Greene County Messenger

Whether you’re an older county resident or a teenager interested in local history, you should find enlightenment in a DVD now available for purchase, which captures some vintage motion picture clips of Greene County. The images are from just after the turn of the 20th century.

Charles Silveus, who owned the Eclipse movie theater that once sat on Waynesburg’s High Street, shot the film. The vintage footage shows Company K preparing for World War I, the 1917 explosion at the People’s Natural Gas pumping station in Brave, the Downey House fire of 1925, early county fairs, early aviation, Memorial Day parades with surviving Civil War veterans and much more.

Viewers are able to see happy moments like the going away party for Company K soldiers, held at the Wisecarver mansion in Waynesburg, as well as tragic events such as the 1928 explosion at the Mather colliery (now referred to as a prep plant). Ranked as the seventh worst mining disaster in U.S. history and the second worst in Pennsylvania, the explosion took the lives of 195 men.

The 80 minute-long DVD is narrated by Miles Davin with an introduction by Robert W. Fox. It is available for $15 at the Greene County Historical Society, 918 Rolling Meadows Road in Waynesburg.

The DVD was publicly screened the evening of January 9 at the historical society. Executive director Matt Cumberledge estimates the audience was around 65 attendees, not counting staff and firemen from the Waynesburg Franklin Township Fire Company.

At the January 9 screening, Cumberledge said he sold 25 DVDs and found several messages on his voice mail the following day from people requesting copies. Plans are now being considered to schedule another screening open to the public in early summer.

Prior to the screening, Cumberledge and staff created five exhibits related to the DVD. They included artifacts depicting the Waynesburg and Washington Railroad, the explosion at the People’s Natural Gas pumping station, Company K and WWI, the Jacobs Bird House Company, an antique drum shown in the video in a couple of parades and the charred hand of the Nathanael Greene statue that burned during a fire at the Downey House on December 23, 1925.

Circa 1969, Silveus donated the footage to the fire company who worked with the National Archives in Washington, DC to convert the very flammable nitrate film to 16 mm in the early 1970s. As technology changed, the fire department converted the film footage to VHS in the late 1980s. In the early 2000s, the company converted the historic images to DVD. This year, the historical society made additional recordings for sale to the public.

About six months ago, Cumberledge found a VHS copy of the films in the society archives and was impressed by what he calls “great content.”

“I thought it would be a good idea to sell the DVD as a way of benefiting both the fire company and the historical society,” Cumberledge said. “Very few communities across the nation, if any, have such a broad collection of historic films from this era.”

Those interested in purchasing a DVD should phone the historical society at 724-627-3204.

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