BRISTOL BOROUGH >> Way more than just local history enthusiasts…….

Local historians are without a doubt some of a community’s most valuable assets.

“What do you do in an industry?” Harold Dodson Mitchener, Bristol High School (Class of 1956) and West Chester University (Class of 1960) with a Masters in Geography and Social Studies from the College of New Jersey would ask the attentive red shirted Snyder-Girotti students seated in the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library. “What’s a textile? Everyone put your hands on your shirt or blouse.” “Material!”

The unified shouts surrounded him.

Authors/tour guides Harold and his wife, Carol, [valedictorian] Delhaas '56, Kutztown U./ M.Ed. Boston U., would lead the obviously enthralled pupils through a basic overview of the Industrial Revolution and how this profoundly affected the lives of ordinary people with such a quick succession of inventions and pieces of legislation. They unselfishly and creatively shared their valuable knowledge of the golden thread that intertwines unshakeable commitment to liberty with that of duty and social responsibility, all the while woven throughout the Borough tapestry.

This totally successful, innovative program was presented to all the 5th graders in Bristol for almost a decade as a part of the innovative Borough curriculum.

According to the recently retired BBSD reading specialist/ Title 1 federal program coordinator, Mary Louise Younglove Gesualdi verified, “Harold IS Bristol’s history. His insight and wisdom impacts the students. He makes history come alive. He is a true treasure!”

When Harold and Carol both decided to “retire” they began traveling until 1997, and when they somewhat satisfied their wanderlust, they started working in the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library in the history room area. They “pulled off any articles on the Microfilm and Microfiche machine that referred to Bristol or the people who lived in it, and put them on acid free paper and filed and identified the pictures we found,” Harold shared.

They both have a special kind of passion for history and a sincere love for chronicling their beloved Bristol on the Delaware’s individuality and quirks. “We went to the library often and the former Grundy Library Director, Mary Jane Mannherz, MLS asked us to volunteer and look at books, and work through the boxes and drawers filled with info, and then to file that info.”

They continued to scour the library, record important regional events, and keep citizens informed about this area’s storied past, and just like many local historians, they continued to do all of this for free.

The Mitcheners authored the pictorial journey book, “Images of America – Bristol” in June 2000.

Each town, city, and neighborhood has its own story in American history.

“The Arcadia Publishing Company in Charleston, SC sent brochures all around the country including info to the Grundy library regarding writing the book. We began borrowing pictures. It took about a year for research, etc.”, explained Harold.

They assembled an exceptional array of incredible images combined with informative, well-documented narrative, clearly tracing Bristol’s roots; a truly priceless work.

There were strict parameters to which they were required to adhere.

“We would write 600 words to explain a picture and only 200 were permitted.”

Back to the writing desk and then Welcome Friend!

Hurry! There are copies of “Images of America – Bristol” still available at Mignoni Jewelry and Gifts, 200 Mill Street, and at Great I.D.’s by Anne on 257 Radcliffe Street, as well as through Amazon:

Memories of common experiences and common aspirations are essential ingredients in patriotism, and knowledge of the past is the guide to acting in the present and planning for the future.

Harold was born in Bristol Borough to Bristol native Harold Garrison and NE Philadelphia native Lutie [Dodson] Mitchener in the private Harriman Hospital that then stood on Wilson Avenue.

Dr. George T. Fox was the owner of Harriman Hospital, later called Bristol General Hospital.

The future historian attended the Borough schools and it was his BHS teacher, the late Mrs. Margaret N. Gontar who influenced him to teach history. “We didn’t just memorize dates!”

You only get one shot at life, and that means you must follow your passion.

He very knowledgeably taught American History and Geography at the Cecelia Snyder Middle School in Bensalem until retiring in 1995. Carol expertly taught both Elementary and Gifted Education in the former Maple Shade School that was located on a V-shaped lot on Newport Road, and the Lafayette School that had been located on Fayette Drive, near the LB Hospital, and the leveled Mary W. Devine School in Croydon off of State Road that has since been rebuilt on the same site in Bristol Township.

They met at Church. Harold met Carol at the First United Methodist Church on Mulberry Street.

When they were newly married, they initially moved into the Swain Street family home before purchasing a home on Palmer Avenue. Now they proudly reside in the Villas at Riverview with a Delaware River view.

