Richard Tritt


Susan Meehan: Good morning. This is Tuesday, May 6, 2014, and I am Susan Meehan here with Richard Tritt at the Cumberland County Historical Society. We are making history this morning with this initial digital recording of an interview for the Elizabeth and George Gardner Digital Project. Richard currently serves as the photo curator for Cumberland County Historical Society and is a lifelong resident of the county, living at several different county locations during his lifetime. Richard, please begin by stating your name and telling about your parents, what they did and how they came to Cumberland County.

Richard Tritt: My name is Richard Tritt, and I was born in December 17, 1942, in the Carlisle Hospital. (phone rings) During my life I have lived in the Newville area, Shippensburg area, Mechanicsburg and Boiling Springs. My parents--my father worked for the Cumberland Valley Cooperative Association at Shippensburg.

SM: Was his name Richard?

RT: No, his name was Selden. Selden, S-e-l-d-e-n. He was a mechanic as well as a salesman of car machinery, and he did that all his life. He was an excellent mechanic, and I got none of that technology(??). (both laugh) My mother was basically a stay at home mother; she did work at the community drugstore in Newville when I was in high school. They were both native Cumberland County people; both families trace back to six or seven generations living in Cumberland County.

SM: What was her maiden family?

RT: Her maiden name was Mains, and the Mainses lived in the area of--around the intersection of 233 and Route 11, where the Cumberland County--where the Cumberland Drive-In Theater is.

SM: And the Sheetz.

RT: It forms(??) farmland in that area. Actually, one strange thing about my family background is that when I was growing--when I was a young guy growing up that my uncle's farm near Newville, I learned later, many years later, was the original farm that Peter Tritt built when he moved to Cumberland County, but my mother's family owned it. I remember playing there and being fascinated by the old stone house, and they used to say, You know, up in the corner it says "Tritt" on the side. So it was ironic that my mother's family, the Mainses, happened to buy that same farm that had belonged in the--that the first Tritt that came to Cumberland County lived in or built that, and they came from York.

SM: Is that house still standing?

RT: Yes, it's still standing, it's still a farm. It's sort of hidden; when you're there you can't see anything except hills around you. It's owned by the Miller family. But it was built shortly after the Revolution. Peter Tritt was a--he fought in the Revolution for York; he lived in York County, and then after that he married a woman whose family had moved to Newville and they came with them. That was the Lefevres(??), the Lefevre family, and they--their farm house was near where Big Spring High School is now today.

SM: Were both your parents' families farm families? Were they farming?

RT: Yes, they were both farmers.

SM: But they--and they both had some education beyond elementary--

RT: They--just high school, high school education.

SM: Where did you go to high school?

RT: I went to--well, I was living in Shippensburg through seventh grade, and then we moved to Newville where my family built a house near Big Spring High School, often called Big Spring Heights. What was the question again?

SM: Where you went to high school.

RT: Oh high school, so of course I went to Big Spring High School then from eighth grade through twelfth grade.

SM: But growing up in Shippensburg, were you in town so that you could walk to places?
RT: Yeah, yes I'd be(??) on Orange Street which was just off King Street, and it's close to--so I spent a lot of time exploring Shippensburg when I was young. I started piano lessons when I was in first grade, and I always had--I always went to Shippensburg Saturday mornings for piano lessons even after I moved to Newville. My father still worked at Shippensburg, so I went with him Saturdays. I'd have a piano lesson in the morning and then I had all morning to kill, and so I would walk around town, go to different places, library.

SM: Was your piano teacher someone who was known in the area?

RT: Yeah, Helen Wagner(??); her maiden name is Helen Heikes(??), and when I first started with her she was just out of college. She's still living in Shippensburg. I studied piano with her for twelve years.

SM: And then when did you begin playing the organ? Because Richard is also an organist.

RT: (laughs) I started a little when I was a senior in high school, and then when I went to Shippensburg University, I studied there with Professor Weaver. He was an organist and also the choir director of the college, and I studied with him. There was an electric organ in the Memorial Auditorium, but then my senior year I took my lessons at the Presbyterian Church in Shippensburg; it had a pipe organ. That's when I started; when I was still a senior in college on weekends I played for my home church, that's when I(??) first played. And then during my first year at teaching when I was living in Mechanicsburg was when I took it, an organ--organist's job with--at First--at Saint Paul's Lutheran Church.

