What is this place?
The Columns is a touchable, explorable, not-stuffy kind of museum

The Columns Museum (Facebook photo)

By Lori Strelecki
One rainy day while sitting in my office, about an hour before we were scheduled to open, someone began frantically pounding on the front door and ringing the doorbell. Although my first inclination was to just ignore it, it became increasingly difficult to do. So I went to the front door in a hurry because I was now thinking something might be dreadfully wrong.
I fumbled with the locks and flung open the door to an elderly bespectacled man clad in a poncho-style plastic raincoat. He stepped inside, looked around, squinted at me, and said, "What is this place?" Good question.
The Pike County Historical Society, housed in that big, white, neoclassical manse at 608 Broad Street, no doubt causes people to wonder what, exactly, it is, was, or might be. It is also home to a history museum known as The Columns Museum.
Inside you will find two floors of exhibits pertaining to local and national history, as well as a genealogy library and local history library and archives. The society has been in existence since 1930, when the honorary President was none other than Gifford Pinchot. In the early 1980s the historical society purchased the McLaughlin home and has taken care of it, while running a museum and historical society, ever since.
It is not owned or operated by the State of Pennsylvania or any local or national government organization or museum. The Pike County Historical Society owns the building outright and is currently struggling to make the many much-needed repairs to the exterior of the building. It is their hope that the Local Share Account Grant provided by Pennsylvania Casino Revenue will be the saving grace to help get the society back on track and ease the large financial burden of upkeep and maintenance.
As the county's official historical society we used to receive appropriations from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. Several years ago budget cuts hit us hard and we no longer receive a fair sum of money each year that may be used for what is considered general operating support. That loss, multiplied over the seven or so years it has been absent, adds up and doesn't allow for a modicum of continued and preventative maintenance, as was once the case. That is how we end up here, in need of a big fix.
While funding woes are nothing new to the historical society, it continues to stay true to its mission statement and provide the community and visitors with a museum, research facility, programs and events of a historical nature, and allow use of the facility for other nonprofit groups, such as Air, Soil, Water, which hosts the Farmer's Market each Sunday on the grounds of the Columns; Pike County Arts and Crafts; and the Penn State Cooperative Extension, to name a few.
A visit to the museum provides the visitor with a potpourri of history. In one room you may find items relating to local Native American tribes, while in another the noose used in the only public hanging to take place in Pike County. A nod to the famous from Pike County includes philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce; Father Francis Craft, who was liaison at the Battle of Wounded Knee; Smoky Joe Wood, famed fast ball hurler; Zane Grey, the great Western novelist; David Irwin, explorer; Don Budge, tennis player; and many more not-so-famous folks who made a fantastic contribution to the history of Pike County. Other exhibits include old medicines and medical equipment, a fun exhibit called "What the heck is it?," the famed Lincoln flag and other Civil War-related items, and a vast collection of art work, ephemeral, oddities, fishing tackle, military equipment, a fine collection of original World War II bond posters, clothing — even a 1930s Helene Curtis "Empress," which is quite shocking! — and much, much more.
We are not one of those stuffy, look but don't touch kind of places. We offer museum visitors an introduction to the museum, our holdings and history, and then let them tour the place at their own pace. We are happy to tell you as much, or as little, as you like because everyone has a different threshold for history. There is always something that appeals to every type of person, something that hits home, and people leave happy for stopping in. We'd love to see you!
Lori Strelecki is Director of The Columns Museum, 608 Broad St., Milford. The museum is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. or by appointment by calling 570-296-8126 or emailing pikemuse@ptd.net. Visit pikehistorical.org or Facebook: The Columns Museum.
See related article "'Polish St. Patrick's Day' party welcomes new museum members."