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New historical subjects will be marked in the region

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission historical marker on Main Street in Pittston.
Kat Bolus
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission historical marker on Main Street in Pittston.

An American Jazz musician from Pottsville, an illustrator from Williamsport and an explosion in Monroe County that had national implications now have something in common.

They’re the subject of three of the 36 new Pennsylvania Historical Markers approved by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC). The new markers were selected from 91 applications. The cast aluminum blue markers with gold writing chronicle the people, places and events that have impacted the lives of Pennsylvanians over the centuries.

Locally, six new markers total will be added to the around 500 already existing in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania. The subject of the markers must be nominated by an organization or person, like Joe Stolarick.

Stolarick was at a crawfish boil with musicians in New Orleans when Ben Jaffe noticed his Yuengling Brewery shirt.

“He kind of leaned over, gestured at the shirt and said ‘that's where my dad's from’,” said Stolarick.

Like Jaffe’s dad, Allan Jaffe, Stolarick is a Pottsville native who moved to New Orleans. He’s a digital archivist at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.

Allan Jaffe was born in Pottsville in 1935. He took over the New Orleans music venue, Preservation Hall, in the 1960s and toured with the Preservation Hall band. Both ventures helped to rejuvenate the early form of American music, said Stolarick. Jaffe was also a founding member of the New Orleans Society for the Preservation of Jazz. Ben Jaffe now runs Preservation Hall.

“Allan’s legacy looms pretty large here," Stolarick said.

After Jaffe died in 1987, the Schuylkill Symphony Orchestra performed a musical tribute to him. It was arranged by Larry Koch, the director of the Braun School of Music in Pottsville and Stolarick’s piano teacher. Solos from a tuba, Jaffe’s instrument of choice, are weaved throughout.

The proposed location of the marker is at 316 North Center Street, where Jaffe’s father owned a paint and wallpaper business, said Stolarick, who worked with Allan’s sister on the nomination.

He hopes the marker will bring more attention to what Allan accomplished.

"I felt pretty strongly ... that Allan should have a marker," he said. "There's a lot of amazing history in Schuylkill County ... a lot of it's related to the coal industry and things like that, but very few artists ... you know, people who are involved in the arts get recognized.”

On June 26, 1964 a truck transporting explosives caught fire in Middlesmithfield Twp. in Monroe County. The Marshalls Creek Fire Company responded, not knowing the truck was carrying explosives, said Holly Dennis, township community and municipal projects coordinator and the Historical Commission liaison.

The explosion contributed to the enactment of the federal Transportation Safety Act of 1974 which, among other things, put stricter regulations on the transport of hazardous materials.

“The explosion killed three firefighters, three bystanders and injured 13 people," she said. “It's something that is a huge ... for us. But as far as a wider reach, I don't think a lot of people are aware of it, especially younger people, people who are new to the area.”

The fire company in Monroe County is still active. The marker will be placed at 5175 Milford Road in East Stroudsburg, said Dennis. They hope to be able to dedicate the marker during the company’s annual ceremony remembering the tragedy.

“We're excited to be able to educate people and to have a permanent marker for this important part of our history," she said.

In Lycoming County, a marker will honor Frances Tipton Hunter, an American illustrator and watercolorist who died in 1957. Robyn Young and Mary Sieminski nominated Hunter.

Hunter, who was also a calendar, paper doll and puzzle artist, had 18 covers on the Saturday Evening Post.

"A woman in the 30s and 40s to have covers on a magazine, especially a woman artist, I thought it was unusual," said Young.

Young lives in Media. She’s had 25 markers approved throughout the state, the majority focus on women from Pennsylvania who have had national significance.

"I look at it as it's like tearing a page out of a history book and pasted up on the road for everybody to see,” she said.

The first historical markers were dedicated in 1914 by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, said Alli Davis, PHMC’s historical marker coordinator.

The organization became the PHMC in 1945 and since then more than 2,500 have been installed across the state.

Anyone can nominate a marker.

"But ... the subject has to be of statewide or national impact, with a very strong connection to Pennsylvania,” she said.

Other area subjects that were approved for historical markers include:

  • The Allentown State Hospital, Allentown: Pennsylvania’s first state hospital to treat mental illness through homeopathy and where Solomon C. Fuller was among the first African American psychiatrists to serve consulting pathologist at the hospital.
  • President Pumping Engine, Upper Saucon Twp.: Said to be named for President Ulysses. S. Grant, it's the largest and most powerful single-cylinder rotative steam engine ever constructed. It was used in the Friedensville zinc mines.
  • Piper Aircraft, Lock Haven: a light airplane company that constructed planes used during World War II as well as employed more than 2,000 people and accounted for almost 50 percent of Clinton County's economic output.

Davis is always blown away by the amount of history that stems from Pennsylvania.
"It's important for that history to be made public, for everybody to share in it, not just Pennsylvanians, but to make it available for all people who decide to come and visit the states," she said.

To search for historical markers or to nominate a person or event, visit PAHistoricalmarkers.com.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.