The Bradford County Historical Society is one of the oldest county historical societies in the state. A foster child of the Bradford County Medical Society, the Bradford County Historical Society was organized on May 5, 1870, and incorporated on February 12, 1875. A singular donation of ten dollars constituted a life membership, with an exemption to the holder from further dues. Otherwise, an annual contribution of one dollar from members was required.
The charter members were: Mr. & Mrs. C.L. Ward, Towanda; Mr. & Mrs. F.B. Streeter, Towanda; E.H. Mason, Towanda; E.W. Hale, Towanda; H.L. Scott, Towanda; S.W. Alvord, Towanda; Mr. & Mrs. John A. Codding, Towanda; John J. Griffith, Towanda; Mr. & Mrs. John F. Means, Towanda; Rodney A. Mercur, Towanda; W. McGlathery, Towanda; L.P. Stalford, Wyalusing; David Craft, Wyalusing; Henry Gaylord, Wyalusing; A.T. Lilley, LeRoy; H.W. Patrick, Athens; Edward Herrick Jr., Athens; L.M. Allen, Athens; T.P. Monro, Sylvania; O.W. Worden, New Milford; O.H.P. Kinney, Waverly; Henry J. Crane, Wysox; E.G. Tracy, Sylvania; George C. Gore, Sheshequin; and Mrs. Henry Ward, Towanda.
The first president, Christopher L. Ward, was a prominent citizen of Towanda, a banker and a very wealthy man. He was in ill health at the time of his election and died ten days after the first meeting of the society. The Society persevered, held frequent meetings and gathered considerable material relating to the early days of Bradford County. This was displayed and stored in two cases in the Grand Jury Room at the County Courthouse.
There was early talk of a history of the county. Sylvester Taylor had written a history of the county which was still in manuscript and the Society appointed a committee to look at it. They reported that it was not up to the standard that such a work should merit. After much thought and discussion, Rev. David Craft, a Presbyterian minister of Wyalusing, was assigned the task of preparing a county history. It was completed and published in 1878. There was much dissatisfaction with the work and it resulted in the Society disbanding. In the words of the Secretary, "the Society has relapsed into silence and obscurity."
On July 21, 1902, John A. Codding, the only surviving ex-president, called a meeting of the citizens at the courthouse to consider the reorganization of the Society. There was a large attendance and a full slate of officers were elected. In 1903 the County Commissioners leased to the Society the small brick annex to the old courthouse. It was here the foundation of the historical society collection was laid. An earnest effort to collect portraits, books, old newspapers, Civil War souvenirs, geological curiosities and other artifacts began. A museum was set up and research files maintained. Regular meetings were held for members and prospective members. Those who had particular knowledge of county history were asked to write papers on topics that they were familiar with and read them at Society meetings. Often, these papers were gathered and published in a yearly booklet called the Annual.
A yearly event known as Old People's Day was held in the courthouse square by the Historical Society. The event brought elderly people from all over Bradford County together for an all-day schedule of historical programming, food, demonstrations and the presentation of a silver cup, pitcher, cane, or other item to the oldest people present.
Another history was published by the Historical Society in 1926. The author was Clement F. Heverly, who had been secretary of the Society and an outstanding historian. Mr. Heverly died in 1924 and at the time of his death had just finished the "History and Geography of Bradford County" for public schools. Heverly did a tremendous amount of work organizing and labeling the Society collection.
After Heverly's death, interest in the Society by the public slowly decreased until 1941 when Leo E. Wilt became president. In 1951, Wilt became the director of the Society and continued in that position until his death. The museum was virtually rediscovered by the general public during the term of Mr. Wilt.
In 1974, the Society moved to 21 Main Street in Towanda and remained there until the building no longer met the space requirements. In 1998, the Bradford County Commissioners voted to deed the former county jail on Pine Street in Towanda to the Bradford County Historical Society to be renovated and used as the new home of the society museum and research library. In 2000, the research library phase of the “Jail Project” was completed. The remaining exhibit construction was completed in May 2002, when the entire facility became available for public use.