Historical Society’s new publication focuses on headquarters

By on June 28, 2018

Local historian and book author Clarence Spohn on the front porch of the Connell Mansion. (Photo by Missi Mortimer)

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the construction of what is now its headquarters — the Connell Mansion — the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley’s annual journal focuses on the historic building at 237-49 W. Main St., Ephrata, and the family who called it their home.

The 76-page journal is entitled “The History of the Moore Connell Family and Their Historic Home”. It’s illustrated with photos of the Connell family and their children, the interior of the home, and some of the architectural features such as chandeliers. The first part of the publication focuses on the history of the family, and the second part takes an in-depth look at the home, its history, and how it changed over the years. The journal is part of the historical society’s member benefits, and it will be mailed to members this month. It is available for the public to purchase at the museum and research library for $15 plus tax.

“It’s appropriate that the family and the home, which serves as our headquarters, be the subject of this year’s journal,” said historian Clarence Spohn, who authored the journal. The 70-year-old has been a member of the historical society since he was 13. “I joined when we purchased the building, so I’ve seen the changes that have been made over the years.”

There are no special events planned to mark the anniversary of the imposing Victorian Italianate home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places Spohn said the organization wants to recognize it, and hopefully, encourage people to come and see the home. It houses the historical society’s headquarters, museum and research library. There are 13 rooms filled with exhibits including a special exhibit that opened last year, entitled “The Many Faces of the Cocalico Valley”. It will run through the end of this year. There is no admission charge for the museum, and it is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The exhibit recognizes and celebrates the men and women who inhabited the area and contributed to its development over the years. “Doctors, lawyers, farmers, cigar markers-they’re all a part of the There’s also a display of memorabilia from the military career of General William Thomas Hobbins, USAF retired, a 1964 Ephrata High School graduate and the only four-star general from the Cocalico Valley,” Spohn said.

The museum’s research library contains a wealth of information, in various forms on local history and genealogy. It is available to both members and non-members; the $3 daily usage fee is waived for members. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“The Connell Mansion is a gorgeous structure, and the artifacts and information housed in it are second-to-none. They definitely give a good perspective of where the borough was and how we’ve changed,” said Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen, who moved to Ephrata as a fifth grade student in 1960, “The first time I went through the historical society’s museum, it definitely opened up my eyes to the history and heritage of the area. Every time I’ve been back, I see something new.”

Spohn’s research for the journal was done at the society research library, but also used other data such as wills and deeds. “Some of that research had not been done previously, so it did take some effort,” he said.

Rebecca Connell

Moore Connell grew up in West Earl Township. Rebecca Konigmacher, the woman that later became his wife, grew up in the area of Academy Drive that today is Dawn Avenue. The two married in 1857 and lived in West Earl Township before moving into Ephrata. Connell continued to farm until 1868. Spohn said that’s when Connell retired, purchased the Main Street property and began building what is known today as the Connell Mansion.

“At that time there were not a lot of buildings west of the square, and the Victorian-style Italianate home with its belvedere would have been an impressive building. The style was very prevalent in cities like Philadelphia or perhaps Lancaster — I’m sure everyone was watching as it was being built,” he explained.

Moore Connell died in 1881 at the age of 50, leaving behind his widow Rebecca and five adult, unmarried daughters. Spohn said the Connells had a total of eight children, but a son died as an infant, and two daughters died when they were young children. Nora Connell was the last surviving daughter. In 1961, she went to live at Maple Farm Nursing Home, and the house was sold at a public auction; it was later purchased by the historical society.

However Spohn said, even before then, it played a role in the community. Nora and a sister taught music lessons in the home to area children. Area residents also received medical treatment there. From 1932 to 1937, a room on the first floor served as the office for Dr. Arnold Zwally. In 1937 he moved his practice to his South State Street home.

Spohn also pointed out that when there were three sisters remaining, there was some interest in establishing a hospital in Ephrata, and the sisters agreed to donate it to the community. “The house wasn’t suitable, so the offer was rejected,” he explained. In 1940, the offer was made again, and it was again rejected. Spohn pointed out that by that time the hospital at Mount Springs had been established.

Some area residents may also recall that a funeral home in a portion of the mansion. Spohn explained that in 1941, when Nora was living there by herself, she rented areas to Ray Numberf, an undertaker. The viewing room was in the parlor and the embalming room was in the basement. Numberf and his wife also lived in the mansion with Nora until 1950.

“Nora lived in the mansion by herself from 1950 until 1961. When the property was sold at auction, it was purchased by Alvin Wissler, a real

Moore Connell

estate investor. He wanted to turn it into an apartment building and as part of that plan, remove the belvedere. That plan caught the attention of the historical society, which was then meeting at various locations, and the organization decided to purchase the building with the intent of establishing a museum and a public library,” Spohn said.

In 1962, the library opened, but it was a far cry to today’s facility — planks supported by cement blocks served as shelves — and the first librarian was the late Mary Rachel Hoover, who served as a volunteer. The library later became incorporated as Ephrata Public Library. It was located on the first floor of the mansion, and the historical society was located on the second floor, until the library moved to the corner of Oak and Fulton streets in 1967. Spohn said at that time the society and its museum moved from the second floor to the first floor.

“We (the historical society) didn’t have a lot of money, so we gradually restored the rooms. In 1980, we adapted it for our use-the library’s reading room became our research library,” Spohn explained.

A major restoration in 2006 restored selected rooms to the original usage when the home was constructed. Those rooms include the parlor, kitchen, master bedroom and the bathroom with its original copper-lined bathtub. There’s also a room on the third floor that interpreted as a room from the Mountain Springs Hotel, and it features original furniture from the hotel.

The Connell Mansion in 1868. (Photos courtesy of The Historical Society Of The Cocalico Valley)

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