History of the Lycoming County Historical Society and Thomas T. Taber Museum

The Lycoming County Historical Society was founded in 1907 by a group of people who were interested in local history. They originally met at the James V. Brown Library or at the Scottish Rite auditorium to host meetings and to talk about archeology and local history.

Original Society building, opened 1941.

Initially an elitist organization, it began with about 120 members who were elected and could be expelled. It met a few times that first year and then went dormant until 1919 when it reorganized and began meeting quarterly, periodically publishing its papers and proceedings. An all volunteer organization, it held its meetings in the James Brown Library where it first exhibited its collections.

During the 1932-33, the Historical Society moved its collections, "which numbered more than 300 specimens," to a room at Curtin Junior High School where they remained on exhibit until it opened its first museum in 1941 in a historic home on West Fourth Street that formerly belonged to J. Roman Way.

Fire damaged Society building, December 1960.

The museum operated successfully in its first facility for 19 years, until tragedy struck on December 22, 1960. A fire broke out that destroyed the building. The museum lost about 20% of the collection and a portion of its records were destroyed.

During the 1960s, the organization housed objects in various venues, including The Grit and Richardson's building on West Third Street. In 1964, the Board of Governors recruited several prominent community members to form a five member Board of Trustees to raise funds to build the present building. The present two level brick structure, built in 1968, stands in the city's Historic District. By this time, the organization was no longer called the Lycoming Historical Society, having added the word "County" to the title. Beginning in 1969, it began to operate with paid staff, as opposed to only volunteers.

In 1984, the Shempp Model Train collection was housed on the Museum's lower level in the former meeting room, after having been purchased from the Shempps by the Williamsport Lycoming Foundation. (In 2004, the Foundation gave the collection to the Historical Society.) In 1985, the museum expanded to include a two level addition - the present day Community Room and basement work area. In 1986, the Board of Trustees conducted a successful endowment campaign; by March 1987, there was $220,000 invested in an endowment with Northern Central Bank.

In 1999, the Board of Governors conducted a successful capital campaign, raising about $2,000,000. With funds from this campaign, the museum expanded in 2001 to add exhibition, collections storage, and program space including a new fine and decorative arts gallery that opened October 2001. Another goal achieved through this campaign was the hiring of a full time curator of collections, as recommended by the American Association of Museums. It also established another investment fund.

Thomas T. Taber III

During the capital campaign, local historian and philanthropist Thomas T. Taber III, came forward with a significant contribution to support the museum. His presentation to the Society of a check for $1 million provided the opportunity for the Society to greatly expand the museum and its exhibit, event and storage space. The Thomas T. Taber building of the Lycoming County Historical Society was named in his honor “in recognition of his generous contribution to the 1999 Capital Campaign and in grateful appreciation for his long tine support of the Historical Society." The organization, however, is still incorporated as a non-profit 501 (c) 3 under the name of the Lycoming County Historical Society. Read more about Thomas T. Taber.

Additionally, the Historical Society acquired land to the north of its museum as a result of the campaign. It razed the blighted buildings there and landscaped the properties with memorial gardens and additional parking.