Sigal Museum

By Frederick Jerant

For many people, “museum” and “historical society” evoke dry scholarship in a fusty atmosphere.

But such images don’t apply to Easton’s Sigal Museum, nor to its progenitor, the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society (NCHGS). The museum is actually a stimulating trove of local information. True to its mission – “to preserve the past, serve the present, and shape the future of Northampton County” – it entrances scholars as well as the general public.

“People are surprised to find that we have over 60,000 items in our collection,” says Kim Rose, Director of Development. “They don’t expect to find a world-class museum, operated by a historical society, in a city of this size.”

The society was founded in 1906, by local leaders, and incorporated in 1910. Its first formal headquarters were in a home donated by Mary Mixsell and Emilie Mixsell Lalor in 1929. Today’s four-level building at 342 Northampton Street is bursting with artifacts from Colonial times to the present.

A first-floor highlight is a reconstruction of a typical Lenape landscape, complete with trees, wigwam, arrowheads and other items. The exhibit includes information about the Lenape family structure and numerous other cultural aspects, and a treaty that cedes parts of their land to what is now New Jersey. The first floor also covers the coming of European settlers, local involvement in the French and Indian War, numerous oral histories and information about agriculture and industry.

The second floor is dominated by the Charles Chrin exhibit, a regularly changing series of displays and the MCS gallery of regional art; an extensive collection of decorative arts, and a music gallery. “Our decorative arts section includes a wonderful folk art collection of portraits by Samuel Moon, a local painter,” Rose says. “He painted some of the area’s leading citizens.”

That section also houses many examples of fraktur.  This elaborate Pennsylvania Dutch folk art combines inked lettering with watercolor images of hearts, birds, tulips and other motifs. “Fraktur was created to commemorate births, baptisms, and other events,” Rose adds.

Although most fraktur dates from 1740-1860, modern examples emerge from the museum. “Crayola sponsors our free summertime workshop for kids that teaches them how to make their own fraktur art,” Rose says. In addition, the second floor features a vast assemblage of historic textiles – not just simple bolts of cloth, but woven coverlets, quilts, clothing, uniforms and other everyday items.

The third level houses the NCHGS’s administrative offices, and the Jane S. Moyer research library. “Jane Moyer served as director of the Easton Area Public Library from 1957 to 1977,” Rose says. “Today, she is 100 years old and still volunteers here for 20 hours a week. Her passion has always been libraries, and she’s an inspiration to everyone here.”

The lower level is devoted to Just Born, Inc., the Bethlehem-based candy manufacturer. “Just Born is very community-minded,” Rose says, “and its displays trace the history and development of the company.” Of course, Just Born’s world-famous Peeps are included – they appear in dioramas, created by children, that depict the plump, chewy critters in various themed settings.

The Sigal Museum welcomes group tours of all ages, as well as civic organizations and service clubs. In addition, the museum presents themed programs, such as the crafting of hex signs and barn stars, or about the heritage of firefighting in Pennsylvania.

But wait! There’s more!

The museum recently concluded “Heritage Day” which featured an “anastatic fac-simile” of the Declaration of Independence, made circa 1846. The museum will host its first antiques show and sale on October 13-14. “Our exhibits will provide a beautiful backdrop for the show,” Rose says. And look for another Lehigh Valley Wine Auction and Gala in November, in partnership with the Children’s Home of Easton. The annual event marks its sixth year in 2012, and is a terrific event for local oenophiles.

With such a complexity of exhibits and programs, you’d think a large staff would be behind it…but the only full-timers are Executive Director Barbara Kowitz, Assistant to the Director Wendy Hughes, and Rose herself. “Everything else is handled by part-time employees, or by a group of dedicated volunteers,” she says. “Some of them have been with us for a decade or more.”

One of Rose’s favorite stories involves a researcher who burst out of the museum’s archives, excitedly waving “a handwritten receipt from the 1800s,” she says. “It named the business, listed the items sold, their prices, and the name of the buyer. All that information from a little piece of paper! It shows how important even little things can be to historians. The everyday items we take for granted might someday be significant pieces of history.”

The Sigal Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM, and on Sundays from noon to 4:00 PM. General admission is $7.00; $5.00 for ages 3-12; children under 3 are free. For more information, call 610-253-1222, or visit

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