Joan Wheal Blank, editor and amateur family historian, grew up near Hughesville in a rural farmhouse built by her great-grandfather in the early 1880s. She graduated from Hughesville High School in 1974, and received a BA degree in English Education from Lock Haven.
After living for over 20 years in Connecticut, where she taught middle and high school English, and worked in the publishing field as an editor and writer, she moved back to central PA and has lived in Montgomery since 2003.
In February, 2012, Joan and her husband, Steve, left the cold winters of PA behind and moved south to Summerville, SC.
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Hughesville, Pennsylvania Book Description
In 1816, Jeptha Hughes purchased a tract of land along Muncy Creek and named it Hughesburg. The town grew, and it was renamed Hughesville in 1852. Local artisans, such as millers, blacksmiths, coopers, and cobblers, flocked to the area and plied their trade. Schools and churches were established, the Williamsport and North Branch Railroad made daily stops in the area, and farm families raised livestock, field crops, and vegetable gardens. The Hughesville Fair, an agricultural exhibition begun in 1870, became an annual tradition. Around Hughesville chronicles the people and places of this rural community between the 1880s and the 1930s, when Hughesville was a town that embraced innovative industrial change as it retained its old-fashioned country charm.
Hughesville history brought to life in author’s new book
By Dana Borick – 10/01/2007
As an editor and English teacher, Joan Wheal Blank said she has always admired and enjoyed the work done by authors.
As a literary major, she produced several volumes of poetry during her high school and college years. But writing her own book wasn’t something she had considered until she began talking with another local author and historian.
“It wasn’t until Robin Van Auken (the author of several historical books about Williamsport and Muncy) suggested that I should submit a book proposal to Arcadia that I ever imagined I would see my name on the cover of a book,” she said. “I had mentioned that I was from Hughesville and that is when she encouraged me to submit a proposal to Arcadia Publishing for a postcard history of the borough.
“Since I had just returned to the area after living in Connecticut for over 20 years, this was a prefect opportunity to give something back to the community in which I was raised.”
And last week, “A Postcard History Series: Around Hughesville,” was published — the culmination of only a few months of intense work for Blank, who proposed the book in January and turned in the finished manuscript in April.
“When I was in Connecticut working as an editor, it seemed to take months for an author to get final approval after a proposal was submitted,” she said.
“In my case, it literally took just a few weeks! Apparently, Arcadia wanted to take advantage of the high level of interest in local history found in this area.”
Blank now is working on a similar postcard history on Montgomery, which she expects to be published in March. And after that, she finally will take a break.
“To paraphrase a comment I heard recently on TV, ‘to be a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life,’ ” Blank said. “Luckily, my writing career is secondary. I kept my day job!”
Blank is an administrative specialist in the Human Resources and Veterans Affairs Office for Lycoming County and a member of both the East Lycoming and Montgomery historical societies.
“It seems like I have been either working at my county job or working on a book since the beginning of the year,” Blank said. “But when I do have spare time, I enjoy scrapbooking and putting together albums for my family. I also write a blog to stay connected with my friends in Connecticut and my children.”
Blank resides in Montgomery with her husband, Steve. She is the mother of three: David, 19, is a sophomore at State University of New York at Oswego; Stacey, 22, works at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Jacquie, 25, is married and working at Camp Berea with her husband, Dan, in Hebron, N.H.
Blank said she found “varying degrees of interest and cooperation” when she began contacting people and organizations to find original postcards and photos (Arcadia would not accept already-scanned images).
“Some people were hesitant or not willing to lend out very special and sentimental pictures or collections of postcards,” Blank said, adding that one woman said her extensive postcard collection was her “legacy.” Others, however, were very helpful and grateful.
“I must say that when I mentioned my father’s name and the names of other relatives, it helped to open doors,” she said.
“My father was Clarence Wheal, the resident gunsmith in the Hughesville area who was well-known as the man who could ‘fix the unfixable’ when it came to firearms.
“My mother’s family had lived in Penn Township near Hughesville for years and both my mother, Clara Wheal, and my grandfather, Torrence Houseknecht, were the township’s tax collectors. Our roots run deep in Green Valley.”
Blank also contacted former classmates from Hughesville High School who helped her track down some large collections and rare cards.
Right now, Blank said things are pretty hectic with the upcoming deadline for the Montgomery book and the release of her first book.
“In order to meet deadline, I must work on about 10 captions almost every day,” she said. “I have over 225 captions to write that will accompany the images in the book.” “Around Montgomery” is due to be released March 2008.
While working on “Around Hughesville,” which features 221 photos and postcards, Blank discovered a collector who had more than 70 good-quality and rare cards who was willing to loan them to her.
“The postcard history books from Arcadia Publishing are all uniform in style and page count,” she said.
“I could not fit more than about 225 images into the 128-page book. It was not easy to select the ones I wanted to include. I had to evaluate the importance of a photo or card within the whole story of the Hughesville area during those 50 years between the 1880s and the 1930s.”
The paperback is available at local bookstores and at Stained Glass Works and Antiques, 226 N. Main St., Hughesville. It retails for $19.99.
Booksignings include 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 5 at Otto Book Store, 107 W. Fourth St., and from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at the future home of Bartlett’s Bed and Breakfast, 160 S. Main St., Hughesville.
Blank said the Bartlett house is the historic Townsend home, which appears on page 19.
