History of the Society
The Lebanon County Historical Society was organized on Friday, January 14, 1898, and held its first official meeting on February 18, at the Lebanon County Courthouse. The Rev. F.J.F. Schantz of Myerstown delivered the opening address. Original officers were: President, Henry C. Grittinger; Vice presidents, Henry S. Heilman and Hiram L. Illig; Secretary, Dr. Samuel P. Heilman; Treasurer, Charles H. Killinger, Esq.; Librarian, Dr. William R. Roedel.
The Society headquarters remained at the courthouse until November, 1908, when a fire partially destroyed the courthouse and many of its records. For the next thirteen years, the Society had its headquarters at the old YMCA Building at Ninth and Willow Street, until December, 1921, when it moved to the basement of the Farmers Trust Company.
The Hauck Memorial Building
In 1934, the Society took possession of its first property at Sixth and Walnut Street, which was generously bequeathed by Mrs. Sarah Embich Hauck. Mrs. Hauck was the widow of Samuel Hauck, Jr., a merchant in Lebanon who was a veteran of the Civil War with Company E, 127th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The Haucks had one child, Rebecca Hauck Wolfe, who had preceded her mother with no heirs. The bequest of the Hauck estate was accepted and ratified by the Society membership on October 17, 1934. On December 14 of that year, the Society held its 37th annual meeting in its own headquarters, subsequently renamed the Hauck Memorial Building.
With the renovations of the Hauck building, the Society was able to start a serious collection of historical artifacts. On November 11 and 12, 1935, the Society held its first public exhibition and accepted many new pieces from the hundreds of visitors from those opening days. The Hauck building served the Society well for nearly forty years.
Union Canal Tunnel
In the early 1930s, an effort began to restore and preserve the old Union Canal tunnel northwest of Lebanon, and the Historical Society was granted permission to spearhead that initiative. On April 3, 1950, the Society completed the purchase of the eight-acre tract of land around the southern terminus of the tunnel, with definite plans to develop it as a historic site.
A New Home on Cumberland Street
In 1972, the Lebanon County Historical Society acquired the property at 924 Cumberland Street and opened the doors of its new facility the following year. Since 1973, the building has housed the offices, museum and gift shop, library, auditorium, and collected holdings of the Society.
The current home of the Lebanon County Historical Society has a long and storied history. The main structure was originally built from local limestone in 1773 as the home and office of Dr. William Henry Stoy, a German-born Lutheran minister and prominent Revolutionary War physician. Later it was the residence of retired Lieutenant Adjutant-General John Weidman, who had served under George Washington at Valley Forge and during many other campaigns. When Lebanon County was formed in 1813, the upstairs of the mansion was used as the county’s first courthouse. Among the attorneys who appeared there were James Buchanan, fifteenth President of the United States, and Lebanon native, John Henry Shulze, sixth Governor of Pennsylvania. In 1912, the property was purchased by the Loyal Order of the Moose, and in 1935, they added the large auditorium, now known as the Reese Memorial Hall.
The Stoy Museum is named in honor of Dr. W. H. Stoy, the original owner. The Reese Memorial Hall is named in honor of Catherine Killinger Reese, whose generous bequest settled the final debt incurred with the restoration of the building. The Hauck Research Archives is named in honor of Sarah Hauck, who bequeathed the first property. The Union Canal Tunnel Park, dedicated in 1988, is now comprised of more than 100 acres of recreational and historic lands, open to the public and maintained by the volunteers of the Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park.
The Lebanon County Historical Society is proud of its past, from its humble beginnings as a meeting of a few civic leaders, through years of cramped office space, to its first property on Walnut Street, to its current home on Cumberland Street. Throught it all, the Society has depended on the participation of members and volunteers for the ongoing support of its mission.