SM: In Mechanicsburg?

RT: In Carlisle. Actually, my former high school choir director, who I accompanied choirs(??) for, he was the choir director at Saint Paul's. When they needed an organist, he contacted me. So I commuted there; every Wednesday evening I would drive to Carlisle. I'd meet my future wife for dinner, and then I would go to choir rehearsal. I remained there as an organist for about fourteen years. That's where our children were baptized.

SM: Did you grow up in the Lutheran faith?

RT: No, I grew up in the--the Mainses were very strong Presbyterians; I went to the First United Presbyterian Church. There were two Presbyterian churches in Newville, but ours was the one on the hill. The Mainses were longtime members of that church, quite a large family. There still are members of the family that attend there. I remember being fascinated by that; it was apparently(??) old church, and the architecture, beautiful inside, and the stained glass--

SM: Those lovely windows.

RT: Um-hm, stained glass windows, and I remember it being pointed out to me that the Mainses--some of the Mainses' names were on some of the windows.

SM: Then are your parents interred in Newville?

RT: Yes, yeah.

SM: So then, you knew from the beginning that music was not going to be your full time--

RT: I considered it, but I thought it was better just--better for a hobby or a sideline. I really did--if I had a singing voice, I probably would have wanted music, but I didn't. (laughs) I can carry a tune, but I don't--I never sang in choir or anything, and I don't have that quality of voice, so I--usually if you went to major music you would be an organist, director, choir or something.

SM: Well now, I know that you have an interest in visual arts, painting as well as photography.

RT: Yes.

SM: How did you come to that interest? Just gradually over time?

RT: Yeah, that sort of developed. I used to like to do paint-by-number paintings. (both laugh) And then once I took a paint-by-number--the leftover paints, and I decided I was going to do something original. So I painted our house, which I--my mother, she gave me it; I still have that picture. Then I took--the first sabbatical I had, I thought I wanted to try oil painting, so I took some lessons and enjoyed it very much, but it's very time consuming. I painted like thirty paintings in one year, and then when I'd come back to work I didn't have time to do it again.

SM: I know you spent some time in college years in France.

RT: Yes.

SM: Did that develop or help?

RT: Yeah, the French--when I went to college I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in, and it was during the Kennedy years and the National Defense Education Act, and they were pushing a lot of math, science and foreign language. And the one that sounded(??) the best to me was foreign language because I liked travel and I liked going someplace where everything was completely foreign, even the language. I found that challenging and interesting. And I liked the French culture, so that's what I decided to major in; that was my major, and I took a minor in Spanish, so I had the two languages. And that led to a career in teaching for twenty-six years, and a lot of opportunities to go to Europe, probably ten times, taking students on trips there.

SM: Now, where did you teach?

RT: I taught at the Susquehanna--my first year I taught at Mechanicsburg High School, and I didn't--at the time there was a vast shortage of language teachers and you pretty much picked where you wanted to go. And I had--beginning classes there, and there was an opportunity at Susquehanna Township for--to teach, to be the only language teacher and teach all the levels, all five levels of a language. So I moved there my second year, and I stayed there then for twenty-five years. I decided to retire after my children were through college, and I had had--felt it was time for a career change. So I decided to go into more--spend more time with my hobbies and make my hobbies my main interest, and it just happened to be I had become involved with the Historical Society as a volunteer, and eventually there was an opportunity to move there.

SM: So what year would that have been when you started working here?

RT: Nineteen ninety--the full of 1990s when I was hired here as--the official title is Photo Curator and Registrar. Registrar is for the accessioning of things for the museum. But that also involved working with the museum committee and all the exhibits, as well as the photo archives which was just beginning to develop and come into its own at that point.

SM: I notice in the photo archives that it's the Todd--

RT: The Todd Photo Archives.

SM: Are they the ones who started the collection?

RT: Yeah, the Todds were volunteers who worked with the photos; they were the first ones to--(unintelligible) A. A. Line Collection, the glass negatives. They made the first set of envelopes and they had the case built for that. Their interest was in photography, so the archives were named in honor of them, and they also contributed funds.

SM: And this was--their names were Roger and--

RT: Roger and Mary Todd, yeah. I met her several times, but I think I saw him once, but I didn't know him. I visited her several times in her home.

