CLEARFIELD – When Richard Hughes of Clearfield first started to write “A Twentieth Century History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania,” he figured it would take a year.
Time passed, and as Hughes compiled more and more information, he found himself seven years later with more than 1,300 pages full of information on everything from government to controversial topics.
Hughes grew up in Clearfield, attending St. Francis School and later graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with an engineering degree. His life’s work has focused on buildings, but his passion has always been the past.
With his electives at PSU concentrated in history, Hughes said finishing his family genealogy in 1996 led him to create the first Clearfield County history in nearly a century.
“No matter what, I still had an interest in history all along.”
One day, he went to visit the Clearfield County Historical Society’s museum on East Pine Street in Clearfield. There, he heard some people talking about the fact that a comprehensive history of the county had not been done since 1911.
In total, four histories and one atlas have been made about Clearfield County.
Hughes said he saw an outlet for his passion.
“I didn’t see anybody taking on this challenge,” he said. “It was my hobby anyway.”
It was a retired teacher, Sara Stephenson, who also prodded Hughes to write the book, and Stephenson, who has since passed on, wrote the foreword for the book
Hughes admits that there were probably better writers or better historians to do the job, but he thought he might have an interesting take on how to do it.
What he came up with is a rather thick reference manual containing more than 1,000 photographs and maps and detailing information from every municipality in the county.
“If your family has roots in this county, you’re going to see your name show up,” Hughes said.
No stone was left unturned with every single road in the county being traveled during the course of Hughes’ research.
“It’s a daunting task,” Hughes said, noting that people who were there when events unfolded would actually have the chance to read the book.
Every topic is covered, Hughes said, from the happy things such as Clearfield’s bicentennial celebration to the hey-day of the coal industry to the not-so-pleasant including a listing of all murders in Clearfield County from 1900 to 2000 and an account of the only police officer ever killed in the line of duty in Clearfield County – Lyle Domico Sr.
“We ushered in the 20th century with the horse, and we left it with automobiles,” Hughes said, noting that the book includes write-ups on the first person in the county to own a car, an airplane, etc.
One area that earned more than a few pages was the county’s history in coal.
“This whole county’s reason for existence … was coal,” Hughes said.
In 1920, the county boasted a population of 120,000. Eighty years later, that number dropped to 79,000, according to Hughes’ book. That, he said, shows our dependence on the natural resource for business in the area.
The book showcases the big and small companies that were prominent in the county in all industries, including old receipts from many of them.
“My wife was clearing out some things in the courthouse when she happened upon a lot of this stuff,” Hughes said.
Perhaps one of the more interesting ways Hughes did his research was to talk to the people who were actually there.
“I spoke with well over 100 people who are over the age of 90,” he said.
On a trip to Smoke Run, he talked to a 75-year-old woman who offered to let Hughes speak with her 102-year-old mother and two aunts. The women spoke of a Ku Klux Klan event that happened in 1927, and the women were able to speak about who was behind the trademark KKK white hoods.
And, it is stories like those that make Hughes’ book come alive. Hughes calls the book a reference manual, one people aren’t likely to pick up and read. But, perhaps with stories such as this and of former beer halls and union strikes, what would be a weighty way to spend a few hours is actually an enjoyable trip into our ancestors’ past.
Chapters are also included on Clearfield County’s garment industry and other merchants, farming and timber industry.
There is even a special section on the county’s photographers that could help when doing family histories.
“A lot of this is in here for genealogy research,” Hughes said. “If you have an old picture, you can see who the photographer was and use the book to get an idea of when it was taken.”
Hughes spent some time researching the history of news in the county and included that in the book as well. Years ago, there were newspapers in nearly every community including the Osceola Leader, The Midget, the Mountaineer, the Clearfield Times, the Houtzdale Citizen and the Curwensville Review. Hughes also looked at the history of radio in the county.
An area that also earned a spot was education.
