A hidden gem
My family has been a part of the Greater Williamsport Area since my ancestor, Lt. Col. Matthias Shipman, purchased land in the Muncy Creek area on May 14, 1796, for seven shillings, nine pence lawful money. His grandson, John, migrated to the land with his family from New Jersey in the early 19th century. My ancestors prospered by farming this land until the time of my great-grandfather, Clyde L. Shipman (1880-1942). For those of you familiar with the area, names like Houseknecht (through marriage to Clyde’s father, Isaac) and Trick (Clyde’s wife, Alta) are part of this lineage. Clyde had sold the farm by the time his son, my grandfather, Clyde Jr., was born in 1914. By around the time the United States entered World War II, my grandfather had joined Bethlehem Steel. It was around this time that his brothers, Harold and Edmund (Ted), started the Shipman Brothers Farm Equipment and Feed Store near today’s St. Mark’s Church and the Market Street Bridge.
My grandfather worked diligently for Bethlehem Steel for 36 years. Clyde and his wife Ruth conceived my Uncle Clyde L. Shipman III and my father, David C. Shipman during this time. Around 1967 or 1968, Harold and Ted sold the store and the Shipman farming legacy ended. For those who know my family, my grandfather knew the president of Penn State University, so it was only logical that both Clyde and Dave would attend Penn State. Clyde graduated with a degree in recreation and park administration, going on to work for Delaware State Parks for over 40 years, finally fully retiring several years ago after serving as manager of operations for Fort Delaware State Park. Upon retirement, he was appointed by the governor to the Delaware State Parks Advisory Council, a role in which he still serves today. Though he left Williamsport, he returns every year to hunt on the land his father helped establish a hunting club on many decades earlier. He and his wife, my Aunt Linda, are proud parents to my cousin Susanna Ashdown (by marriage) and proud grandparents to my second cousin, Daniel Ashdown.
My father majored in political science at Penn State. Upon graduation, he went on to law school, initially in Texas before graduating from George Washington Law School a few years later. Over the course of his career, Dave worked for the Parole Commission in the Washington D.C. area, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Harrisburg area, as an Assistant District Attorney for Lycoming County, and finally as a law partner in a firm with my godfather, his childhood friend, Tony Grieco. He and Pamela Lajeunesse, my mother, conceived my sister Jeannine and myself. I was too young to remember when my father returned to Williamsport to work with Tony, but because he did, I had the privilege of growing up in this fine area.
After growing up and leaving Williamsport for college, I thought I would never return. But a few years ago, I too returned to Williamsport to experience it as an adult, as I had the enjoyable experience of teaching at the Pennsylvania College of Technology for four years. It was during this time that I realized the interesting positives this area has to offer.
So why do I write of my family’s history in this public forum? One reason is because within the past couple of years, my parents sold their house and left Williamsport, leaving me as the last Shipman in the long line of Shipmans to make the Greater Williamsport Area their home. Recently, I too left Williamsport, ending the tradition, and because I am proud of my family and its heritage, I thought it only fitting to honor them by sharing this rich history with the wonderful citizens of the Greater Williamsport Area. And another reason is to formally say goodbye, for I do not anticipate returning, and there are many I did not get to wish farewell to when I moved on to a new place and a new career opportunity. In our family, the younger son always inherited the family quilt, while the older son inherited the farm, but after my father and uncle, I am currently the last male of this fine Williamsport area legacy.
Perhaps the final reason I write is to reflect on some of the things I have learned over the years about the Williamsport area. As articulated above, it is rich with history and tradition, and has seen its ups and downs, from the lumber boom, to the floods and coming of the modern day, to the gas boom in recent years. It is small, private, quiet, and hidden to those who do not know it, hearing of it only as the “Home of the Little League World Series” or “that small town about one to two hours from Penn State.” To those who know it and have experienced it, removing the small private exterior reveals a bustling third-class city. It is has good schools, beautiful landscapes, thriving colleges and businesses, opportunities to practice one’s faith and serve the community, an active music, arts, and nightlife scene, and is a great place to raise a family.
I was proud to grow up in Williamsport and was happy to return for a few years to experience it as an adult. Although it is not where I want to spend the rest of my life (for my own reasons), and although I would caution many of its citizens to not get too steeped in the Republican traditions of Lycoming County (mainly because of my disagreements with and opposition to the current President, but that is beside the point), I can respect this area’s marvelous past and pray it experiences a fantastic future. I hope to visit time and again over the years, for my friends and their families that remain in the area have always made me feel welcome. And though I think it important to grow and evolve as we traverse the journeys that are our lives, I also think it is important to never forget where we come from. When I think about it, it isn’t goodbye, but hello from a different place and time. Thus, I say good luck to all of you, and as we prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century, remember to keep an open mind, an open heart, and to never forget that we can all live, love, and prosper if we stick together.
Michael D. Shipman lives in Johnstown.