SM: So when you began working with the photo archives, was it just those glass negatives, and then you added post cards? Or it just was simultaneous, people donated things? How did it grow?

RT: Well, before I was hired here as photo curator and starting in '84 I was a volunteer, and about '86 they got a grant of sixteen, seventeen thousand dollars to catalogue the Line Collection, to have prints made from all the negatives, and to create a study collection so that that would be available to the--for the patrons to use. So that was a job I did when I was still teaching, I did work in the summers and in the evenings. They were open Monday evenings.

SM: Where were they, then, in the old building?

RT: It was possibly where the cloak room is right now. There were two safes--or vaults--there was a larger vault where the lobby is now, more or less, the entrance lobby. That was the vault for the library, and then there was a smaller room, a vault, probably about eight by fifteen feet, perhaps. (laughs) Maybe four times the size of this little space. There was the photo vault, and it was just shelving and a table at the end. When I first volunteered, I(??) asked if they needed help and they said, The photos need a lot of help, and I went in that room and everything was--I remember the table was piled up with prints and glass negatives that had been taken out and not refilled. The first thing I did was get like things together and then inventory all the shelves to learn what was--find out what was in there, and got all the prints that had been made from the Line Collection organized. They had already been numbered, so we got those organized. From there, then we started making the collection available to the public and also started offering copies, you could get copies made from the images, which was just sort of done randomly before, more in-house. Then as it--through the newsletter and so forth, with articles about what was there and what was happening, other collections started to come in and other collections grew, and it just kept growing and it's still growing as people learned it was a good place, a permanent place for things to go.

SM: I know that you have an extraordinary ability to remember visual images--

RT: (laughs) Yes.

SM: --and that was helpful in what you're doing.

RT: Yeah, I have a visual memory which I usually--I can tell if I've seen a photograph before or if I knew a place, if I've been in a place before, which is a good quality to have. I don't know where it--

SM: Yes, it suits what you're doing.

RT: (laughs) Yeah, it does suit what I'm doing.

SM: When you were teaching at--

RT: Susquehanna.

SM: --Susquehanna, were you living in Mechanicsburg at that time?

RT: No, when I--I only lived in Mechanicsburg one year. Actually, I lived in Beverly Bones' house. (laughs)

SM: Beverly Bones currently is a volunteer at the CCHS in the library.

RT: (unintelligible) She's an assistant librarian. The Hubers lived there, and they had a small apartment in the upstairs, and I rented that. I lived in that apartment the year I taught in Mechanicsburg. Then that summer in June I got married, and we moved to a bungalow in Boiling Springs, across from where Karns Market is today. Nancy had an uncle and aunt who lived in the Craighead area, and they knew the people. A farmer had bought that bungalow and wasn't ready--he wanted to retire there, but he wasn't ready to retire, so it was available to rent. It was a three bedroom, it was a very nice--place to live.

SM: Starter home. (laughs)

RT: Yeah, so we lived there about three--we rented that for about three years, and then we were looking for a place--a home to buy. We wanted an old house, we wanted an old house we could restore. There was one about a half a mile down the road, on Forge(??) Road, and it really didn't--we saw it was for sale, but it's that close to the road, and we didn't really think about it, and then one day Nancy just stopped and knocked at the door and wondered if she could look in. When I got home that night she said, "I stopped at the Hemperly(??) House, and it has a beautiful walnut oak stair--center staircase." (Meehan laughs) We always liked wood, and walnut wood, and it had beautiful turnings and woodwork, so we went and looked at it and we bought it. It was a very good investment. We lived there about thirty-five years; we added a section in the back. Nancy's father was an excavator, and he--I remember him coming, digging this huge hole in the back behind the house, and he put in a cool basement and a big one-story addition in the back. We really--it was--we loved the house; we didn't love the location because it was noisy being along the road, but we learned to live out of the back. We put a fence around it so that--our daughters were young--that they knew they couldn't go out front, they'd go out(??) the back.

SM: It was during this time when you were restoring and fixing up the house that you were also developing an interest in antiques?