Her favorite chapter is “The Farmers and the Fair” because her family was one of countless farm families who lived in the townships surrounding the borough.
“I enjoy the scenes of the horses hitched to hay wagons and the rustic farm houses with the families standing in front, posing for the photographer,” she said, adding that the farmers were the ones who helped promote Hughesville’s claim to fame — the Hughesville Fair.
“The image I chose for the cover shows a group of men from the country who are on their way to the fair, with their ox festooned with a couple of fair posters, flags and a tissue-paper bell,” Blank said. “Going to the fair was a celebration and a week-long event that was anticipated every year.”
Buy This Book: Around Hughesville $19.99
Montgomery, Pennsylvania Book Description
Incorporated in 1887, Montgomery is the youngest borough in Lycoming County, yet it possesses a deeply rich and proud history. The town, once heralded as the “best small town on the Susquehanna,” was home to world-renowned author Conrad Richter. The vintage images in Around Montgomery show rare scenes of Alvira, a community well established for over a century before meeting its tragic end in the 1940s, as well as glimpses of Devitt’s Camp, a rural retreat for tuberculosis patients. The images in this volume highlight the first 50 years of the borough and depict the people and places that made up the dynamic history of Montgomery and its neighboring communities.
Joan Wheal Blank, author of Around Hughesville, worked closely with dedicated members of the Montgomery Area Historical Society, the Montgomery Area Public Library staff, and borough residents to locate and research the more than 200 vintage images in this volume.
Author publishes second book on region’s history
By RYAN D. BEARDSLEY – March 16, 2008
Local author and historian Joan Wheal Blank will release her sophomore Arcadia Publishing pictorial history book, “Around Montgomery,” on Monday. Blank will hold a booksigning from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Montgomery Area Public Library, 1 S. Main St., Montgomery, and from 1 to 4 p.m. April 5 at Borders Book Store at the Lycoming Mall, Pennsdale.
Blank is a Montgomery resident and Hughesville native. She is a member of both the East Lycoming and Montgomery Area historical societies and writes a weekly column about Montgomery for the Muncy Luminary newspaper, according to a news release.
Blank is an employee in the Human Resources and Veterans Affairs for the County of Lycoming.
Blank also is the author of “Around Hughesville,” which was released in September by Arcadia.
In “Around Montgomery,” Blank highlights the first 50 years of the borough and depicts the people and places that made up the history of Montgomery and its neighboring communities, the release said.
Blank told the Sun-Gazette in a recent interview that after she finished “Around Hughesville” this past spring, she started to consider the possibilities of creating another pictorial history about Montgomery.
Blank believed the process of gathering information and speaking to the locals would be convenient, since she has lived in Montgomery since 2003.
“After meeting with some members of the Montgomery Historical Society at the Stone Church Cemetery near Allenwood, I discovered that the book was something that they were anxious to see happen,” Blank said. “The proposal was submitted in June and immediately accepted by the publisher.”
Blank said that her primary source of information when researching Montgomery was the historical archives at the Montgomery library.
The library staff allowed her to borrow photographs, postcards and other historical materials that were donated to the library by current and former residents.
She also found local residents who were willing to share their collections of photos and postcards, as well as people who grew up in the area but have since relocated.
Blank described the researching process for a history book as “a lot of detective work.”
“I depended on members of the historical society — especially Montgomery native Marion McCormick — to help me find the right people who had the photos and postcards that had been tucked away in albums and drawers or stored away in the attic for years,” Blank said. “It was exciting to find photos that had not been seen by many people but have interesting stories to tell.”
It took Blank four months to put together the pictorial history of Montgomery, and she said the hardest part was knowing that there were many more photos and postcards that she couldn’t locate before her deadline.
She added that it was a dusty, time-consuming, eye-straining and sometimes frustrating process.
Often photos were not labeled and the people who could identify them have passed on.
Blank found, however, that the enjoyment of the discoveries outweighed the hardships.
“I loved the ‘ah ha!’ moments when I heard, ‘Yes, I know the people in that picture!’ and was able to connect a photo with someone who was able to tell its story,” Blank said.
Montgomery during the 1900s was dramatically different than it is now, Blank said.
“Around Montgomery” includes the stories of Alvira, Devitt’s Camp, Spring Garden, Texas and Guise Town, which all are part of the area’s history.
Readers also will see and read about the Devil’s Turnip Patch, the Klondikers who went searching for gold in Alaska, the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning author who worked in town, the Clinton Township native who has a band named for him, the police chief who was gunned down on the street and why Montgomery had two locations for its firefighting equipment.
Blank said that one of the most interesting historical happenings she discovered in her research was the tragic story of William Hummel, who killed his bride and her three children. He was found guilty and hanged for his crimes at the county prison in Williamsport in 1900.
But it was not the story of the murder that Blank found most interesting, she added, but the conversations she had with one of Hummel’s surviving relatives, who still lives near the site of the murders.
“I showed up at her door, unannounced, and asked if I could speak to her about her infamous great-uncle, unsure of what her reaction may be,” Blank said.
She continued, “Her invitation to sit down, her willingness to share her family history and her generosity in lending me photos were representative of the widespread cooperation of everyone I contacted while researching this book. I can’t thank everyone enough for that.”
“Around Montgomery” retails for $19.99 and is available at local retailers, online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.