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

The roots of rock ‘n’ roll music have been traced to several places in America, Philadelphia among them. It was there in 1949 that the Gotham label released what is considered to be one of the first rock ‘n’ roll records, “Rock the Joint,” by Jimmy Preston & the Prestonians of Chester, Delaware County. “Rock the Joint” had an impact on another rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, a DJ also from Chester named Bill Haley, who in 1952 recorded the song as a fusion of western swing and rhythm & blues with his band the Saddlemen on the Philadelphia-based Essex label. Haley and his group, renamed the Comets, would go on to record “(We’re Gonna) Rock around the Clock” in 1954, which became a phenomenal hit the following year, bringing rock ‘n’ roll to a mainstream youth audience. In this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage in a feature interview with music journalist Chris Epting [“Good Road Followed… From Metro Philly to Rock Hall: An Interview with John Oates“], rock and soul star John Oates, raised in North Wales, Montgomery County, recalls his experience as a young boy seeing Bill Haley & His Comets perform at Willow Grove amusement park. The description is one of those snapshots in time that connects the ages. Oates, of course, played his own part in the story of rock, and here you’ll read more about his formative years in Pennsylvania, his early bands, the influence of the midcentury Philadelphia music scene on his career, and that fortuitous moment when he met Daryl Hall and began playing music with him while the two were students at Temple University, leading to the formation of one of the most successful duos in rock history, Hall & Oates.

Some historic moments are found hidden in the shadows of the past and are only rediscovered years later following massive transformations in the culture, when they are revealed to have had a vital bearing on events that resonate with us today. Take, for example, the 1881 case of Allen v. Meadville School District, an early flicker in the struggle for civil rights that had an empowering effect. At a time when federal and state laws on segregation were out of sync, African American Elias Allen of Meadville, Crawford County, attempted to enroll his children in an all-white elementary school closer to the family home but was refused. In a bold move, Allen took the school district to court claiming his family’s 14th Amendment rights had been violated. Historian Todd M. Mealy, in his article “Breaking the Color Line,” perfectly demonstrates how the decision in this local court of common pleas trial galvanized activist educator William Howard Day and the Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League to action, leading to the repeal of a statewide 1854 public school segregation act.

Continuing our series of articles on historic preservation in Pennsylvania to mark 50 years of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Pamela W. Reilly of the State Historic Preservation Office contributes “Historic Districts in Pennsylvania: An Evolving Sense of Place.” The article traces the efforts of communities in Pennsylvania, always at the forefront of the preservation movement, to recognize and preserve historically significant sections of their hometowns as “historic districts,” even before NHPA. Reilly emphasizes how several communities have worked to gain recognition for historic districts through listing in the National Register of Historic Places, leading to rehabilitation of town landmarks through tax credit incentives and other programs, as well as preservation of their own unique historical identities. She explores the results of these efforts in communities throughout the state.

In Philadelphia, the Colonial Germantown Historic District includes a number of buildings dating from the 18th century, including the famous Chew House, better known as Cliveden, whose grounds served as the setting for the fateful Battle of Germantown fought during the British campaign to capture the Continental capital in the American Revolution. In “The Formidable Chews of Cliveden Preserve a National Landmark,” former editor of Pennsylvania Heritage Michael J. O’Malley III tells of seven generations of Chews, the colorful aristocrats who lived in the classic Georgian mansion for two centuries, and the ups and downs of their family history that affected the ongoing preservation efforts of this national treasure.

As you read the articles in this edition you will notice how people and events in our local past have had an impact beyond state borders, figuring significantly in the larger American saga. From movements in popular music and programs to protect our heritage to revolutions in human rights, Pennsylvania’s story is very often America’s story.

Kyle R. Weaver