Group hopes to create museum honoring Milton native, creator of national motto
MILTON - The penny. The quarter. The $1 bill.
Each is different by design, but together they share one common feature: The words "In God We Trust."
James Pollock, a native of Milton, is credited with creating the spiritual - and sometimes controversial - phrase that now appears on all U.S. currency and was adopted as the national motto in 1956.
Pollock was a successful businessman, lawyer and politician, but one of his greatest contributions to society came when he was director of the Philadelphia Mint from 1861 to 1866. During that time, he was instructed to create a religious motto to satisfy the request of devout Christians that God be acknowledged on currency.
To honor his achievement, The Improved Milton Experience, a community-based, nonprofit organization that facilitates Milton's Main Street Program, has begun a fundraising campaign to raise $150,000 to purchase the former Milton National Bank on South Front Street in downtown Milton to create the James Pollock "In God We Trust" Museum.
The two-story, 6,000-square-foot building would feature galleries dedicated to Pollock and former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who signed key legislation that allowed the phrase to be included on currency.
Origin of phrase
Before taking the position at the Mint, Pollock was a Northumberland County district attorney (1836-1838), U.S. congressman (1844-1849) and the 13th governor of Pennsylvania (1855 to 1858). He was also co-founder and first president of the Milton National Bank.
The original bank building was destroyed by fire in the 1880s, but the fact that Pollock had ties to the bank where the museum is planned holds special meaning for George Venios, Milton's Main Street manager.
"When we found out that Pollock was the co-founder, we knew we had to buy the building," Venios said Wednesday while standing inside the historic building.
Venios, co-author of the book "In God We Trust," said a similar phrase first appeared in the fourth stanza of "The Star Spangled Banner," written in 1812 by Francis Scott Key. The stanza includes the line: "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' "
Venios has researched materials at the Library of Congress and archives at Penn State University to determine who coined "In God We Trust." He discovered that in 1861, the Rev. Mark R. Watkinson wrote a letter to Salmon Chase, secretary of the United States Treasury, proposing that a motto be created recognizing the existence of God.
This is where Venios' account of history differs from the government's.
According to a website for the U.S. Department of Treasury, in a letter dated Dec. 9, 1863, Chase approved Pollock's designs, but with the exception that the motto on the side with the shield be changed to "In God We Trust."
"The research at Penn State University and Library of Congress always points to Pollock being the originator of the phrase," Venios said. "I researched Chase, but no where does it mention about his work on the motto."
According to Venios, Pollock was quoted before he died stating he was the one who came up with the phrase, not Chase.
Pollock died April 19, 1890, in Lock Haven, at age 80. He is buried in the Milton Cemetery. On his tombstone reads: "James Pollock 1810-1890. In God We Trust."
Venios said the bulk of the $150,000 still needs to be raised in order to purchase the former bank building from the Milton Public Library, which moved out several years ago.
The building still contains most of its original amenities, including light fixtures, marble floors and two walk-in safes. Phase II of the campaign would fund the acquisition of artifacts, exhibits and displays, and the establishment of an operations endowment fund.
In coordination with a street fair, a celebration recognizing the 150th anniversary of "In God We Trust" will take place from noon to 4 p.m. April 27 on Center Street in Milton. At 1 p.m., a program will take place at the Veterans Memorial Walkway. Scheduled to appear are state Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver (R-108) and state Sen. John Gordner (R-27).
For more information on how to donate or for more information on Pollock, visit www.ingodwetrustmuseum.com.