Meadville Tribune

Local News

December 12, 2012

Retired professor Harrison digs into Saegertown’s history

MEADVILLE — Sam Harrison has made it a habit to get to know people. And he has met some pretty influential individuals along the way.

Norman Merrill is one of those people.

Harrison was born in Union City and lived there until the age of 18 before heading off to Allegheny College. During those years, Merrill was a staple in Union City, Harrison recalled.

“Norm was a World War II vet who rode around Union City on an Indian motorcycle, ran a portrait business and published a weekly local shopping guide called Budget Wise, which was sent to each household,” Harrison said. “Norm had a love for history, and each issue of Budget Wise contained at least one historic Union City photo.”

Harrison said Merrill chronicled, through photographs, the current happenings in Union City, and if you were to research the history of Union City, Budget Wise and the Union City Times would be the primary sources.

Harrison was never directly involved with researching history at that time. But Merrill “stoked what would later become a passion,” he said.

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In 1970, Harrison became a faculty member in the Geology Department at Allegheny College. He and his wife, Linda, lived in Meadville for some time before eventually moving to an old farmstead in Hayfield Township.

“There we raised our own beef, pork and vegetables and cut 10 cords of firewood each year,” Harrison said.

 That farmstead also became the subject of Harrison’s first real historical research project.

“As I reflect on it, it probably should come as no surprise that I would be interested in town history,” Harrison said. “My professional training was in geology so I had already developed an interest and liking for taking a few clues from the geologic past and making educated guesses as to its geologic history.

“Investigating human history was much the same, except the clues were not nearly as old and usually were very much more numerous,” he said.

Harrison has researched files at the Crawford County Historical Society and Saegertown Heritage Museum. He has leafed through notes from other history buffs and has talked with many longtime residents. He also managed to track down letters, bills of sale, picture postcards and more from eBay, items he said turned out to be the most valuable resources.

Harrison has put himself out there and invested the time to learn everything there is to know about a town he has grown to cherish.

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Five years ago, Harrison decided to use his research to write a book on the history of Saegertown and later presented the idea to the Saegertown Heritage Society.

“He wanted to share some stories that had not been written about Saegertown before, and some concepts that he had a personal interest in,” said Linda Fink, a local historian.

The Heritage Society was in support right away and used grant money received through the Jordan Foundation to have the book, “Meandering Through Saegertown History,” published.

Members of the society proof-read the rough draft, made corrections and additions, and suggested the photograph for the cover, Fink said.

The book contains 15 chapters, several of which emphasize the vital role that French Creek played in the founding and early growth of Saegertown and “the subsequent impact of the railroad,” Harrison said. “One of the key chapters details the mineral water era in Saegertown, which began in the 1880s and extended through the 1920s.”

He said other chapters focus on “the diverse topics,” like Jacob Sackett, who Harrison said was a Saegertown blacksmith who became well-known for the guns and violins he crafted in his Main Street blacksmith shop; recently discovered 1890s bank checks; and a private airport.

“We believe this book will provide further education on our community, and reading it will be a very enjoyable experience for any time of the year,” he said.

The book is on sale and can be purchased from any Heritage Society member. It is also available at the Heritage Society in Saegertown on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at H&H Supermarket and Memory Lane during normal business hours.

Cost is $20 with all proceeds going to the Saegertown Heritage Society.

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Harrison’s book is one of several contributions he has made to the Saegertown community.

Harrison also authored, “You Start with Your Left Foot: The Amazing History of Saegertown’s First School Marching Band,” released in 2010.

“I think I have always had an attraction to history and music,” Harrison said. “As far as I’m concerned, both are passions which need and have no rational explanation. You either like them or you don’t.”

Harrison is also a member of the Saegertown Volunteer Fire Department as a fire police member; of the Saegertown Zoning Hearing Board and Saegertown Borough Enhancement Committee; and as a volunteer dishwasher at Saegertown United Methodist Church.

And where the Saegertown Lady Panther athletic teams are playing, there too is Harrison.

“For myself, I can’t imagine day-to-day living without being a participant in a small community,” he said. “Try to leave things a little bit better than you found them.”

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