Look around at the waterways and woodlands, look at the stately homes and the friendly communities, look at the historic properties and landmarks, look at the local quality of life and the richness of our natural inheritance, and you have to say that Pike County is in pretty good shape at 200. No extreme makeover required.
The years have been such eventful ones. We have not had to inflate claims to history, or create legends when we cannot find facts. Our two hundred years of history as an established county are interesting, informative, and illustrative. We have stories and attractions aplenty, beginning with the name.
Zebulon Pike remains the real deal. He has proved durable in his reputation and deeds, not having been done in by any historical revisionism. Time has not diminished him. Pike compressed a lot of action-packed living into a too short life, and died on the battlefield at the head of his troops.
When it comes time to laud the volunteers who are indispensable to community strength and quality of life, we think of the individuals at the firehouse and the rescue squad, the foodbank and the soup kitchen, the library and the literacy center, the hospital and the nursing home. But all those who work to save and to illuminate history deserve our appreciation and gratitude in equal measure.
We have all cringed on hearing the age-old complaint – history is soooooo boring, just a bunch of names and dates no one really needs to remember. Those surveys that show how much history young people have not learned make us sad every time. Tonight is the uplifting antidote. The folks who have been dedicated caretakers of our physical and natural legacy, the folks who devoted immense time to putting together the celebrations that mark this milestone in time, the folks who contribute time, talent, money, artifacts, property, and interpretive skills, you here tonight know and understand and appreciate the extent and the concentration of history in Pike County.
How we remember, how we honor the past, are measures of the character of a county and its communities.
Some are surprised to find Pike County’s two centuries filled with inventors, builders, engineers, explorers, warriors, writers.
Pennsylvania has plenty of places where there were battles, skirmishes, and massacres involving Indians. But it is hard for most to picture someplace as far east as Pike County having once been the frontier. The battle of Minisink is hard evidence of the cost of defending homes and farms and villages from Indian attacks.
Minisink is not the lone site where monuments have been erected to mark duty, courage, and sacrifice. People from Pike County were fighting for freedom before our nation was founded. They have been present for duty in every conflict since.
Pike County enjoys engineering and industrial distinction. The Delaware & Hudson Canal was a prodigious feat for its day, and was in operation for a remarkably long time. It was reputedly the first million dollar private investment project in America. The iron wire suspension bridges were beyond cutting edge. It can be said they were John Roebling’s practice rounds for the Brooklyn Bridge.
Pike County enjoys architectural distinction, just look at Grey Towers and Arisbe to name a few.
Pike County enjoys literary distinction. There is Zane Grey. This is not the sort of place most people would expect one of the most popular writers of western fiction to come from. James Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales from up New York way? Sure, that seems to fit. Grey did take an uncommon author’s journey, moving from fishing stories to tales of peril on the prairie and high plains.
Pike County enjoys political distinction. A welter of books about Teddy Roosevelt and his era are shining the spotlight on two-time governor Gifford Pinchot. TR is widely quoted for his man in the arena and other exhortations to action. But he had a quote that cannot ever be forgotten in these parts: “Gifford Pinchot is the man to whom the nation owes most for what has been accomplished as regards the preservation of the natural resources of our country.” Pretty high praise, particularly from someone who more often than not grew disenchanted with his peers for failing to show the fighting spirit of the Bull Moose.
Pike County enjoys academic distinction. Charles Peirce was sort of a one-man curriculum. It would be challenging for many of us to master math, physical science, economics, psychology, logic, and philosophy over the course of a college career. Peirce was an expert who churned out volumes on these subjects and more. It is hard to find many examples of scholars who made their mark in both the hard and soft sciences, as he did.
In an area that prides itself for old-fashioned values and virtues, it is fitting that one of the pioneers of the boy scouts set up camp here. The effort to relocate and restore Dan Beard’s cabin is emblematic of the preservation spirit prominent in this county.
We never know when Hollywood will make us appreciate what we have locally. The movie Lincoln with its solemn death scene reminds of the historical significance of the flag over in the Columns Museum.
Part of the respect we show for the past comes in tending to the final resting places of the famous, the infamous, the near greats, the community stalwarts, and even those without identity, such as unknown soldiers. Over in Shohola in a family plot we have Smoky Joe Wood, who enjoyed one of the greatest seasons any pitcher had. Which coincided with the opening of Fenway Park, and resulted in a world championship over John McGraw, Christy Mathewson from Factoryville, and the rest of the vaunted New York Giants.
That is what good history does. It takes us down paths of inquiry and discovery. Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery Alabama, replied to critics of her work with a question: “If you don’t remember history accurately, how can you learn?” With the way history is preserved and presented in Pike County, we can proudly say it qualifies as continuing education for our lifetimes.
All this history, but we are not frozen in time. We are all still making history and writing it. We are not done finding out about the past. We are not done conserving the past. We are certainly never going to forget the founders, the community leaders, the veterans, and others whom we honor.
Historical preservation can be time-consuming, painstaking, frustrating work, and that is before you even get to the fundraising side of things. But the plus side more than compensates. History tells us who we are, why we settle where we do, and what mattered to the folks who founded, built, defended, and sustained this county.
As the years are tacked onto the original 200, we will find much more to celebrate, to admire, to honor, to preserve, and most of all, to inquire about. For us, the trail of history has no detours, no deadends, and no road-closed jams. We are as free to explore history and make history as Zebulon Pike.