Located on a small knoll on the outskirts of Kittanning is one of Armstrong County’s most historic homes. Built in the 1840s, this building, known today as the McCain House, served as both a home and a school, before being turned over to the Armstrong County Historical Museum and Genealogical Society. Today, the home serves as a great example of 19th century life in western Pennsylvania and a fantastic place to learn about the history of Armstrong County.
Visits to the McCain House start on the first floor, which is set up much as a home from the mid-1800s would have looked in the region. This is especially evident in the kitchen, parlor, and foyer, which have been restored from their 20th-century updates back to a more authentic historical feel.
(Learn more about the interesting history of the region with a visit to Yellow Dog Village.)
In addition to the well-preserved period furniture, the first floor has two very interesting items hanging on the walls. In the parlor, there is a large painting done in 1878 by George Hetzel, a famous artist from the Pittsburgh area. The painting features an overview of Kittanning from a nearby vantage point and gives a great point of reference for the growth of the town over the last 100+ years. Despite its beauty and famous creator, the painting was discovered in the attic of the home during restorations.
Another interesting piece is a beautifully preserved map of Armstrong County from 1861 in the home’s foyer. This map not only showcases the county’s townships and boroughs, but also features the names of many of the county’s landowners, making this piece interesting for both map enthusiasts and those who had family in the area at that time.
The last downstairs room features a very large collection of antique postcards from all over the world. While they might not feature local scenes, they provide a glimpse into what people would write to their friends and family in Armstrong County in the distant past.
This room also contains information on Nellie Bly. Bly grew up in Cochran Mills (now Burrell Township) and was one of the first women to become an investigative journalist. She is best known for faking insanity to cover an insane asylum from the inside and traveling around the world in only 72 days. While I would have loved to have seen more information about her, what the museum had was quite interesting.
This room also features a visible typewriter invented by Daugherty Typewriter Company in the 1890s. This typewriter was considered the first modern typewriter and was the basis for the design of many of the typewriters used in the 20th century.
Upstairs, the home features a variety of exhibits spread throughout the different rooms. In one room, there is a very large collection of local Native American artifacts. This collection of pottery, arrowheads, other tools is one of the largest I’ve come across in Pennsylvania. The room also features reproduced tools and the walls are decorated with petroglyphs that are copies of those found throughout the county.
Another room upstairs features a variety of items related to Armstrong County veterans from the Civil War through the Korean War. While the exhibits here aren’t significantly different from those found in many other historical society museums in Pennsylvania, they do offer a great glimpse into military history and the lives of local veterans from a variety of conflicts.
Without a doubt, the highlights of the Armstrong County Historical Museum were the exhibits on Nellie Bly and the Daugherty Typewriter, along with the museum’s great Native American collection. If you can work their limited hours into your schedule while visiting Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, this is certainly a museum to consider stopping by.
While it might not have many exhibits with extraordinary significance outside of western Pennsylvania, there is enough here to make a stop worthwhile for any history buff.
Note: My visit to the Armstrong County Historical Museum and Genealogical Society was hosted by the museum. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Armstrong County Historical Museum
Hours: Thursdays: 1pm-3pm
Open April-November 1
Other times by appointment
Cost: Free, Donations Accepted
Address: 300 North McKean Street