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Local residents honored at HVHS Annual Meeting

by Amie Rukenstein

At its Annual meeting September 24, held in the Charles Fish Barn of the Howell Living History Farm Visitor’s Center,  the Hopewell Valley Historical Society honored three long-time residents who have made great contributions to the preservation of and education about local history over the years. Following, we have reprinted the laudatory remarks made about Nancy Ceperley, Betty Davis, and Doug Dixon at the meeting. The meeting also featured fascinating talks by eminent archaeologists who discussed their work at local sites.

Featured Talks

The meeting, which marked the Society’s 48th year, featured talks on “The Archaeology of Two Hopewell Farms” by Michael Gall, principal senior archaeologist at Richard Grubb and Associates, and Hopewell Township resident Richard Hunter, President/Principal Archaeologist at Hunter Research. As promoted by the Society: Gall described the Moore Family Farmstead on Scotch Road. “That archaeological work was undertaken in advance of construction for the Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell and revealed important clues about the mid-18th-century Moore family. Hunter spoke about the archaeological work undertaken at  the Phillips Family of Pleasant Valley, part of Howell Living History Farm. Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Phillips’ farmed, milled, and smithed in the Valley. The house of blacksmith John Phillips no longer exists but the house of his farmer/grist miller son Henry still exists on the grounds of Howell Living History Farm.” You can view the talks here, courtesy of the Historical Society.

Nancy Ceperley – William L Kidder Public History Award

Nancy Ceperley. Photo courtesy Washington Crossing Park Association

HVHS Trustee Karl Niederer made the following remarks about Nancy Epperly:

Nancy Carter Ceperley has served as historian, interpreter, curator, and caretaker of the Johnson Ferry House in Washington Crossing State Park since the 1980s, but her awareness of the park and its history dates back to her youth.  Nancy’s family, the Carters, moved to the island section of Titusville in the early 1960s, and both her parents became deeply involved in the colonial and Revolutionary history of the Crossing and the park as founders of a friends’ organization and as hands-on volunteers and historic reenactors for a variety of programs and activities. 

It took a few years, however, for Nancy herself—an art student at Temple University—to discover the passion for history and dedication her parents had for the park.  Nancy made her way into the Johnson Ferry House first as a temporary seasonal employee in 1982, then as a part-timer, and by 1987 as a full-time park staff member.  In the decades since, Nancy has delved deeply into the site’s history, researching state archives and other primary sources to understand the fullness of its significance over a span of nearly three centuries.  Her enthusiastic public presentation of the Ferry House relates it to the famous 1776 Crossing of course, but also tells its story spanning earlier three decades as a colonial farmstead, ferry operators’ home, and tavern, and after the Revolution as a working farm into the early 20th century.

Shrinking state funding and staff support in recent decades has made Nancy’s work ever more challenging.  No longer does the park have full-time carpenters, gardeners, and even cleaning staff for the Ferry House.  Undaunted, Nancy not only performs curatorial and housekeeping duties for the house itself, but also farms a wonderful kitchen garden that showcases the great variety of foods and flowers that would have been grown on an 18th century farmstead and making it look attractive and interesting for visitors.

Still a Titusville resident, Nancy strives to tell visitors the complete history of this precious site, its role in agriculture, transportation and commerce, as well as its occupants’ home and farm life, education, social, cultural and spiritual life.  She tells of the impact of the First Great Awakening on the Johnson and Slack families—the Christian revival that swept American colonies in from the 1730s to the 1770s, sewing spiritual, cultural, and political seeds that led Americans to seek independence from Great Britain

It is an honor and privilege for me to present the William L. Kidder Public History Award for 2023 to my friend and colleague Nancy Carter Ceperley.

Betty Davis – David L Blackwell award for distinguished service

Betty Davis. Photo by Jack Davis

Outgoing HVHS President Catherine Granzow presented the award to Betty Davis

This award is the David L Blackwell award for distinguished service, named after our former, late, Board member, past President, and Township Historian David Blackwell. This award is presented to a Hopewell Valley Historical Society or Hopewell Museum member to recognize a lifetime, or 10 or more years, of service internally to one or more of the organizations.  This year, we are so pleased to present this award to Betty Blackwell Davis.  Betty is descended from one of the Hopewell Valley’s early families, the Blackwells ; history is very much in her heart and in her blood.

In high school, she won the American History award and for many years she oversaw the  Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest in the local school system, as well as many other local history projects. Betty recently retired as director of Blackwell Memorial Home founded by her grandfather, NR Blackwell in 1881. Many of us have had the pleasure of occasionally viewing the home’s horse drawn hearse, beautifully maintained and a striking reminder of days past, sometimes shown at Memorial Day parades in Pennington and several years ago at the presentation of Spirit of the Valley at the Methodist Church’s historic cemetery on Pennington-Titusville Road.

In 1964, Betty assisted her husband Jack, who was the chair of the Hopewell Township Tercentenary Committee. She was a charter member of the Hopewell Valley Historical Society in September 1975, and in 1978, she served on the telephone committee – which called all members, by telephone, talking to them to assign them to their committee of choice for the fall antique show and sale as well as soliciting a baked item from each member family.

Betty served as an [HVHS] trustee beginning in 1980, serving through at least 1991 and has continued to be a lovely presence and supporter of the Society’s events  through to this day and we are so grateful for her continued support of our organization. So, thank you Betty for all you have done to champion the history of the Hopewell Valley!

The award was accepted on Betty’s behalf by her son, Jack Davis, a current HVHS trustee.

Doug Dixon – William L Kidder Public History Award

Jim Schragger presents award to Doug Dixon. Photo by Kim Robinson

HVHS Trustee Jim Schragger presented Doug Dixon’s award

The Larry Kidder Public History Award recognizes anyone who contributes significantly to advancing public knowledge and appreciation for Hopewell Valley history, including:

o public presentations and programs

o teaching in local schools

o archaeology

o genealogy

o architectural history

o oral history

o material culture

o published books and articles

o advancing government policies and funding to preserve and promote public history

Our recipient today chairs the Historical Society’s oral history program as well as its Digital Communications Committee. 

He established a youtube channel for the Society so that our programs can be viewed by a large audience. He has managed our social media. Our recipient has given presentations on various subjects including The Hopewell Quarry Swim Club, The Hopewell Inn, The Hopewell Toy Company of the 1920s, and the arrival of the railroad to Hopewell Borough.

He started the Hopewell History Project, the purpose of which is to assemble an archive of reference material in local history, shared online in digital and searchable formats for education and research. The site contains hundreds of documents and maps in digital format and thousands of videos and photographs.

Our recipient has led walking tours of Hopewell Boro and serves on our board and the Board of the Hopewell Museum.

And, obviously, he never sleeps.

It is my great honor and pleasure to present the Larry Kidder Public History Award to Doug Dixon.

To learn more about the Hopewell Valley Historical Society, click here.

Featured photo by Kim Robinson.

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