The Mitcheners had been asked to join the Bristol Cultural & Historical Foundation [BCHF] by the renowned late artist, Joseph E. Pavone who established the Borough cultural activities with the original Radcliffe Cultural and Historical Association. Harold and Carol became BCHF charter members in 1967.

“They have trips, programs and a nice group of people”, Harold shared. “We started as members and then we were asked to serve on the Board in the early 1980’s. I was President for several years, about 3 years, and then was elected President again for the last 2 ½ years. I also was the editor of the Gazette.”

The BCHF building was once home to a one-room Quaker School built in 1874, where they held school until about 1900. And, according to this local historian/ author Harold D. Mitchener, “There have been several groups that had meetings there. It once served as a place where the GAZETTE, a town paper was printed. That was before the Bristol Courier Newspaper. It served as a meeting place for the Bracken Post Legion until they moved to Radcliffe Street, opposite the Grundy Library. Several other groups met there, including The Eastern Star ladies group and also the Rainbow Girls, sponsored by the Eastern Star. It was also home to the Bristol Seniors Travel Club and they sold it to BCHF in 1991.”

History noted. Thank you again Mitcheners.

Class is NEVER really dismissed!

Due to “concerns of health”, Harold, the widely admired historic preservationist and avid promoter of the borough’s past, is stepping down as BCHF President but he will be remaining an active Board of Directors member of this non-profit organization so dedicated to preserving nearly 340 years of Bristol's history.

“We will still write for the Gazette newsletter,” he confirmed.

The current BCHF VP/HBD chairperson, Nicholas A. Rizzo will assume the position as President.

“He welcomed me to the BCHF and piqued my interest in the walking tours. I learned a lot from listening to Harold and Carol. They are assets to BCHF as well as Bristol,” added Nick.

“In 1990, I succeeded Harold as chairperson of the Ways & Means Committee. What a hard act he was to follow! I’ve never met anyone who is as dedicated to BCHF and to Bristol Borough as Harold,” confirmed Helen Mary Younglove, BCHF Board member.

“I have enjoyed working with both Harold and Carol over the years as a member and former Board member of BCHF. They are so enthusiastic in sharing their Bristol history. I have learned so much from them and enjoy their sense of humor too,” added Robin Butrey, Educator & Coordinator of Visitation Services at the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Museum.

Harold and Carol have been recognized by Bristol and the Grundy Foundation for their dedication.

“We are determined to pass on the Bristol history for posterity!”

They have both also provided invaluable information and assistance to local authors and artists.

“We provided info by telephone to William M. Pezza for his latest book, “Till the Boys Come Home”, and Carol drew pictures of Mill Street and the stores, and she originally even made a chart for Bill.”

“In my book, you walk down Mill Street - the commercial center of Bucks County at the time. Shops were vibrant,” confirmed author Bill Pezza, who literally recreated Mill Street through the help of the longtime borough residents and historians Harold and Carol Mitchener.

“They actually drew me a map of Mill Street with every store in 1941.”

Renowned Bristol Borough artist Joseph Sagolla took pictures of his paintings for his 2006 book, “Historic Bristol Borough 1681: A Portfolio of Painting” and the Mitcheners wrote the script. The book commemorating Bristol’s 325th Anniversary can be found in the Grundy Library on Radcliffe Street.

Eugene J. “Gene” Williams, executive director of the Grundy Foundation, shared, “In October 2014, the History Trail Markers that circle the Grundy Campus were dedicated in honor of Harold and Carol for their volunteerism.”

The Mitcheners’ busy calendar is jam packed with their church, their work, the Grundy library, and the BCHF trips, tours and functions. They still offer tremendous contributions and positive influence as co-chairs of the BCHF Spring Teas and Peach Festivals and participants in the Annual HBD celebrations, as well as providing historical presentations as dinner speakers for local service organizations.

Pre-COVID, they attended the King George II Monday Burger Nights with their friends, and enjoyed fish dinners at Cesare’s Italian Specialties Ristorante [the closest thing to home cooking!], or late snacks at the Golden Eagle Diner.

It is great to do what one thoroughly loves, but it is even greater to do it with a great teammate.

Harold and Carol Mitchener are living proof.

They love their historic little town and they have truly done so very much to make it even better!

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