusive admittance to special program and exhibit openings.
The museum is open 1-4 p.m. Saturdays, early May through the end of October. It will be closed for the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair on Aug. 19 and 26, though it will have a presence at the fair. Events later in the year include the Dutch Fall Festival, Oct. 7-8, and the Fall History Dinner, Oct. 19.
If you go
What: Penns Valley Historical Museum
When: 1-4 p.m. Saturdays, May-October
Where: 244 W. Aaron Square, Aaronsburg