BY RUTH RICE
What was once a pioneer gathering place for knowledge, entertainment and food has become a modern go-to facility for the arts and art education.
The Community Arts Center of Cambria County started as a log house built in 1834 by the Rev. Abram Stutzman, a circuit-riding minister, at what is now 1217 Menoher Blvd. in Westmont.
When it was built, the house stood on the edge of the Johnstown-to-Fort Ligonier wagon road, the only opening in the mountain wilderness between the two points.
As the only stopping place on the mountain, the log house became a gathering place for travelers and the community of Johnstown.
Stutzman was one of the few people of his day who could read and write, and people came to him for help with letter writing and educational instruction.
The house became a community center, where folks gathered for entertainment, religious services and good food.
It was said the house was never locked and the kitchen was never closed.
The heavy stone foundation of the house was built around a freshwater spring that flowed from the cellar to form a pool by the road, the only watering place on the mountain.
Half Way House
The house also was referred to as the Half Way House because it was half way between Johnstown and the Mill Creek Furnace.
The Stutzman family sold the house and property to Cambria Iron Works for mineral rights, and the company later sold the property, minus the mineral rights, to the Palliser family.
In 1968, a group of local artists headed by Shirley Gaynor formed a nonprofit organization called the Arts Associates to promote the visual arts by providing space for artists to exhibit their work.
They moved into the log house, now known as the Palliser House, in 1969.
The artists developed a program of exhibits that would nurture the arts in the community.
“Now that they had a home, they could do fundraisers,” said Rose Mary Hagadus, current arts center executive director.
“It means everything for an organization to have a home.”
Fundraisers would bring in the finances to pay the utilities and promote exhibits.
Community support for the new arts center was so strong and positive, a fund drive was held in 1975-76 to raise an ambitious $100,000.
The completely volunteer-led public fund drive headed by Gaynor, Fred Glosser and Bill Minahan not only met its goal, it surpassed it to raise $105,000.
The group paid $60,000 to Westmont Borough, which owned the 2.5-acre property, and used the remainder of the funds for renovations.
“They needed funds to maintain the property and expand programming,” Hagadus said.
“They had classes before in the three classrooms, but now they could have classes day and night and plan an exhibit every month. They drew artists and craftspeople.”
At the time, the log house was covered in pink stucco, so plans were made to restore and renovate the two-story structure to its original condition.
In 1977, the stucco was removed to reveal the original chestnut logs, which were in excellent condition.
The logs were treated with a wood preservative, and mud chinking between the logs was replaced with insulation and concrete.
A ramp was added to accommodate physically challenged visitors.
The interior also was renovated to improve the house for exhibits, classes, a gift gallery, office and library.
The log house was dedicated Sept. 9, 1978, and is registered as a Pennsylvania historic site.
The arts center used the structure as its headquarters from 1969 to 1975.
The name the Arts Associates was changed to Community Arts Center of Cambria County in 1979 to reflect the arts center’s growing and expanding activities.
At the time, the log house was the only permanently based community arts center in the county, with educational arts classes and displays of arts and crafts by people of the area.
Hagadus was named the first paid director in 1983.
Up until that point, Gaynor, whom Hagadus called a visionary, had headed the arts center as a volunteer.
Hagadus received her paid position through a matching grant program of the Pennsylvania Arts Council.
The grant partially paid her salary for three years, then the arts center was responsible for the full amount.
As growth continued and more programs were developed, more space was needed.
“We needed a larger space if we were going to grow, for ourselves and to promote the arts in the community,” Hagadus said.
“Shirley approached the Jacob Fend Foundation, which was established to support children. They had money for housing for children’s creativity.”
In 1985, a planning committee was formed that resulted in the groundbreaking for the Goldhaber-Fend Fine Arts Center in 1988.
“Martin Goldhaber headed the Pepsi franchise at the time and started our summer concert series, so that’s how he got involved with the building,” Hagadus said.
The first Festival of the Trees and Holly Bazaar officially opened the new center in November 1988.
The spacious 9,200-square-foot, two-story facility houses two children’s classrooms, a pottery studio, a weaving studio, a large classroom with a cathedral ceiling that can be divided into two rooms, a large exhibit gallery, kitchen, entry foyer, library and office.
In 1989, the Westwood Kiwanis enhanced the property by cleaning out the pond that had once quenched the thirst of pioneer travelers as well as restoring the surrounding bank and stocking the pond with fish.
With more space, Hagadus could have more classes and crafts and add to existing festivals.
“Art was becoming popular in the schools, and we had a student art show once a year,” she said.
“It’s a way of building a base to promote and nurture the arts.”
Hagadus believes the arts center serves the community by offering educational programs for children and adults that nurture the visual arts and giving artists and craftsmen a place to showcase their art.
“People were finding out you don’t have to be artists to be involved,” Hagadus said. “We expanded our membership and volunteers. With our classes, you can realize you can do something creative.”
Hagadus believes that in 1968, the center of the Arts Associates gave creditability to the arts and that notion has continued through the years.
“Everyone can do something,” Hagadus said. “Art is something for everyone, not just the artist. I’ve been here 44 years, and that’s my biggest achievement.”
While all exhibits and classes are housed in the Goldhaber-Fend building, the log house continues to be used.
There are offices on the second floor, and the first floor presents the permanent collection of Gaynor’s artwork, oil and watercolor paintings and drawings.
In the future, Hagadus hopes to expand the arts center once again on its existing property or even add a satellite location.
“We have a bequest from an artist to house their collection,” Hagadus said.
“We also would emphasize performing arts for children using our local talent.”
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