Oxford Area Historical Association seeks home for collection
● By Steven Hoffman
For the last 15 years, the Oxford Area Historical Association (OAHA) has been collecting materials—books, newspaper clippings, personal records, maps, audio recordings, and a variety of other artifacts that are important to the history of the Oxford area. Now, the organization is looking for a home for the collection so that it can be used as a resource for the community.
“Our long-term goal is to have a place where we could have displays and where people can do research,” explained Gail Roberts, a member of the Oxford Area Historical Association.
Each Monday morning, Roberts and a small group of people meet in the old East Nottingham Township building to sort through and catalog items in the collection, assigning each one with a unique number so that it can be entered into a database. This collection includes everything from china from the local VFW to a framed picture of a Citizens Band in 1906 to a doctor’s black bag that was used by Dr. David Rothman when he was making house calls in the area in the 1940s.
Vernon Ringler, the president of OAHA, is one of the people involved in the effort to preserve and protect items that illustrate the history of the area, and he believes that the community would utilize the collection as a resource.
“A lot of people are interested in the history of the town,” Ringler explained.
The origins of the Oxford Area Historical Association can be traced back to 2000, when the organization was formed to preserve and promote the historical importance of the Oxford area. Dr. Faye Doyle was instrumental in the formation of OAHA.
“A lot of this collection started with Faye Doyle,” explained Andy Nevrincean, an OAHA member who has been helping out for the last five years.
OAHA officials say that it’s important for there to be a safe, centralized place for items to be donated. Ringler illustrated this point by explaining that OAHA recently received a West Nottingham Township ledger book from 1856 that contains interesting information about what life was like in the township during that time period.
“This ledger came to us out of nowhere,” Ringler explained. “Someone was trying to settle an estate and wanted a place for it.”
Two years ago, OAHA created the Archives Committee to acquire and process documents and objects for the ever-expanding collection. So far, about 1,500 pieces have been processed. Roberts explained that the Archives Committee is working to enter each piece of the collection into a database so that the items can be easily located by a number that it is assigned.
OAHA members like Bill Sumner have a hard time deciding which items in the collection are their favorites.
“I like it all,” Sumner explained. “I probably like some of the old newspaper articles best. I find them interesting.”
Those newspaper articles range from stories about the opening of new businesses to day-to-day news in the area to special events that have taken place in Oxford.
Ken Woodward, the vice president of OAHA, said that the organization benefits from having the involvement of people like Sumner, who is a lifelong resident of the Oxford area, and who can add insights into the history of the town because he has been an interested observer.
“Bill is one of our important resources,” Woodward explained.
The Archives Committee currently does its work in the old East Nottingham Township Building, thanks to the generosity of the township. However, the space is small and doesn’t offer room for the collection to be displayed. Some of the most valued items in the collection are stored in boxes because there is simply no room for them to be put on display.
“We could get all kinds of donations of items,” Woodward explained, “but right now we have no place to put them.”
The historical association already has access to some of the collections of local historians like Frank Peters and John Ewing, as well as the research material that John Bradley and Iris Dowling compiled while they worked on books pertaining to various aspects of local history.
Peters’ extensive collection included notable newspaper articles that he copied by hand. Ewing’s collection included many boxes of materials and scrapbooks. The Archives Committee is working to reorganize the scrapbooks by subject to make it easier for someone to find information about a particular topic.
Certainly in some instances, the OAHA is all that stands in the way of a piece of important local history being lost forever.
The OAHA has a large collection of pictures from the area, including the archives of Fran Jackson, an amateur photographer who spent many years documenting life in Oxford.
“People are always interested in the old photographs of Oxford,” Ringler explained.
The Archives Committee had some old videotapes, like one recording of a WGAL TV show exclusively about Oxford. They are working to have the tapes converted into DVDs.
Ringler said that they were helped out in the effort to archive some of the historical materials by Peter Young, a relative newcomer to the Oxford area who served as the chief of the Asian Division of the Library of Congress and was also the director of the National Agricultural Library. Young is Ringler’s neighbor, and when he learned about OAHA’s efforts, he was eager to provide some insights and knowledge about how to catalog materials.
“We are forever grateful to him for his help,” Ringler said.
The work of the Archives Committee augments OAHA’s other activities. The organization presents monthly programs on a variety of historical topics that are usually related in some way to local history. Programs on Sunset Park, the history of the local fire company, and the story of the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II all attracted large crowds during the last few years. These programs are growing in popularity.
OAHA has partnered with the Oxford Educational Foundation and the Oxford Area School District to provide re-enactor programs in the schools. The school district has agreed to place some of its archives on loan to OAHA.
A safe, climate-controlled home for OAHA’s collection would no doubt serve to make the community more aware of the organization’s efforts.
OAHA members have been quietly looking for a home for the collection, but now they are reaching out to the community for help in finding a suitable space for some of Oxford’s historic treasures.
Ringler said that they need a minimum of approximately 900 square feet of space for the collection. Ideally, the new home for the collection would be in a climate-controlled building. OAHA could share space in a church, a business, or a local home of historic importance, but those are only a few possibilities. OAHA officials would really like the space to be in a centralized location, and they would like it to be easily accessible to the public.
Anyone who knows of an available space, or who knows of used office furnishings that are for sale or could be donated, should contact Gail Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org (please note there is no “e” in the email address). Financial donations would also be gratefully accepted. The Oxford Area Historical Association’s address is P.O. Box 355, Oxford, PA 19363.
Nevrincean explained the importance of preserving the materials in the collection, and making it available to the public.
“This is material that shouldn’t be forgotten,” he explained. “It’s the fabric of the town.”