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Lumber heritage project helps identify ‘connections’ throughout Williamsport history

Sawing cordwood, north of Vallamont. SUN-GAZETTE ARCHIVE PHOTO

Thad Meckley, a local historian and member of Wildwood Cemetery’s board of trustees, is spending the summer with three interns in Lycoming College’s WISE program researching the history of the area through some of the key players buried at Wildwood with a goal of creating in-person and virtual tours.

Part of the summer interns’ project also will be reaching out to heirs and descendants of the lumber barons and industrialists to compile photos, histories and stories about that time period. Meckley and his team are seeking to visit with them either in the cemetery or at their homes.

“I feel as a local historian that this is the largest accumulation of lumber barons and industrialists while we were the lumber capital of the world,” he said.

Meckley hopes to get a state marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission attesting to that. Another goal for Meckley is to have the cemetery be on the annual Victorian Christmas tour, which visits homes and churches in the area.

According to the college their Williamsport Internship Summer Experience (WISE) program offers students of different disciplines internships in the local community, while also enabling them to expand their employability skills by giving them professional workforce experience. Interns receive a stipend and housing during their participation in the program.

A portion of the funding came through the Lumber Heritage Region which is part of the History Trail of Pennsylvania, which Meckley had contacted offering to develop a lumberman tour for the group.

“We’ll do all the work, we’ll supply it and you can have it on your website as a download and people can do it virtually,” Meckley said he told the Lumber Heritage.

The research that the interns, under Meckley’s supervision, have done has led to some interesting discoveries. For example the group recently visited the Culler Furniture factory house and the man who inherited the historical property.

“Culler furniture, which is a step off of the lumber industry, very important for Williamsport and very collectible furniture,” he said.

“In 1925, Babe Ruth played here in a game on the high school field and hit a home run over the top of the Culler Furniture Factory,” he added. “So, there’s a baseball connection.”

The threads of the story also took a romantic turn, Meckley said, because the wife of gentleman who had originally planned to build the house died after they went to Europe and Italy.and then the man died leaving his second wife the home. She in turn donated money to Lycoming College commemorated with the Culler window dedicated to her husband.

“There’s all these connections,” he said.

Another thread leads from the Winters family, who had owned a local sandpaper company which used local wood for the paper and the grit from local quarries for the final product sent to the Panama Canal.

“His claim to fame is that the sandpaper was used to build the Panama Canal when the U.S. government contracted with him, Meckley said.

Meckley shared that at one point the student interns came to him frustrated that they had seemed to reach a dead end in their research.

“We’re running out of lumber barons,” Meckley said they told him. “I said it can’t be that way.”

“No, you understand there’s always a thread. When you do research there’s always a thread. You wait. You reconvene. Just like in any project, there’s always something you didn’t think of or something you didn’t discover because you have to think outside the box,” he said.

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