Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Montoursville 2018: Otstonwakin, Madame Montour and modern times

A little bit of history and background before I return to my walk around town...

Montoursville was incorporated as a borough in 1850 and was named after diplomat and interpreter Madame Montour, whose 1700s village of Otstonwakin, along Loyalsock Creek, was a strategic location in the early history and settlement of Lycoming County. The borough sits on the east bank of the creek, a few miles east of Williamsport and not far from the original site of Madame Montour's Otstonwakin. Thus it is considered the successor of that historic village.

(There are some references to Montoursville being named after Andrew Montour, who was Madame Montour's son and a key figure in his own right. But the majority of what I came across states that it is properly named after Madame Montour. She's a fascinating and important figure in Pennsylvania history, and there are still more questions than answers about crucial parts of her life and background. To learn more about her, check out Madame Montour & the Fur Trade (1667-1752), written by Simone Vincens and translated by Ruth Bernstein. See also the bibliography on her Wikipedia page.)

When Montoursville marked the 125th anniversary of its incorporation in 1975 the Otstonwakin heritage was woven deeply into the festivities. Shown at the top of this post is the sepia-toned publication titled The Otstonwakin, a six-page newsletter that provided some borough history and details of the celebration, which was held September 19-21, 1975.

I was 4¾ years old at the time, and Dad served as one of the 125th anniversary organizers. The front page of the newsletter states:
"Mayor [Anthony J. Phil] Rotondi is serving as celebration chairman. Co-chairman is Councilman James Waldman. Committee chairmen are Barbara Nau, Eleanor Burger, Arthur Rehn, Miles Long, J. Henry Goehrig, Betty Farley, Edith Carr, Leon Williams, Joseph Karpinski, James Hofer, Donald Boyles, Dora Pioli, Gene Kiessling, John Mahady, John Otto, Theodore McLaughlin, Lessie Moss, Grover McKee and Dorsey Gilbert."
The festivities on those three days in late September, 43 years ago, included:

  • An "old-fashioned sidewalk sale"
  • A square dance1
  • The roasting of a 600-pound ox
  • A "several hours" parade featuring the borough's two oldest native citizens — 94-year-old Don Strebeigh and 89-year-old Marian Lehman.2
  • A concert by Sammy Ray's "Just for Fun Band"3
  • $1 sandwiches
  • Commemorative quasquicentennial4 plates for $3 and mugs for $2
  • Lincoln-Kennedy pennies for a nickel5
  • A softball game with women serving as the umpires
  • Train rides for the youngsters

The Otstonwakin newsletter is also full of interesting historical tidbits about Montoursville. It's kind of a double history lesson now, because it discusses the borough's past and also describes how things were 43 years ago, during Gerald Ford's presidency. Here are some excerpts:

  • "The automobile dominates as the primary mode of transportation for borough residents as 83.8 per cent of workers from Montoursville travel to work by car. Three per cent use buses while 9.3 per cent walk."
  • "Montoursville has had a number of newspapers over the years — none has survived." Those vanished periodicals, as of 1975, include The Pastoral Visitor, The Echo, The Globe, the Montoursville News, the Montoursville Monitor and the Montoursville Merchandiser.
  • "Montoursville Borough opened its official office for business purposes in November, 1956, at 345 Broad Street. It occupied one room in the Cooper Building which was razed and is now the site of the Rosencrans Bakery."
  • "Some of the major industrial land uses are on tracts of land owned or leased by GTE Sylvania Inc.; Conchemco Inc.; Schnadig Corp.; Marathon Carey-McFall Co. and Allegheny Fabrics Corp."

There are also facts about the school system, library and swimming pool. I'll plug those into some of the upcoming posts in this series.

Final note: Perhaps the best place to turn for a past-to-present overview of the borough is Don King's "History of Montoursville," which is available as a PDF on the school district's website.

1. Full disclosure: I had a square dance class and evening assembly when I attended C.E. McCall Middle School in the early 1980s.
2. Donald Strebeigh (November 5, 1881, to December 19, 1975) died three months after the celebration.
3. Led Zeppelin was on a concert hiatus that lasted from May 1975 to April 1977 and was thus unavailable.
4. Fun fact: "quasquicentennial" is the correct word for the marking of a 125th anniversary. The Oststonwakin newsletter uses the term "Quatra-Centennial."
5. I am totally going to track one of those down. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I've fallen down the Madame Montour Google Rabbit Hole already :)