Richard and Miriam Mix, experts on regional history as well as America’s past, authored a book, “A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport,” which contains colorful postcards and illustrations of pre-World War I Williamsport and the region, and was published by the Lycoming County Genealogical Society just in time for the City of Williamsport’s bicentennial in 2006.
With a combined vision of nearly 150 years, the Mixes undoubtedly are the best curators of the region’s history, and their dedication to preserving that history and their willingness to share it has made them a community treasure.
According to Richard Mix, the postcard book was years in the making.
“We have felt the need and desire to use the postcards that we have collected to share the heritage of the area,” Mix said.
For nearly a year, the Mixes spent their morning hours selecting artwork and researching cutlines, using the typewriter that Richard received in 1947 when he left home for college.
The Mixes concentrated primarily on the latter part of the 1890s to the end of World War I. During this era, postcards were numerous and were sent for only one cent by people writing short messages or to show where they had visited.
“As we celebrate the Bicentennial of Williamsport (1806-2006), it is our hope that our book will be a stepping stone for the readers to learn more details of our city’s growth from a small village to a lumber capital, to the year of our bicentennial, 2006,” Mix writes in his book’s dedication.
Williamsport’s Hardest-Working Historians
From first contact with Christopher Columbus, to the Pilgrims, to William Penn, to lumber barons along Williamsport’s West Fourth Street, the Mixes are prepared to talk at length. They also illustrate their lectures with colorful slides. Their home is a veritable historic society, with entire rooms dedicated to their collections. Photo albums containing rare post cards and slides abound, stacked on shelves and tabletops. Boxes with newspapers of the past are within easy reach.
“These programs I do grew out of my classes. I taught fourth grade, I used these slides. Most of them are still useful in my programs. I don’t go past the fourth grade vocabulary,” he joked.
The former Miriam Swan was born in Philadelphia and several years later her family moved to the area. She graduated in 1944 from Williamsport High School and then attended Mansfield graduating in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. Specializing in instrumental and voice education, Miriam taught at Lincoln Elementary. She attended Penn State University during the summer months and earned her master’s degree in elementary education. In 1957, Miriam married Richard, also an elementary teacher, who had graduated in 1947 from South Williamsport High School.
Richard, a history major from Lycoming College, Class of 1951, was drafted by the Army after graduating Lycoming and spent two years in Germany. Upon returning to the area, he attended Mansfield University earning his teaching certificate in elementary and secondary education. He also received a master’s degree from Bucknell University and did graduate work at Ohio University at Athens, Penn State and SUNY at Cortland. He became a member of Lodge 106 of the Free and Accepted Masons. A lateral relation of Tom Mix, Richard also is a direct descendant of Roger Williams and is a member of the Mayflower Society and the Sons of the American Revolution, serving as the president of the Tiadaghton chapter, founder of its color guard and former state historian. His ancestor, Thomas Meeks (Mix) of New Haven, emigrated from England in 1643. He was in the Sons of the Union Veterans and Sons of the Confederacy (because on his Kendall family’s side, brothers were on two different sides in the Civil War.)
He taught at Becht Elementary before moving to the city where he met Miriam at Lincoln. Then Richard was the head teacher at Clay for two years before accepting a position at Lose Elementary. He retired in 1988.
The couple has two sons, Scott Richard (1959) and Andrew John (1962). They also have four grandsons and one granddaughter. After her children were born, Miriam became a full-time homemaker. She also substitute taught on occasion, directed the church choir and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. She also worked with Richard on their numerous historic programs.
“When I was in school, I did not like history,” Miriam recalled. “He did,” she added, pointing to Richard. “He’d say, ‘Let’s go here and take these pictures; let’s go there and do that. Will you look this over and see if it makes sense?’
“History became alive,” she said. “He made it more interesting with his lectures and slides.” She also contributed artistically to the programs. At the conclusion of many of the programs, the Mixes play recordings made by Miriam, sung a Capella.
In 1976, the Mixes embarked upon their second career — Williamsport’s hardest working and most revered historians. Their presentations draw crowds, from as few as two people to as many dozens at a time.
The Mixes estimate they have created about 30 historic programs that they have presented to more than 2,500 people locally. Some of the topics include Native Americans, Pilgrims, early Williamsport history, the Canal Period, the Lumber Era and historic churches of the county. Their love of history led the couple to narrate several Historic Trolley Tours, beginning with the Haunted Herdic Trolley, then creating Christmas and Valentine tours.
They helped the City of Williamsport and other volunteers organize the Bicentennial Pageant and Parade of 1976, the nation’s 200th anniversary and, as Williamsport’s Bicentennial approached, the Mixes once again stepped forward, initiating and assisting the city in its approaching celebration and authoring a book for the event.
“A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport” is available through the Lycoming County Genealogical Society by calling 570-326-3326or by contacting Otto’s, 107 W. Fourth St., at 326-5764.
Local folk artist featured in new postcard book
Genevieve Long Swan is one of the primary illustrators that Richard and Miriam Mix have used in their numerous, slide presentations as well as in their new book, “A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport.”
Genevieve Long was born in Beaver Falls in 1890. She graduated from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, with a bachelor’s degree in 1912. She taught first at Tougaloo Southern Christian College in Mississippi and then at high school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
She married John J. Swan in 1920 and the couple moved to Williamsport in 1928 with their two children, Robert and Miriam.
John J. Swan was a craftsman and taught woodworking at Curtin Elementary. His father, James Carnegie, was a local tailor who emigrated from Scotland.
After John Swan died in 1938, Genevieve taught at Washington Elementary School in Williamsport. As an avocation, she was adept in music and art. She was pianist and especially enjoyed being an accompanist for her students’ choruses. Genevieve retired in 1955, yet her interest and expertise in sketching and painting continued into her 80s.
As a rule, folk artists are not academically trained and often are concerned with recording the ordinary activities of life. Swan’s direct and honest illustrations usually reflect social and cultural characteristics, as well as architecture. Her simple, flat figures and decorative design, bright colors and unrealistic spatial relationships are characteristic of American folk painting.
After her daughter, Miriam, married Richard Mix, she graciously would create folk art watercolors for use in their historic lectures.
“When Richard would develop a program he’d say, ‘Gee, I would like a picture of this. Can you draw me a picture of the canal?'” Miriam recalled.
She did many pen-and-ink drawings of Williamsport and pastoral scenes to help the couple illustrate their presentations, and she often would create small, colorful sketches that were auctioned at her church as fund raisers.
She died in 1980 at the age of 90.
By Robin Van Auken, Williamsport Sun-Gazette