President's Message

Greetings friends,
Do you have a favorite period in history that piques your interest? I have a few, and one of them that I find totally fascinating is the period leading up to the American Revolution.
I often wonder what it was like in society for the average person during those times of upheaval. Can you imagine? For example, in 1774, just two (2) years after Northumberland County was formed and the county seat, Sunbury, and nearby Northumberland were laid out, we were still under British rule. We still had a form of government based on the British model. That was the year of the First Continental Congress, and not even a full year after the Boston Tea party. Massachusetts formed militia groups known as Minute Men. Things were really starting to heat up in this country.
Meanwhile, back in merry old England, a Unitarian minister and “amateur” scientist (or natural philosopher, as they were called) named Joseph Priestley was busy with his experiments. Then on August 1st, he made a discovery that would revolutionize the world of science and that keeps us all alive. He discovered “dephlogisticated air”. Wait! What?? He discovered what?? Surely you’ve heard of it, “dephlogisticated air”, or as we now know it, oxygen. This August, 250 years ago, Joseph Priestley performed an experiment through which he was able to identify what was later termed oxygen.
Then in 1794, due to persecution for his religious beliefs, he and his family moved to the United States, eventually settling in Northumberland. The Georgian-style house that he had built from 1794 through 1798 still stands in Northumberland, with tours and events conducted by the Friends of Joseph Priest-ley House. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of the discovery of oxygen, the Friends are planning several special events throughout the year. More information can be found at the website
The Joseph Priestley house is just one of several notable historical sites throughout Northumberland County. Another, of course, is the Hunter House on the site of the 1750s Fort Augusta, and home to the Historical Society. Now that the snows of this year are over (we hope!), the board has ramped up and opened the genealogical library and museum once more on March 1st for research and tours.
The upcoming Sunday programs for this spring will be varied and are bound to be quite interesting. These include March 17th “Sanborn Maps of Sunbury”, April 21st “It’s in the Air We Breathe: The Joseph Priestley Story”, and May 19th “Irwin Store Ledgers”. All programs start at 2:00 pm at the Hunter House. Then coming up in August we will be having History Day on Saturday August 17th. More information to follow. Information on all upcoming events can be found on the Society’s website
Looking forward to seeing all of you at the programs and upcoming events.
David Ruths

Mission Statement

The mission of the Northumberland County Historical Society is to encourage and stimulate interest in the rich history and diverse culture of Northumberland County and to preserve it by operating and maintaining a genealogical and historical research center and by caring for and increasing the Society's archives, photographs, and objects collections which document the county's history and culture and the lives of those who resided here; by educating through a museum at the site of Fort Augusta that features both permanent and site-specific exhibits and short-term county-specific exhibits of material culture; and by offering programs, special events, and publications to the general public and the membership thus serving as an asset to the residents of Northumberland County, the Susquehanna River Valley, as well as visitors to our region.