Stolen Antiques Returned to Historical Society

By Jane Cannon Mort

Two firearms and a Civil War-era fife that were stolen from the Juniata County Historical Society’s museum, the Tuscarora Academy, almost 45 years ago, are back where they belong.

Jess Guyer, society volunteer and museum curator, worked with Philadelphia-area authorities for more than two years to identify and verify items that the society had reported missing in March 1979. The items included a Revolutionary War-era Sharpe flintlock pistol that belonged to an ancestor of Guyer’s, a World War I-era pistol and a Civil War fife.

On March 13, Guyer attended a repatriation event at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, where she was given the items to bring home. The items were among a large number of antiques, mostly firearms, stolen from 16 mu-seums in Pennsylvania and nearby states. In 2021, the thief, Michael Corbett, was indicted by a grand jury for possession of some of the firearms stolen from museums during the 1970s. He entered a guilty plea and led authorities to other stolen items.

Society volunteer Susan Bassler, Montgomery County Detective Brendan Dougherty, and Tuscarora Academy Museum Curator Jessica Guyer (l-r) were at the March 13 ceremony.

Guyer has planned a special day, Noon– 5 p.m., June 4, at the Academy to showcase the returned items. Special guests involved in the case are invited. The items are:

A Sharpe flintlock pistol that had been in the Culbertson family for 200 years before being donated to the society. It can be traced back to the donors’ great-great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War soldier named Samuel Culbertson, a captain in one of the “Flying Camp” battalions, who was taken prisoner at the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776. He spent four years in captivity.

“This return is especially personal to me because these Culbertsons sit on a branch of my own family tree,” Guyer said. It was Samuel’s grandson, James, who moved the family to Juniata County. His grandchildren, Viola and Wayne, were the donors.

Viola Culbertson also donated the Colt 45 that was used in World War I by Alfred J. Bartran. He was born in England in 1887, and after a tragic childhood, eventually made his way to a school in America and became a citizen. Bartran was sent over-seas to fight in World War I. He became a 1st Lieutenant in a machine gun battalion, and was badly wounded on the first day of the Argonne Offensive. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. After the war, Bartran worked in government foreign service in Washington D.C. In 1927 he married a Juniata County native, and, when the couple resided in Wash-ington, another Juniata Countian, Viola Culbertson, lived with them. She was a graduate of Tuscarora Academy and also worked at a government agency. After retiring, the three moved to Juniata County where they remained for the rest of their lives.

An Albert System Fife used by Civil War veteran J. Marshall Donnelly of East Waterford. He served two enlistments during which he led the drum and fife corps. Donnelly was injured twice, including being shot in the ear. After the war, he contin-ued fifing ceremonially at parades and other veterans’ events.

Three stolen item have been returned to the Society and will be displayed ONLY June 4 at the Tuscarora Academy Museum.

Society Receives Grant Funding

The Juniata County Historical Society board of directors is pleased to announce we have been awarded two grants from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). This includes the General Operating Support (GOS) grant, $4,000 and a Historical and Archival Records Care (HARC) grant, $5,000. The GOS grant helps pay for operating costs. The HARC grant is designated specifically to fund the purchase of two scanners and a computer to begin work to digitize tax records, photographs and more. In addition, an application was just submitted to PHMC to apply for a Keystone Grant, to fund 50 percent of a more than $51,000 project to repair windows at the Tuscarora Academy Museum. It will be June 2023 until the Society learns if it has been approved for this last grant, of approximately $25,000 from the commonwealth. This work on the Museum could not begin until at least October. 

Archives Soon Reopening!

Spring is around the corner, which means the archives will be reopening for regular business hours! This year our planned reopening will take place March 21st. We look forward to seeing everyone again!

Updates From The Archives & End of Year

Some updates from the Archives!

We continue to hold open hours on Tuesdays from 10am until 4pm. In addition, we will also be open on Wednesdays from 10am until 1pm.

The final day that the archives will be open this year is December 20, 2022. After being closed for the winter, we will reopen on March 21, 2023. We will, however, gladly offer winter hours by pre-scheduled appointment depending on volunteer availability. This can be arranged in advance by calling 717-436-5152 or by emailing

The academy museum is also now closed for the season. It will reopen for regular Sunday hours in the late Spring of 2023. Thank you for coming out to visit us this summer! We hope you enjoyed the special events and plan to offer them again next summer.

On Tuesday October 18th, the Juniata County Historical Society will receive 25% from all food and gift certificate purchases at Harshbarger’s Sub ‘N Malt when you present this coupon. You may either print it out or present the coupon picture on your phone. This fundraiser helps our general operating fund and it’s as easy as ordering good food and showing this coupon!

We are all very grateful for your continued support and interest in Juniata County’s history!

Fall Dinner to Feature Millersburg Ferryman Captain Jack Dillman

Captain Jack Dillman, former ferryman of the Millersburg Ferry for many years, will be speaking at this year’s Juniata County Historical Society Fall Dinner Meeting to be held Wednesday, October 12.

Dillman, began his work at the wheel of the ferry, when he was a young teen.

His familiarity with the Susquehanna River near Millersburg began when he was just 14 years old and he began exploring the river on his own. During this time, coal was being dredged from the river and young Jack with his canoe became a regular visitor of the men digging coal there. A year later (1945), he began working as a coal digger as well. His days on the river were only about to begin.

Hitching rides on Millersburg’s steamboat run by Captain Warren Hunter, the youngster began regarding Hunter as his mentor. And, it just so happened that one day, the Captain left the wheel and said to Jack, “Here take over.”

“That was how I became a ferryman,” tells Dillman.

Although his stint in the US Navy began in 1949, his return from the service in 1970 put him right on the steamer again. His life-long career continued and he’s still talking about it today.

Dillman’s program will feature “The Last Raft” a film about what began as a 1938 historical reenactment of log rafting but became a tragedy along the Susquehanna River in Muncy, PA.

All dinner tickets will be $20 each and will include a baked ham meal. Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. and is held at Walker Grange, Mexico, PA. Tickets are available at the society Archives Tuesdays 10:00 am. – 4:00 p.m. or Wednesdays 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Or mail your check with a self-addressed stamped envelope to Juniata County Historical Society, 498 Jefferson Street, Suite B, Mifflintown, PA 17059 to have your ticket(s) mailed to you. Deadline to reserve and pay is October 4.

Captain Jack Dillman