Local leaders, historians and residents gathered at the Bedford County Courthouse on Saturday to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the county they call home.
The event was considered the “grand opening” ceremony for the county’s ongoing sestercentennial celebrations, which have been organized by those involved with the Bedford County Historical Society.
“Is there any place any more beautiful than Bedford County, Pennsylvania, today?” Commissioner Barry Dallara asked the crowd, which gathered under a clear sky with temperatures in the mid-60s.
The speakers at the event commented on the natural scenery of the county, but said the residents here are what make it a truly special place to live.
“The natural beauty of our mountains, valleys, streams and woodlands speak for themselves,” Senior Judge Thomas Ling said. “… But I’ve always been more impressed with the commitment of the people in the county to those first principals of self-evident truths for free people.”
Historian Larry Smith, a leading organizer of the event, recounted an overview of the county’s past, from the construction of Fort Bedford through the formation of farmlands, churches and local governments over the subsequent years.
Smith was dressed in attire from the 1700s, a nod to his fifth-great-grandfather, William Proctor Jr., who served as the first sheriff in the county.
“I would like to think as he looks over my shoulder during the ceremony, my ancestor is pleased is with how the county has grown and thrived over two-and-a-half centuries,” Smith said.
Dallara said the county was much different place in 1771 than it is today.
“Life in this region was harsh and very challenging,” he said. “The average life span was 36 years of age. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, the only light after dark came from fireplaces and candles, and medical treatment was primitive at best.”
But Dallara said the first settlers in the county set the framework for future generations.
“Those settlers could never have imagined how their courage, their thirst for freedom, and their Christian faith became the foundation that nurtured the creation of the American spirit thereby spawning creativity, ingenuity, and inventions that has given us the highest quality of life in the world today,” he said.
Ling said the county’s commitment to the rule of law, the respect for the rights of others and duties of citizenship were evident in the community throughout his life.
“I learned these at home and in school, but I also learned them from the guy who ran the general store, the postmaster, my Scoutmaster and my Sunday school teacher,” he said. “Almost every adult I came in contact with growing up was supportive of these ideas of individual liberty and freedom. Of course, as the many monuments that stand around our town square show, love of country is a common emotion here in Bedford County.”
Historian Bill Mock spoke about the times the county’s residents helped defend the nation’s freedom during wartime.
“Very often in life, people have the tendency to take even the most important things for granted,” Mock said. “One of which is freedom. We must never forget the service and sacrifice of those individuals who have provided it to us.”
State representatives Jesse Topper and Carl Walker Metzgar both spoke about the importance of preserving the county’s history.
“There’s a movement to make sure we forget, that we lose that history, we don’t know who we are,” Metzgar said. “I tell you, we do that at great peril if we forget who we are and where we came from.”
Topper lauded the historical society for its efforts to showcase the county this year.
“It means a great deal to this son of a history teacher and I’m sure each one of you,” he said. “… As I thought about 250 years. Any time we celebrate longevity, a few words come to mind: endurance, patience, perseverance. Certainly things we’ve needed over this past year, where there haven’t been many reasons to celebrate.”
The ceremony included patriotic performances by a flute quartet featuring Ellen Espenshade, Shelby Kaiser, Hope Kaufman and Robyn McMakin. Dawn and Levi Custer of Bedford also performed a “Bedford County anthem” that they wrote at the request of the historical society for the sestercentennial.
Kay Dull and Deborah Bishop of the Bedford County Players performed a skit titled “Why We Talk This Way,” highlighting different expressions commonly used by county residents.
Dull cited the different immigrants moving into the county from various parts of Europe as a contributor to the use of words like “nebby,” “pop,” “slippy” and “yinz.”
“New neighbors soon understood they should help “redd up” after the church social,” she said. “When a German child asked for a “dippy egg,” his young friends began asking for the same. Everyone’s language evolved.”
Former commissioner Josh Lang added he hopes the county’s residents continue to embrace its history and continue to work hard to enrich its future.
“As a community, let’s continue to make history in a positive way and do our part to preserve it,” he said.