Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society displays evidence long-ago act of goodwill
It's the kind of altruism Rick Meason takes pride in proclaiming to be typical for the people of Mt. Pleasant, he said.
Meason, outgoing president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society, recently voiced such a perspective while recounting efforts by 19th century residents of the borough to pull together on behalf of one of its own — the late Ephriam Dice — in the local resident's late-in-life, time of need, he said.
“The story of Ephriam Dice's donated house exemplifies the spirit of giving and brotherhood that Mt. Pleasant has become known for by many people who have called this place home over the years,” Meason said.
Dice was once a successful furniture maker who became one of the town's wealthiest citizens during the mid-1800s, he said.
Eventually, Dice experienced, largely through his life's mere longevity, a downturn in fortune, which left him with very little during his final days.
Such miserly status compelled some of Mt. Pleasant's forefathers to wage forth with an initiative to provide their peer and friend a place to call home in the borough during his declining years.
The framed, original document signed in commitment to that task by all those who took part was bequeathed to the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society by an anonymous donor.
Arrangements are now being made to display the item in the Mt. Pleasant Room at 535 W. Main St. in the borough for the public to view and enjoy.
Wagon maker inherits family business
Born in Franklin County on June 15, 1814, Dice moved to Mt. Pleasant in the early 1820s with his parents, William and Susan Dice, Meason said.
A wagon maker by trade, William Dice established his along Main Street in the borough in the vicinity of where the local First Niagara Bank branch is located today, he said.
“Ephriam learned the trade from his father and continued in the family business after his father's death in 1850,” Meason said.
During this time, Dice honed his skills in furniture crafting, and added a chairmaking plant to the back of his shop, he said.
“His business was successful, and he became one of the richest citizens in Mt. Pleasant during the middle 1800s,” Meason said.
‘The Colonel' owns large tract of land
Dice owned a large portion of land later known as “Dice's Extension,” comprised the area that started at the intersection of Diamond and Washington streets, continued roughly to the current intersection of Washington and Hitchman streets, and covered several blocks to the south of the borough, as well, he said.
“Dice was known as ‘The Colonel,' although it is unclear whether or not the title was honorary or if he actually served in the military,” Meason said.
His son Samuel, however, was a veteran of the Civil War, having risen to the rank of corporal in Company B of the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, he said.
Samuel Dice, one of four children born to Ephriam and Margaret Martin Dice, served from Aug. 26, 1862, until he was mustered out with his company on May 29, 1865, Meason said.
Tragedy strikes family patriarch
Margaret Dice died in 1870, leaving Ephriam Dice at the age of 54, he said.
To make matters worse for the widower, a severe economic panic swept the country in 1873, Meason said.
“Dice was forced into bankruptcy and eventually became penniless,” he said.
Despite his destitution, Dice remained a well-liked and respected member of the community, Meason said.
By the late 1800s, his advanced age had forced him to become frail in body and mind, he said.
“It is believed that he may have been living with one of his children in the 1890s, but he unfortunately outlived all of them,” Meason said.
Well-known friends gather in support
By 1898, Dice had no living direct family members, he said. That is when an old friend named Jacob Armel Boltz, who served as mayor of Mt. Pleasant in 1885, came to the aid of “the Colonel,” Meason said.
“Boltz started a campaign to build Dice a new home where he could live out the rest of his twilight years,” he said.
He started collecting donations from the townspeople, and the response was overwhelming, Meason said.
By March of 1899, Boltz had collected enough money to build his old friend a house, he said.
He made arrangements with the borough to allow for the building of the house on public grounds next to the old City Hall at the corner of Smithfield Street and Mullin Avenue, Meason said.
Many borough citizens contributed to the cause, donating anywhere from 50 cents to four dollars, which in today's money would equal between $15 and $112, he said.
In the event of Dice's death, it was stipulated that the house would be sold and the proceeds would go towards covering his funeral and burial expenses.
“Ephriam lived in the house until he died on July 19, 1906, at the age of 92,” Meason said.
No trace of the house exists today.
Donation enables public display
The original document used by Boltz to collect money for the cause, containing many signatures of Mt. Pleasant's most prominent and historical figures, was donated to the society several years ago, Meason said.
“It unfortunately was set aside and forgotten about until it was rediscovered in October 2015 when the group was cataloguing a box of artifacts,” he said.
At that point, the historical significance of the document was realized most pointedly by two society members, James Lozier and Cynthia Stevenson, who sought to preserve it for the future.
“The significance of the document is one factor, but yet we are also pleased to have the signatures of the many prominent persons from that period of time,” Lozier said. “It's an element of pride, and it shows just another example of how persons in Mt. Pleasant have come forward when they must deal with a problem of some sort.”
Lozier and Stevenson donated the necessary funds to have the document sealed in acid-free sleeves and framed, so that future generations of borough citizens can learn about the generous deeds of some of those who came before them.
“I thought it was not only a very interesting story of neighbors caring for neighbors, but also the document itself contains signatures of many people who played very prominent roles in helping to establish our town and make it what it is today,” Stevenson said.