Elks Lodge to share vault of Civil War, Indian artifacts at Armstrong festival

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 11:34 a.m.

KITTANNING — Members of the Kittanning Elks Lodge hope to showcase local history on Saturday, with its inaugural Armstrong County Heritage Display.

The club plans to display several items, ranging from large photo murals and Elks paraphernalia, to Civil War rifles and weaponry from the Kithanink Indian tribe, during the Fort Armstrong Folk Festival being held through Sunday night in Riverfront Park outside the Elks.

The display marks the first time the public has been able to see several of the pieces, according to Tyler Woodside, a member of the club's historical committee.

“We're actually trying to function like an actual running museum, where members and nonmembers can loan or donate things for the general public to come in and enjoy,” Woodside said. “We're just getting started.”

Josh Julius, also a member of the club's historical committee, said the panel formed about three months ago, after several members realized the artifacts and photomurals were sitting in the club's vault. Nobody had taken care of the items in several years, he said.

“Something needed to be done here to preserve all the items we have,” Julius said. “We're not just preserving military history, but we're also preserving the history of our entire community.”

The late William Jessop, a doctor in the region during the late 1800s and club founder, donated the collection to the Kittanning Elks Club, Woodside said. During the 1970s, a portion of the collection was stolen from the club, he said.

“We had a theft in the 1970s, and part of the collection was stolen,” Woodside said. “So our members put the rest of it in our vault, and forgot about it.

“It's all been sitting there ever since.”

The remaining pieces include nine rifles, 13 swords and several smaller items, which date back to the Civil War.

The club plans to feature several gold-tone murals, which not only photographically chronicle Kittanning's history but play a role in the Kittanning Elks Club's past.

The murals, created in 1948 by F. Ross Altwater of Altwater and Brothers in Pittsburgh, once adorned the lodge's walls, before the building caught fire in 1971, Woodside said. The murals weren't damaged in the fire but were taken down and stored in the club's vault.

“It's been about 40 years since these photomurals have even been seen by the public,” Woodside said.

Woodside said three large panels, 10 to 20 feet long, feature photos of the region in the 1940s, including the Armstrong County Courthouse, images of the area during the Civil War, and the Allegheny River and the coal industry.

The club has several smaller murals, he said.

The club hopes to collect donations to get the murals treated — to prevent fading — and framed before being permanently displayed, Woodside said.

“We want to let people just enjoy it, and be aware of our history,” Woodside said. “Armstrong County has a rich heritage and history, and we're just trying to preserve part of it.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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