Their first festival attracted 250 people.

Today, the group's two largest annual events can draw a combined 16,000 to the downtown.

The Tamaqua Historical Society, one of the area's most ambitious and successful volunteer groups, is marking 40 years of service.

It was 1973 when a small group of history enthusiasts banded together. From the start, members shared an interest in what Tamaqua was and what it could become. Members had lofty goals, lots of ambition, plenty of ideas, but very little backing or community presence.

"In those early days, we had our hands full trying to get our name out so people knew about us," said Dale W. Freudenberger, president.

Early members were Bertha Stahler, Eleanor deQuevedo, Daniel Leiby, Pauline Zigmant, Rozella Loew, Kathryn Wenzel, Irma Wenzel, Clifford Price, Althea Price, Rita Bolitho, Michael Havrischak, Emily Havrischak, Dale Freudenberger, Molly Svennes, Ola Svennes, Wilda Fey and others.

Eleven years later, the society sponsored the first Tamaqua Heritage Festival. The celebration was so small it was held in two rooms on the first floor of the 1850 Anthracite Bank Building, 133 West Broad St.

Members added a touch of autumn ambience and helped attract visitors by decorating the building's granite front steps with dried corn stalks, Indian corn and pumpkins.

"Bertha Stahler displayed some of her work at a few tables inside and we had an antique car parked in front of the building," said Freudenberger.

The festival showcased artifacts and relics from Tamaqua's proud past, along with arts and crafts. By sunset, the budding event had drawn about 250 of the curious who looked around, sipped apple cider, and went home.

Nobody could've guessed a modest salute to heritage would grow so large it would encompass the downtown and attract 9,000 in a single day. The festival has become one of the region's top one-day tourist attractions. It even spawned a second event, Tamaqua Summerfest, a June celebration held every Father's Day.

Both events soon became a homecoming destination for displaced natives.

Of course, hard work by members throughout the years didn't go unrewarded by an appreciative community.

In the spring of 1988, thanks to generosity of Miners National Bank, the society realized one of its primary goals - to find permanent headquarters and establish a museum.

The donation of the 1865 First National Bank building was a dream come true for the society and the area.

The Tamaqua Historical Society Museum became eastern Schuylkill County's repository, featuring displays of anthracite coal mining, Indian artifacts, local antiques, early Tamaqua fire fighting equipment, priceless old photography, and a visual chronology of Tamaqua area's development.

The museum is currently undergoing major renovations and was closed after a final tour by local scouts in December, 2012. A second level mezzanine will be built over the bank vault, taking advantage of cavernous interior space. Part of the mezzanine will include a gallery. The mezzanine also will be utilized to host public events, mixers, fundraisers and musical presentations.

When finished, the Classical Revival structure will be a multilevel gallery, meeting site and venue of local history. The building will receive all new electrical, lighting, plumbing, HVAC, and new roof.

The first floor will be expanded by removal of a counter that traditionally has divided the space lengthwise. A new kitchenette also will be constructed, new handicapped bathrooms, a second exit and a lunchroom for volunteers.

The museum's artifacts have been sent to secure storage for the duration of the project.

One part of the transformation was completed last year with the addition of a climate-controlled research library in the former board of directors room at the building's rear, or south side, a $12,000 project.

Volunteers spent weeks setting up the space and transferring delicate paper documents, photos and books into the new environs.

When re-opened, "The Museum of the Tamaqua Area" will showcase exhibits about Tamaqua Borough, West Penn, Walker, Rush and Schuylkill townships, and Coaldale Borough.

Another accomplishment was the acquisition and restoration of the building's original stained glass clock, a $15,000 project. Completed in 2012, it was made possible by the generosity of Tamaqua resident Lois Breiner, who donated the clock in honor of her parents, Henry and Mary Kase Breiner.

The new museum will become a center for tours and anchor for a "Visit Tamaqua" entertainment venue that will allow guests to stroll through the museum and then walk to nearby restaurants, art galleries and historic sites.

Following is a list of accomplishments by society volunteers over the past 40 years:

1973 - Incorporated as a nonprofit.

1974 - Hegarty Blacksmith Shop was donated by the Hegarty family and the society began restoration. It was dedicated and opened to the public in 1976.

1981 - Saved the Tamaqua train station from demolition following a devastating fire set by vandals. The society invested about $25,000 in securing the building and cleaning up the exterior and interior in order to buy time until a plan to fully restore it could be created. Tamaqua SOS organization was created in 1990 for this sole purpose.

1984 - Tamaqua Heritage Festival was established. The first house tours in Tamaqua were started.

1985 - Established the first train excursions at the festval in cooperation with the Reading and Northern Railroad.

1987 - Established the Tamaqua Summerfest on Fathers Day.

1988 - Acquired the old Miners National Bank Building at 114-118 W. Broad St. from the bank. The society established a local history museum in the old bank during the first year. From 1988 to 2012 the society spent $100,000 in renovations to the exterior of the Museum and Chamber buildings at 114-118 W. Broad St.

1991 - Celebrated the 160th anniversary of the Little Schuylkill Railroad by sponsoring a day long steam excursion on the Reading and Northern Railroad using steam locomotive #2102 built by the Reading Railroad. Over 1,300 people came to Tamaqua to ride the Anthracite Express.

1994-95 - Purchased the 1801 Moser Log Home in order to preserve it for future generations and open it to the public. The Society restored the interior and exterior and opened it in 1995. Total cost of purchase and restoration, $40,000.

2002 - Completed a second, more thorough restoration of the Hegarty Blacksmith Shop exterior and interior.

2003 - Created and offered the first haunted Tours of Tamaqua at Halloween time.

2012 - Completed a $15,000 restoration and remounting of the original 1911 stained glass clock and chimes that hung on the front of the building from 1911 to 1960. The clock was donated by Lois Breiner.

2012 - Constructed a $12,000 climate controlled archives and library at the museum.

2013 - Co-sponsored the mural on Lafeyette St. painted by the Tamaqua Area Middle School art students.

2013 - Purchased and moved the 1922 Seagraves fire truck once belonging to Citizens Fire Co. from a location near Ocala, Florida.

2013 - Embarked on an ambitious plan to totally renovate and expand the musum representing the greater Tamaqua area.

2014-2015 - Major renovations are expected to get underway.

The society was also involved with other projects including starting the first Molly Maguire reenactments in the region, offering guided historic tours of town, offering candlelit walking tours at Christmas, working with the 2004 Partnership on creating historic markers in the area, illuminating the Odd Fellows cemetery at night and creating historic tour brochures.