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Sewickley Valley Historical Society celebrates 40 years

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

As the Sewickley Valley Historical Society prepares to commemorate its 40th anniversary with a celebration at the Old Sewickley Post Office Wednesday, Betty B.G. Shields took a look back on how it all began.

“The immediate impetus came when an important local collection went up to Pittsburgh because the Sewickley library simply did not have room for it,” said Shields, editor emeritus of the Sewickley Herald and one of the founders of the organization.

Shields, who now lives in State College, said the collection belonged to Alexander Hays, who was western Pennsylvania's Civil War general. He was killed in the war, but his widow lived in Sewickley.

The Hays collection was sent to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which now is the Senator John Heinz History Center.

“One might say that the beginning of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society in 1973 was an idea whose time had come. The first meeting was held in the library and met with enthusiasm by local history buffs,” Shields said.

She called the first meeting on George Washington's birthday, Feb. 22, 1973, when 11 new members met at Sewickley Public Library to organize the society and collect, preserve, document and record all materials available pertaining to local history.

Bylaws were adopted the next year. The society was incorporated in 1978 and has been housed in the Old Sewickley Post Office, 200 Broad St. since its conversion to a cultural center in 1988.

Shields said the area's bicentennial celebration was one of the society's first projects.

“SVSH sponsored many events, including an exhibition of old photos in its Bicentennial Gallery. The collection of photos became the beginning of the major collection of local history that is housed in the SVHS collection today.”

Presidents of the society have been: Shields, Gloria Berry, George Berry III, Susan Cockrell, Connor Cogswell, John Kroeck, Eliza Nevin, the late Pat Pearson, Harton Semple Jr., Joseph Smith, the late Frederick Way Jr. and Joe Zemba.

Today the society answers hundreds of questions about local history from individuals all over the United States, said Susan Holton, society associate director.

A computer database of a growing archival collection is continually cataloged and maintained. The society's periodical newsletter, “Signals,” has been published since 1979, and issues from the past several years are available on the society's website,

Free lecture series on local, regional and national history are offered, and the society also has sponsored seminars on genealogy, the renovation of old houses, railroad history and historic preservation.

The society also was instrumental in the preservation of historical objects, such as finials from the 1911 Sewickley Bridge and railings from the old yellow brick Sewickley Elementary School.

The organization has contributed to the restoration of the Old Sewickley Post Office, construction of the new Fame sculpture at the Civil War monument and the memorial to the Tuskegee Airmen being built in Sewickley Cemetery.

Annual membership is $20 for an individual and $30 for a family and includes copies of the society's newsletter and invitations to special events.

The celebration event is open to the public and will feature a wine and hors d'oeuvres reception, honoring past presidents.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406

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