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January 18, 2014

County historical society celebrates 50 years 'at home'

MEADVILLE — “It’s the (Crawford County) Historical Society’s crown jewel,”  local historian Joshua Sherretts said of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum.

The Baldwin-Reynolds House, an imposing and grand early-19th-century Meadville home along Terrace Street and overlooking French Creek, celebrated its 50 years as the historical society’s museum Saturday with a party.

“With the purchase of this home (50 years ago), it allowed the historical society to go from an archival, research type of organization to one that is more community based,” said Sherretts who is the curator of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum. “Because of us having the home as a museum, we’ve been able to get a lot of historical items donated for the benefit of the community and we can display those items.”

But the home isn’t just local history, but national history, too, Sherretts said.

The home was built in 1842 by Henry Baldwin, a U.S. Supreme Court justice who was appointed by President Andrew Jackson. Saturday’s gala marked the 184th anniversary of Baldwin taking a seat as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 18, 1830.

The home was purchased by the Crawford County Historical Society in December 1963 following the death of Katherine Reynolds, who was a great-niece of Henry Baldwin through her marriage John Earle Reynolds of Meadville.

Sherretts wants to see more use of the Baldwin-Reynolds facility in the coming years.

“One thing we’d like to do is find corporate sponsors so we could lower admission costs and maybe make admission free in the summer,” Sherretts said. “It’s a great old building. We want to make it and keep it relevant to the community and not just be the building on a hill that everybody appreciates, but nobody visits.”

That’s why an event such as Saturday’s 50th anniversary party was held.

The event featured the unveiling of the newest portrait in the museum’s collection  — an oil painting of Katherine Reynolds, sponsored by the Meadville Garden Club, that was recently completed by master portrait painter James McMurray.

Longtime Meadville resident Eleanor Davies also presented a short program about her memories of John and Katherine Reynolds. Davies was the daughter-in-law of John and Otelia Bainer, who were best friends of the Reynolds family. John Bainer was the manager and later president of Merchant’s Bank and Trust Co., of which John Reynolds was chairman of the board.

“It was intimidating,” Davies said with a laugh of the grandeur of the home as a young woman visiting for dinner parties. “It was a heartwarming house, though, and the Reynolds were the most gracious host and hostess.”

 The Crawford County Historical Society’s 50th anniversary of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum also was honored Saturday with a citation from the Pennsylvania Senate that was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bob Robbins, whose district includes Crawford County.

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