“Fifty years ago, there were 30 school districts in the county,” Hughes said. He follows that history from one-room schoolhouses to the Philipsburg-Osceola merge to the Morris-Cooper merge to form West Branch.
In all of the hundreds of pages in Hughes’ book, he said the most fascinating for him was the rock formations in Pine Township. Photographs of the formations are included in the book, and although the exact history of them is unknown, they may have been left by Native Americans or could have been part of the Underground Railroad that helped to many slaves travel to freedom.
Although story behind the rocks is not known for certain, Hughes dedicated a part of the book to outlining where old Native American burial sites are within the county as well as speaking about the first white man buried in the county (blacks were often not chronicled in that time period). Tobias Auxe was buried near Frenchville, but the stone was lost for a long time.
Hughes also included a few lists in his books including all of those who died in service to their country while calling Clearfield County home.
“Clearfield County was a big contributor,” Hughes said, noting that after the Revolutionary War, men were given land grants for physical and monetary contributions to the war effort. There is a list of who those men were in the book.
“Since that time, Clearfield County has physically contributed to all war efforts,” he said. Three Medal of Honor winners also came from Clearfield County.
Readers will also find features on the last surviving Civil War veteran in Clearfield County and that of the captain of the USS Arizona, a Curwensville native, who was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Another of Hughes’ favorite parts of the book is the 120 or so “movers and shakers” of Clearfield County.
All of those listed lived during the 20th century, and many are still alive today.
“Many of the people on the list might not even know they’re in here,” Hughes said.
“They come from all walks of life, from near poverty to multi-millionaires,” he said. And, there are at least 20 women on the list.
Features include one on a nun who began a hospital in DuBois, a Westover farmer who was ahead of his time, a doctor who specialized in cleft palates, as well as industrial and political leaders.
“These people are from all over,” he said. “Whether you like them or hate them, they were the movers and shakers in their era.”
Also included is a listing of people who left Clearfield County and became famous such as Gene Kelly, whose mother was from Houtzdale, and Tom Mix, an early star of Western movies. Earl Caldwell, a former Clearfield County reporter, is featured because of his writing career and his notoriety of being only reporter present when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed.
Important visitors to the county are included, such as Helen Keller, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, whose brother worked in the now-deserted town of Peale.
Entertainment also encompasses a portion of the book, and Hughes took a look at big bands, parks and movie theaters.
Hughes also looked at the history of sports in Clearfield County, including when the first lights came to football fields, All-Americans and Clearfield County’s 1986 national wrestling champion, Scott Collins.
Other areas include information on natural disasters and the county’s outdoor heritage.
Another of Hughes’ favorite areas in the book is the portion entitled “Going, Going, Gone.”
It features items that were common in the 1900s that are no longer present in the county such as oxen, wolves, ice houses, rafts, a brewery, hangings, livery stables, shad and eel in the river and coke ovens.
Something Hughes also thought was important to include were maps of each and every part of the county.
“Perhaps that’s what makes this unique,” he said. “And my engineering background helped in getting that type of thing in the book.”
He also purchased the rights to tax maps from 1999, which he included in the book and feature property owners of county land parcels.
Hughes said the book will be brought to Clearfield on Dec. 22, just in time for Christmas gift-giving.
The book is $80, plus shipping if requested. Hughes said only 1,000 copies of the book will be printed.
In total, Hughes said he spent $140,000 to research and create the book, but he didn’t set out upon the task of creating an account of the county’s history to make money.
“Maybe in 10 or 15 years, I’ll do anther printing,” he said, “but I want to get some feedback first.”
He has not said yet, but one is left to wonder: When is “A Twentieth Century History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, THE GAME” set to arrive in town?
Whenever that happens, one thing is for sure, no one will want to go up against Hughes in a tournament.
Just ask him what the largest fire was to ever hit Clearfield County …
If you are interesting in ordering the book, print out and mail the coupon below.