According to Mike Ebbert, it all started with baseball.
Back in 1991, Ebbert was a recent retiree of the Lehighton Area School District, having served in various capacities since 1959.
"At that time, a bunch of ex-teachers were talking, and kept saying that someone should research Lehighton's old baseball teams," Ebbert said. "Local history has always been a hobby of mine, so I took them up on it."
Eager to whet his appetite for information on the successes of past players, Ebbert ventured to Jim Thorpe's Dimmick Memorial Library. For the next "couple of years", Ebbert perused the library's records, searching for statistics, game summaries and other key facts. However, something strange happened while Ebbert conducted his research: he kept stumbling upon rare nuggets of Carbon County's history. Suddenly, baseball didn't seem quite as important to Ebbert.
The former educator slowly became an amateur historian, compiling his research into several handmade tomes. Ebbert's reputation as a history guru spread quickly, and caught the attention of Harry Hill, another veteran of the Lehighton Area School District.
Together, they recently published History of Lehighton Area Schools, a 332-page text that chronicles the development of one of Carbon County's oldest educational systems. The book's release coincided with the district's 2010 teacher's retirement banquet, held in April.
According to Hill, the project evolved out of research done by Burt Rex, a 1945 graduate of Lehighton High School, for his most recent class reunion. After the reunion, Rex turned to Hill, seeking to expand and distribute the compiled research.
"I thought that this information was so important that it should be made available to all graduates," Hill said. "This school district isn't represented too much in the county's various history collections, and we wanted to detail its rich background."
Hill, who served as a Lehighton Area School District administrator for eight years, enlisted the help of Ebbert in this venture. Although Ebbert never intended to publish his material, and warned Hill that it was rife with grammatical errors, he agreed to assist in the book's creation.
The end result is an exteremly detailed and comprehensive history of the Lehighton Area School District, starting with its earliest roots as one-room schoolhouses built by Moravian missionaries in the late 18th Century and ending with modern accolades. Historic illustrations and photographs gleamed from Ebbert's research lend a unique perspective to the reproduced newspaper articles and personal essays.
"It's my desire that when people look at this book, they begin to appreciate the deveoplment of this educational system and all of the hard work that was put into it," Ebbert said. "Although it's had a slow growth, it's become the district we all know and love today."
A particular source of pride for Ebbert is the book's "Biographies of Area School Personalities," a section that honors individuals who have played major roles in shaping Lehighton's schools. Not surprisinginly, both Hill and Ebbert are included.
Originally, 100 copies of History of Lehighton Area Schools were published by the Delaware County Intermediate Unit. At the behest of Hill, each Lehighton Area school was given a copy for its library. Additional copies are also housed at the Lehighton Area Memorial Library and the Maple Shade Meadows assisted living facility in Nesquehoning. The remaining books are available for Lehighton alumni to purchase. For more information, please contact Sandra at (570) 386-5970.
"There's a lot of good history here," Hill said. "The people who have worked in the district have done a lot of positive things.
"This book provides a great background of not only the school district, but also the town of Lehighton itself."