State & Union: Mystery of 120 years of Olean DAR archives solved

From the Olean Times Herald's State & Union Section on March 12th, 2017, updated March 13th, 2017

A Facebook post led the Olean Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to a treasure trove of scrapbooks from the chapter’s founding in 1897 — right through to the late 1980s.

Michiko McElfresh, recording secretary for the Olean chapter, tells us newspaper articles that appeared the day after the chapter was formed at the home of Anna McIntosh Strong, letters written by Olean city historian and longtime regent Maud Brooks and photographs of Thelma Brown as she served as chairman for National Pages at the DAR’s 1941 Continental Congress have been recovered.

Also back in the local DAR’s hands is documentation from 1915 when the chapter dedicated a bronze DAR marker on the grave of Daniel Frederick Bakeman, the last pensioner of the Revolutionary War, which was meticulously maintained and neatly preserved in a series of scrapbooks that outlined the chapter’s history.

When the chapter disbanded, noted local historian Larry Kilmer was given the books because they were filled with Olean history, and he couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them out. So they sat — safely stored in his barn.

In February the chapter invited local historian Earl McElfresh to give a presentation on Francis Carpenter’s painting, “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.” McElfresh’s wife, Michiko, posted a photograph of Earl at the meeting on their company’s Facebook page and Kilmer responded:

“I have what’s left of the DAR scrapbooks — do you want them?”

The next morning the scrapbooks arrived — dusty but intact, and a delightful trove of Olean DAR history.

“The chapter is so grateful to Larry Kilmer for saving these irreplaceable documents,” Michiko McElfresh writes.

On (Wednesday), Regent Diane Stigler, Treasurer Emily Woodhead, Historian and Registrar Cindy Keeley and Mrs. McElfresh spent the day relishing the scrapbooks and appreciating the ladies who contributed to the chapter’s 120-year history.

“But the real story is the scrapbooks themselves, which we haven’t had a chance to really delve into,” says Mrs. McElfresh, “but they were fascinating. We will keep (State & Union) informed as we find interesting things — which I expect that we will.”

And we will stay tuned.

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