La Bella Fontana

Report from Bellefonte PA, by Helen Fontana Bechdel

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Museum artifact on display in Pittsburgh

The cover of the Sunday Magazine section in the April 24 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette carries an image of a powder horn with an incised design of Fort Pitt.

If the artifact looks familiar to local residents, the caption underneath explains why:

"The horn, to be on display in the 'Clash of Empires' exhibition at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, is owned by the Centre County Library and Historical Museum in Bellefonte."

The powder horn is the museum's oldest item, dating from the French and Indian War, which is the focus of the exhibit at the Heinz Center. From Pittsburgh, the exhibit will travel to Canada and then to the Smithsonian before it makes its way back to the Centre County Historical Museum.

On any given day, Joyce Adgate, who manages the collection at the museum, may be fielding questions from families looking for their ancestors, cataloguing acquisitions, researching queries, filing and clipping andputting up or taking down exhibits. So I felt lucky the other day when she left her desk in the Pennsylvania Room to take me on a private tour of the museum.

One case in the main room holds American Indian artifacts such as arrowheads, drills, pottery and beaded leggings. In the military case is a Civil War cavalry saber and items from the War of 1812 and the French and Indian War. A wedding bouquet from 1838 sits under a glass bell.

The presence of women is a strong influence, from an inlaid sewing chest made in Ireland in 1888 to embroidered samplers and a book, "The Alphabet of Thought," by Anne Harris, daughter of the founder of Bellefonte, printed at a time when women were not supposed to know how to write.

The Linn Room is furnished with pieces from the estate of Mary Hunter Linn, including the gown worn by Mary Wilson to Abraham Lincoln's inaugural ball, which might fit today's fifth-grader. A cupboard spills over with gloves, jewelry and hats, including one very jaunty one from 1880 trimmed with a cascade of iridescent rooster feathers.

The Sieg Room depicts the history of Titan, now Cerro Metal Products, and other Bellefonte industries, such as glass and silk, matches and nails. A piano -- one of the first in town -- an ornately carved table and a magnificent Duncan Phyfe settee lend an air of quiet refinement to the setting.


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