Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

“Persons and places conceive each other.” While preparing this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage, I was reminded of this quote from the preface of an American studies textbook I read as a graduate student, American Ground: Vistas, Visions and Revisions, edited by Robert H. Fossum and John K. Roth. It continues: “No people would have become American without a place of their own. Nor would any place have become American without people who envisioned the vistas of a nation in a land that is now the United States.” This thesis can be applied on a smaller scale to Pennsylvania and its people, as evidenced by the three features in this issue.

The commonwealth’s more than 46,000 square miles are contained in political borders that were set only after the occurrence of a series of property disputes between Pennsylvania and its neighbors in the 18th century. One long intergenerational squabble between the colonial proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland eventually led to the drawing of the Mason-Dixon Line, completed in 1767. Pennsylvania’s southern boundary, however, would come to represent a much greater division than was originally intended. In “Restless Progress in America: Drawing the Mason-Dixon Line,” historian Rick Beard reflects on the legacy of the line 250 years after it was established. He examines the prolonged conflict between the Penn and Calvert families, the violent encounters that arose within the disputed territory, and the land survey by two English scientists who created the final boundary that years later served as a dividing line between slavery and freedom, distinguishing where Pennsylvania stood in one of the greatest political and cultural debates in American history.

Throughout the years, sites on which great historic events took place have been memorialized and preserved in Pennsylvania. Washington Crossing Historical Park, Brandywine Battlefield Park and Valley Forge National Historical Park all protect and maintain land from momentous episodes in the American Revolution. It might be surprising then to learn that the oldest Revolutionary War monument in the state (and second oldest in the nation) stands at the Paoli Memorial Grounds, adjacent to the Paoli Battlefield, commemorating what may seem to be a more obscure moment in the fight for independence. In “‘Remember Paoli!’” historian Thomas J. McGuire — who has been writing and lecturing about the battle for more than 20 years — explains why this small engagement that occurred on September 20, 1777, in which British forces brutally attacked Gen. Anthony Wayne’s 1,500 Continentals at night, had much more significance to early Americans than later history seems to indicate. He also recounts the story of how three Chester County veterans of the War of 1812, fresh from their own combat experiences in a conflict with Britain, were moved to form a committee to mark the Paoli site 40 years after the battle was fought.

Conservation of the land has been a major initiative in Pennsylvania since the early 20th century, when the commonwealth began forming various agencies to protect and regenerate its natural resources. The state’s forests in particular faced depletion, precipitated not only by the aggressive lumbering industry but also by destructive forces in nature itself. The American chestnut was prevalent in Pennsylvania and throughout Appalachia until the early 1900s, when the species became infested with a pathogenic fungus, commonly known as the Chestnut Blight, that began killing off the forest giants. In “Castanea … From Blight to Backcross Breeding,” archaeologist and naturalist Joe Baker tells the story of what was once one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful and serviceable trees, the devastation that befell it, and the state’s efforts throughout the past century to restore the species. He concludes with an inspiring visit to one of the rare survivors that is now playing an important role in scientists’ endeavors to breed trees that are immune to the blight.

Like America in the larger sense, Pennsylvania has acquired a distinct cultural heritage from this interplay of people and place throughout history. The demarcation of a separate land and these specific efforts to conserve a natural resource and preserve a location where history unfolded provide a sampling that tells us about who we are and where we’ve been as a people called Pennsylvanian. You will recognize this as you read this issue’s sweeping stories about Pennsylvania ground.

Kyle R. Weaver