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Mercersburg book a community effort

December 16, 2000

Mercersburg book a community effort



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


MERCERSBURG, Pa. - "The Tuscarora Reader," a 339-page hard-cover history of the Mercersburg area penned by more than 90 local writers, will be read by Tuscarora School District fourth-graders as part of their Pennsylvania history lessons.

The book was published by three retired Mercersburg area school teachers as their contribution to the continuing education to the youth of their community.

The three - Joan McCulloh, Nancy Heefner and Betty Stenger - recruited the writers and edited the book.

They gave 500 of the 1,200 copies printed to fourth-grade classrooms in the district's four elementary schools, McCulloh said.

The book has been out only a week and 450 have been sold so far, Stenger said. It sells for $30 plus $1.80 sales tax.

Profits will go to the Mercersburg Historical Society. All three women are members.

Heefner, who retired as head of the fine arts department at Mercersburg Academy, got the idea for the book from a similar one published by the Fulton County Historical Society.

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The book was financed by a $5,000 state grant, two smaller grants and local donations.

"We're not going to make a lot of money on the book," McCulloh said.

The book covers the history of the 200 square miles of the Tuscarora School District, which takes in the Borough of Mercersburg and the neighboring townships of Montgomery, Warren, Peters and St. Thomas and across U.S. 30 into Fort Loudon.

Chapter 1 deals with the area's topography before man. Chapter 2 tells of the Native Americans who lived in the area, followed by the first Scots-Irish settlers who came in the 1730s.

Subsequent chapters detail the area's role in the French and Indian War, the community of free blacks who lived in Mercersburg in the early 19th century, the efforts to rescue fugitive slaves, the black men who fought for the Union Cause in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and local men who fought in the two world wars of the 20th century. It also provides many anecdotes on life in general and pieces on some of the more interesting people who lived in or passed through the area over the centuries.

The book is richly laced with photos, old and new, maps, a glossary and index.

Writers were recruited word of mouth, Stenger said. "We're a small community and we communicate very well," she said.

"A lot of local people know a lot about local history," Heefner said. "We've learned a tremendous amount ourselves by doing the book," Stenger said.

"There were no rules. We just asked people to write," Heefner said. "We had great faith in our writers and they all wrote very well. They covered a vast array of subjects."

Only one of the contributors lived outside the area.

"Not only does the book cover the factual history of the community it also covers the social history, things like what it was like to live here in a certain time or what it was like to go to a one-room school," Stenger said.

While adults will learn much about their community, the editors stayed focused on book's main intended readers. They sought advice from fourth-grade teachers.

Pennsylvania mandates that all fourth-graders take a year of classes in state history.

"The book will be a good resource and should complement what the teachers are already doing," McCulloh said.

The book was nearly two years in the making. It has almost been a full-time job since May 1999 when the stories started to come in. Heefner scanned them, made copies and the three sat down at her house on Fridays to edit them.

"The three of us got along very well," McCulloh said. "We're still friends."

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