Making history: Former church transforming into historical society hub

Jermyn Historical Society President Bruce Smallacombe stands next to an old church undergoing construction, which will soon become the society’s new home.

History is getting a makeover in Jermyn.

The Jermyn Historical Society has received grants from the state — including one for $50,000 — and private donations to renovate an old church.

The building at 710 Madison Ave. used to be a Welsh Congregational Church in the 1800s. It was later turned into a house, then made into apartments.

The historical society bought the new building for $20,000 when the previous owners weren’t able to keep up with certain building codes. Renovations on the building have been ongoing in the two years since then, and will likely take another year to complete, historical society officials said.

Right now, the historical society is using the First United Methodist Church’s parsonage as their base of operations. There are multiple problems with this arrangement, according to Jermyn Historical Society President Bruce Smallacombe. The main one? There just isn’t enough room to display everything. In addition, if the church had a new minister appointed to them, the historical society would likely have to leave in order to allow that minister to use it, he added.

In the new building, there will be much more room to display everything the historical society has collected. Smallacombe says that there are multiple albums full of old pictures the historical society currently doesn’t have the room to display. There are glass cases full of memorabilia from Jermyn High School, mining and old borough businesses.

Cases also display items from the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq and Afghanistan wars. There is another display that features the histories of multiple Jermyn organizations. Historical Society member JoAnne Wilson says that the people who started these organizations should be remembered for bringing something good to Jermyn.

Smallacombe is spearheading the renovations on the building himself. He has cleaned out the building and helped to haul things away. He has also done much of the landscaping, including planting grass and trees and constructing a concrete driveway. He has worked on the ceilings inside and is starting on the floors.

“A lot of work has gone into it, but we still have a lot to do,” he said.

Electrical, plumbing, heating and insulation still need to be completed, along with the roof and rain gutters. Much work still needs to be done inside, such as putting up and taking down walls and installing windows. The floors have to be sanded and finished as well. Smallacombe says that he will have to hire contractors for the electrical and plumbing work.

The old church may not look like much now, but Smallacombe has everything planned out. He knows what will be in each room, and what it will look like. The historical society has quite a lot of memorabilia, and Smallacombe has ideas for all of it.

Historical society members hope for their new home to become a library and research center, as well as a museum.

“One of the goals is to use it as an educational center so young people can learn about their roots and the environment around them,” Wilson said.

Members of the historical society have plans to set up computers so people can research their genealogy and family history. The society will have to rely on grants and donations to make that a reality. They also plan to have guest speakers come in to talk about certain aspects of Jermyn’s history.

While the Jermyn Historical Society is an organization that focuses on the past, now they are also looking to the future. With a space that is fully their own, they can display all the aspects of their town’s history. Wilson says that the new building will not only bring in more people, it will also get younger residents interested.

“It will be a place where people can go and just sit and learn about what makes Jermyn so great,” she said.

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