One of Bellefonte’s claims to fame is that it’s the birthplace of seven governors–five who served Pennsylvania, one California, the other Kansas.
But until recently, their handwritten letters, inaugural addresses and speech transcripts, among other documents, have been sitting in a box.
“When we started coming across letters by Andrew Gregg Curtin, who was governor during the Civil War, and James A. Beaver, who Beaver Stadium is named after, we got excited and were like let’s do a collection focused on the governors," said Bellefonte Area High School history teacher Matthew Maris.
He digitized 22 documents, dubbed the “Bellefonte Governors' Papers,” through a project at the Centre County Library and Historical Museum.
The project was part of Maris’s online Master’s Degree in public history at Arizona State University.
Sitting at a computer, Maris scrolled through the documents on powerlibrary.org. They range from 1848 to 1895, and include topics both political and personal. One 1895 letter from Daniel Hastings responds to a wedding invitation.
“My dear Miss Emily Elliott Harris," Maris read. "I’ve just received the invitation to your wedding. I want to go very much. I’m not sure I can get away, but will if possible. I congratulate you with all my heart, but feel sorry I will never have the pleasure of another horseback ride down to Morris Farm."
Some of the handwritten letters are a bit hard to read, considering the cursive and smeared ink.
James Beaver is another familiar name in the documents. While most know of Beaver Stadium, many don’t know that Beaver’s history nearly led him to the presidency.
“They don’t know what he’s well known for: for commanding the 148th during the Civil War, getting injured seriously four times and losing his leg somewhere in Virginia," Maris said. "He was promoted by Lincoln’s staff at that point to be a generale was super popular. During the presidency run for Garfield, they wanted him to be his running mate. He turned it down. Garfield got assassinated, so he could’ve been president.”
Maris says digitizing these documents lets history live on and creates a resource for researchers.
“These are outstanding people. They contributed a lot to Centre County, some of these guys were involved in the formation of Penn State–the Farmer’s High School–so that’s really cool," Maris said. "I hope it makes research for individuals easier and they can pass on this history that was just sitting in a box.”
In addition to the Bellefonte Governors' Papers, other documents are in the digitization process, too. The Centre County Library and Historical Museum is looking for volunteers to continue digitization efforts for other historically significant artifacts.