Clarence Stephenson has suffered from an affliction known as the ‘history
bug’ since a young man. While a student at the University of Pittsburgh in the
late 1940’s, he was told that 90% of local history goes untouched. Initially
skeptical about this claim, Mr. Stephenson took up the gauntlet and set out to
explore old newspapers and private journals and, to his surprise, found this
statement to be true. He began doing research, keeping notes and, while working
fulltime, became the premier Indiana county history sleuth, an endeavor that
resulted in the Indiana County 175th Anniversary History.
Clarence Stephenson, Director Emeritus of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County, has written many words about Indiana County. Mr. S. stands alone in his scholarly investigation and elucidation of the lives and activities of Indiana County residents since its history began.
Born in East Mahoning Twp., Indiana County with deep roots in this area, Mr. Stephenson attended Shamokin and Marion Center Public Schools and graduated from Marion Center High School in 1937. He received his B.S. in Education at Indiana State Teachers College (ISTC, now IUP) in 1941 and taught 1941-42 in Brackenridge, Pa. Jr. H. S. prior to joining the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
After Mr. Stephenson was discharged from the Army Air Corps in December, 1945, he began working on his Masters in June 1946 under the G.I. bill at the University of Pittsburgh. Taking a course called “History of Western Pennsylvania”, taught by Dr. Alfred P. James, he read and took notes on 4” by 6” cards at the Carnegie Library, Darlington Library (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (no laptops then). Immersing himself in local history, he read the Indiana Progress in DeWitt Ray’s basement, became acquainted with Frances Strong Helman and joined the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County in February, 1948. Research at the Historical Society and at ISTC resulted in a 68-page term paper, “Indiana County During the Civil War” and in September of 1948, Mr. S. received a Masters of Letters degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
After a couple of years teaching at Wilmerding, Pa. and Springdale, Pa., Clarence Stephenson landed at Clymer H. S., where he taught from 1947-52 and organized a Junior Historian Club which, with his editorial guidance, published the Clymer-Cherrytree Story in June 1953. Mr. Stephenson continued research locally as well as traveling to Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Washington, D.C., Greensburg, Boston, Mass. and Hartford, Connecticut. In 1956, an article, “The Wipey Officer,” about a murdered Indiana County Indian, was published in Pennsylvania History magazine.
Mr. Stephenson decided to do some publishing on his own and purchased an electric mimeograph to publish his first book, Pennsylvania Canal--Indiana and Westmoreland Counties, in 1961. The Impact of the Slavery Issue on Indiana County came in 1964, Penn’s Manor of Cherrytree in 1965, Buena Vista Furnace in 1968, Early Salt Industry of the Conemaugh-Kiskimentas Valley, 1968 and Marion Center-East Mahoning in July 1969. Mr. Stephenson was a cottage industry unto himself.
While researching and writing, Mr. Stephenson continued with his day jobs. He was an Advisor, History Education with PA Dept. of Public Education and State Advisor, PA Federation of Jr. Historians, 1956-60; taught at Juniata Valley H.S., Alexandria, PA 1961; edited the Blairsville Dispatch, 1961-62; and served as a caseworker at the Indiana County office of the Dept. of Public Welfare, 1964-77.
The idea for an Indiana County history in book form came about 1974. It had been over 60 years since the last comprehensive history of Indiana County, J.T. Stewart’s 1913 tome, had been written. A good friend, Arthur Halldin, who had bound the previous publications, had recently purchased scanning equipment and could print sheets of books that would then be sent to a bindery. Cost of printing and binding the books was raised in 1977-78 by publishing a prospectus offering a reduced price for advance payments on the first four volumes. Because it had been 175 years since Indiana County was founded in 1803, the series was called Indiana County 175th Anniversary History and Volume 1 was published in 1978. Volume 2 came out in 1989, Volume 3 in 1979, Volume 4 in 1983, and Volume 5 in 1995 finished the series. (Yes, Volume 2 was published out of chronological sequence due to amount of research involved.) There is also a paperback appendix and a 10 page index to photographs. This five volume set has been a major contribution to the history of Indiana County and Mr. Stephenson has deservedly received kudos for this work and set a high bar for historians who follow.
Mr. Stephenson has also published, in conjunction with his wife Marcella Manner Stephenson, a genealogical treatise on the life and ancestors of Richard Herbert Manner in 1989. The History of Public Transportation in Indiana County, PA. by Mr. Stephenson and Lewis Poorman was published in 1983. Many other articles, such as a statement to the Board of Trustees of IUP urging the saving of John Sutton Hall, also came from Mr. Stephenson. In no way do these few words cover everything Mr. Stephenson has written or researched. His work has been prolific and, in the County’s Bicentennial Year of 2003, the Stephenson Room, which houses his research notes, was dedicated.
Many artifacts in the Historical Museum have also been donated by Clarence Stephenson….a child’s sled, cook-stoves from the Indiana Foundry and other memorabilia have been generously given as well as significant financial support.
Honors to Clarence Stephenson have come from many quarters. He has won IUP’s Medal of Distinction in 2002; Phi Delta Kappa of IUP named him Lay Leader of the Year for his significant leadership in education and he has served as President of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society. After many years of being the ‘unofficial county historian’, in 2003 the Indiana County Commissioners named him the Official Historian of Indiana County. These are but a few kudos that have been bestowed upon this gentleman.
Recently, Mr. Stephenson applied to the Pennsylvania Historical Markers Program, a division of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, for a plaque to commemorate Dr. Robert Mitchell of Indiana, an abolitionist who harbored fugitive slaves and assisted them along the Underground Railroad to freedom. He was convicted for violations of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act after an 1845 raid on his home in Clymer where he had hidden five runaway slaves. Approval of this project was received on April 9, 2007 and later this year a bronze plague will be erected to honor this action. Mr. Stephenson’s persistent endeavor resulted in this plaque being approved.
How does a group such as the Historical Society honor someone who has contributed so much to this county and this Society? Earlier it was indicated that Mr. Stephenson had written many words…but also many words have been written about him. He has been a subject of newspaper articles, quoted by researchers, and when PennDOT needed to verify the name of a road, they called the Historical Society to confirm what was used in the 175th Anniversary History of Indiana County. Another article, such as this one, was not quite enough to express our gratitude. Therefore, the Historical Society decided to paint Clarence Stephenson.
More precisely, the Board of Directors commissioned a portrait of Clarence Stephenson by Jonelle Summerfield, a local Indiana County artist of note. Although young in painting years, Jonelle has received recognition for her work from Indiana County and southwestern Pennsylvania artistic communities. In order to keep the portrait under wraps, Ms. Summerfield used photos from the Historical Society archives to paint a unique glimpse of the subject without his knowledge. Marcella Stephenson aided the plot by getting her husband into the Society ostensibly to discuss the new plaque recently approved. The ruse was complete when, the portrait unveiled, Mr. Stephenson was genuinely and pleasantly surprised to gaze at himself on canvas. The Board of Directors of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County are pleased and proud to pay homage to Mr. Stephenson and to thank him for all his efforts for the Society.