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Pa. historical society leader to step down

September 06, 2000

Pa. historical society leader to step down



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Kittochtinny Historical Society is making big plans for the near future, but the woman who led it through the end of its first century and into the new millennium says she'll be stepping down as president at the end of this year.

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"We're interested in the John Brown House and we're interested in this school," Lillian Colletta said recently while sitting in the Brown's Mill school, the only restored one-room schoolhouse in Franklin County.

She said the society is negotiating with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to acquire the two properties, hopefully at a token price.

Earlier this month the commission unveiled a state historical marker commemorating an 1859 meeting between abolitionists John Brown and Frederick Douglass at a stone quarry in Chambersburg. A few blocks away on East King Street is a nondescript clapboard house where Brown, using the alias Smith, plotted and acquired weapons for his October raid on Harpers Ferry.

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The Brown's Mill School, built in 1836, remained open until 1921. Colletta was there Sunday with Bernice Reese, a retired Chambersburg Area School District teacher, greeting about 30 visitors who stopped by. The school is opened on summer weekends and for arranged tours through the year, Reese said.

Colletta said the historical society's 15-member board of directors will vote next month on a merger with Franklin County Heritage Inc., another historical preservationist group. The board of Franklin County Heritage has already unanimously approved the merger, she said.

The two groups are already under the same roof. Kittochtinny owns the part of the Old Jail on East King Street built in 1818 and Heritage owns the back part of the jail, built in 1880, according to Colletta.

"We were really connected anyway, because there were a lot of us on both boards," Colletta said.

The future also means computerization of the society's library, tucked away in a couple of rooms on the jail's second floor. She said the society has received a $5,000 foundation grant toward that end and another grant for a new security system.

Collecting and preserving records is a big part of the society's mission, as is helping to preserve historic buildings and land. "Our society is really great on genealogy" which Colletta said is the main attraction for out-of-town visitors and a source of revenue to improve the library.

The society is in the process of publishing a directory of the more than 200 cemeteries in the county.

The society has more than 700 members in the county, around the country and at least one in London, Colletta said.

Colletta said the society has also assisted in "Valley of the Shadow," a CD-ROM comparing the burning of Chambersburg in 1864 to the Civil War history of Augusta County, Va.

Kittochtinny, an Indian word meaning "forever" and the name of a local mountain, maintains displays on Civil War and other military memorabilia, 19th century fashions, medical exhibits and other aspects of life during more than two centuries of county history. It was established in 1898, but didn't allow women members until the 1950s, Colletta said.

A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution when she lived in New Jersey, Colletta joined the society in 1975, about the time she and her husband of 54 years, Victor, moved to Greencastle, Pa. A retired executive secretary, she soon became acquainted with the late Janet Gabler of Chambersburg, "who was my mentor."

The two would go to area cemeteries, writing down information from tombstones. Colletta became a board member in 1983 and later served as the society's first woman president.

Colletta became president again six years ago and will retire in December. "I've worked harder in a volunteer job than I did in a paid job ... I can't keep track of me," she said.

"I'm tired. At 75 I have the right to be tired," Colletta said.

She said the society doesn't have trouble recruiting younger members "because we don't have any." Nor does she think young people are best suited to the task of preserving the county's history.

"When you're in your 50s or 60s, that's when society says you're no good anymore, but that's when you're really good at something," she said. Colletta said the society needs people who have raised families, retired and have some time on their hands.

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