Recently, I had my first chance to visit Bradford County, Pennsylvania. And, as I so often like to do when visiting a new area of the state for the first time, I sought out the local historical society to learn a bit more about the area’s history. (Also check out the nearby historical society museums in Wyoming County, Tioga County, and Susquehanna County.)
The Bradford County Historical Society Museum is located in the heart of downtown Towanda, in what used to be the town’s old jail. Because of this, the museum feels somewhat similar to the Old Jail Museum, the McKean County Historical Society Museum. Unlike The Old Jail Museum, the museum in Bradford County doesn’t have any stories of hauntings. However, what they do have is certainly worth stopping by to see.
The Bradford County Historical Society was founded in 1870, making it one of the oldest historical societies in Pennsylvania. Because the society is so old, they have a significant collection of Civil War memorabilia. Items include things like a flagstaff from a local regiment, as well as weapons and clothing.
One of the most interesting pieces in the museum’s collection is a sealed jar of candy dating back to the Civil War. The jar was sent to a local soldier by his family, but unfortunately, by the time it reached him, he had died. When the jar was returned to the family, they opted to keep it full. 150 years later, the jar is a sad reminder of the costs of war.
Along with items from the Civil War, the museum features like artifacts from almost every major war. I was especially intrigued by the items from the Spanish-American War, which is something you don’t often see represented in historical society museums.
Another interesting exhibit in the museum focuses on the Boy Scouts of America. While the organization wasn’t started in Bradford County, the troop in Troy, Pennsylvania, was the first to join. Because of this, the Bradford County Museum is a great stop for anyone interested in the history of the Boy Scouts as the museum features several artifacts from the first troop.
As I worked my way through the museum and looked at the many displays, I couldn’t help but notice the wonderful way they integrated the museum into the old jail. The museum occupies the basement and first floor of the jail, as well as the sheriff’s old home, which was attached to the front of the building. Small things like viewing ports and cell doors are still in place, which makes for an interesting tour through the old building.
If you take a guided tour of the museum, your guide will point out parts of the old jail and tell you stories about some of the things that happened there. The jail was in use from 1871-1990, giving it a significant amount of history by itself. The Bradford County Jail was not only home to thousands of regular inmates, but hosted several notorious criminals, including Spec’s O’Keefe, known for his role in the Great Brink’s Robbery in Boston. It was also the site of several escapes and executions, which your tour guide will be more than happy to tell you all about.
Overall, I enjoyed my visit to the Bradford County Museum. While it might not be the most unique historical society museum in Pennsylvania, it still offers several exhibits sure to interest anyone who likes history.
So, the next time you’re in Northeastern Pennsylvania, take at break from all the amazing outdoor attractions and stop by the Bradford County Museum.
Want to tour another prison? Check out Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly. You can also check out the nearby Sullivan County Historical Society Museum and the Wyoming County Historical Society Museum.
Note: My visit to the Bradford County Museum was hosted by the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Bradford County Museum
Hours: Wednesday-Friday: 10am-4pm
Cost: Donations Requested
Address: 109 Pine Street