RT: Actually that started in the bungalow. Even before we were married, we went--our families liked auctions, and we went--I remember going with my parents to auctions when I was in high school. We had bought some furniture before we were married at an auction because we liked antique things and we liked Smith furniture that was made in Shippensburg. Our parents had both purchased some of that for themselves; it was custom made, all made in Shippensburg. When I was a kid walking in Shippensburg, I often went by those buildings where I saw the men working and making new furniture on my way home from school. We started going to auctions, and we became friends with Vonny and Walter Eckman(??), and they also had an old house, and they were interested in antiques, so we were all going to sales and buying things. Then we would get things in lots that we didn't want, (laughs) extra things. So in our basement of the little bungalow, we created an area where we refinished things and where we--we had shelving where we kept clean things and price them. Then we started going to some of the antique flea markets--shows like New Oxford and Hanover, the shows at the M J Mall here in Carlisle, and we--

SM: The former M J Mall.

RT: The former M J Mall, and that's where--our business was called Trec Antiques, T-r-e-c, which is T-r for Tritt and e-c for Eckman. Everybody always thought it was Tree Antiques, (laughs) but it was Trec and they always wondered where it came from. For quite a few years we would travel, we'd go to New England on antiquing trips looking for things, refurnishing our homes and we were storing(??) collections, and excess things or other things we'd see that were reasonable, we would buy and then we would take them to these markets. Eventually--we were together about ten years, I think, and then we decided to end the business--well not end it, but we took over the business. They decided they didn't want to do it anymore. We continued and we still have a space at Northgate Antiques where we have some antiques there. We specialize more mostly in glass, patterned glass, some china, postcards, picture frames, some of the smaller items were our interests. That's how the antique--the interest in antiques goes back to--into old--and old things goes back to I think my family. I had on my mother's side--my great-grandfather lived in the large brick house at the intersection of 233 and Route 11. When I was young, I used to go there because I had two maiden aunts and an uncle who lived there. The house was--book club(??)--was furnished like Civil War era, and they never modernized. They didn't have cars; they had electric, but they used coal to heat in the coal furnace. They made bread two times a week, they had the huge garden, and it was always like an adventure to go there and help them or visit them.

SM: Would they have been examples of the way other people of their age might have been living at the same time or were they sort of eccentric?

RT: No, they never--yeah, sort of eccentric. They just didn't--they didn't modernize. They had a radio, but I remember that it was so cold there; in the winter they only heated the kitchen and the little family room, and then the other rooms were unheated. It was a huge house; they had a big center hall. There was a--the uncle was very interested in history, and he spent all of his time in this one room that was full of history books. He was interested in genealogy and local history. Aunt Helen was the one I was closest to, and she lived the longest. I would go there on something like(??) a Saturday and we would go out and pick wild cherries, and we'd come back and she'd make cherry pies, and I watched her make bread and candies using the old dough trays and the old pie cupboards. Then there were all sorts of stories in the house, associated with the house during the Civil War. I learned later that there was a--it was a story I had heard, but my one cousin told me his father, who is my uncle, remembered it too--that there was a Confederate soldier who was wounded as the armies were moving through here during the invasion. He was too sick to continue with the army, so he stayed at their home and they nursed him back to health, and then he went south again. He left them himself(??). But they never told any of the neighbors that they had helped this Confederate. (laughs)

SM: Were these the--

RT: Mains.

SM: --parents of the aunts that you visited?

RT: Yeah, these would have been the sisters and brother of my grandfather Mains, the Mainses. They all were raised there, the Mains family was raised there, and my grandfather's farm was right--he built his farm on their land right next--it's the first farm on 233 as you go towards Newville on the right. That was the Mains farm that my grandfather Mains--and that's where I lived during World War II. I was born in '42 and my father and uncles were in the service, so all the cousins moved with the grandparents and our mothers and lived on that farm. For about two years we were there. I have lots of early memories of farm life, and playing in the hay bales, and out in the fields and exploring, killing the chickens (both laugh) and gathering the eggs. So those are my first memories of--and we stayed there a little while after my father first came back; we lived there a while because I remember my sister being born when I lived there. I remember my mother being brought home from the hospital and wheeled in, (both laugh) wheeled up the sidewalk into the house with my only sister. There were just the two of us, Dick and Jane. (both laugh)

SM: I think we're going to end the Dick and Jane story for today.

RT: Okay.

SM: We need to get a drink of water, but thank you very much.

RT: Alright. End of interview

Tritt, Richard, interviewed by Susan Meehan, May 6, 2014, Elizabeth V. and George F. Gardner Digital Library, Cumberland County Historical Society,, (accessed Month Day, Year).

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