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

With the recent premiere of Country Music, director Ken Burns has launched another epic PBS TV docuseries that amplifies the significance of an enduring American institution. In this issue’s cover story, “High on a Mountain,” we follow up with a look at Pennsylvania’s key role in the evolution of country music and the state’s later contributions to the genre. Author Joe Baker takes us on a sprawling journey starting in the 18th century with the arrival of Scots Irish immigrants who brought to Pennsylvania the musical traditions that formed the roots of country music. We then move on to Nazareth, Northampton County, for a tour of C. F. Martin & Co., which hand-crafted a steel-string guitar acquired in the 1920s by country music’s earliest star, Jimmie Rodgers, setting a precedent for Martin as the guitar manufacturer of choice for many other country legends to follow. From there we go to Chester County, near Jennersville, once the home of Sunset Park, the premier venue north of Nashville from 1940 into the 1990s for live performances of country and bluegrass stars, from Hank Williams and Bill Monroe to Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. The final stop is a visit with Pennsylvania’s own home-grown bluegrass living legend, York County’s Del McCoury, providing a contemporary link for Pennsylvania with the music’s grassroots past.

Highlighting our continuing commemoration of women’s achievements in Pennsylvania, regular contributor Todd M. Mealy presents the saga of one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, Philadelphia’s Ora Washington, in the article “Indomitable.” Living in an era when sports were segregated, Washington excelled in African American leagues between 1925 and 1947 in tennis, winning numerous national titles, and women’s basketball, leading her teams to 11 Women’s Colored Basketball Championships. Mealy points out that Washington served as a significant role model to the next generation of African American women athletes who would be able to break the color line in both sports and notes how recent posthumous accolades have enhanced Washington’s legacy as a contender who continues to inspire.

This edition’s feature in our ongoing series of articles for the 75th anniversary of World War II emphasizes the significance of Pennsylvania’s transportation network to the war effort. In “WWII Target: Altoona,” railroad historian Dan Cupper tells the story of Operation Pastorius, the Nazi plot to destroy various manufacturing and transportation sites in the eastern United States, including the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Horseshoe Curve, whose security was vital to moving troops and supplies across the country. Bringing into focus the relationship of the railroad to its working community in Altoona, Cupper shows how the “world famous” engineering marvel, which had opened nearly a century earlier in 1854 to expedite the time for trains to surmount the Allegheny Front, had put the city on the map. He then follows the progression of the ill-fated plot and the ensuing trial of the saboteurs.

Since the time of the American Revolution, Pennsylvania has been noted as a center of scientific inquiry and innovation. Figures of the American Enlightenment based in Philadelphia included inventor Benjamin Franklin, physician Benjamin Rush, and astronomer David Rittenhouse. Spotlighting others in the pantheon, author Iren Light Snavely Jr. has previously contributed articles to Pennsylvania Heritage about ornithologist Alexander Wilson and entomologist Thomas Say. His current subject in “Pennsylvania Polymath,” Samuel Stehman Haldeman, worked later in the 19th century, mostly from his home in Lancaster County, but played a significant role in shaping American science. Snavely describes the accomplishments of this self-taught scholar in a wide range of fields, from geology and zoology to linguistics, but contends that one of Haldeman’s greatest achievements was his work in various organizations to enhance America’s role in international science.

For nearly a quarter-century, I have had the privilege of publishing literature on Pennsylvania — first as a book editor with Stackpole for two decades and then as the editor of this magazine for the past five years. After all that time, I am still awed by the seemingly endless diversity of stories that make up our state’s heritage and how often these accounts tie into the broader chronicle of America. You’ll see this larger connection as you read the features in this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage.

Kyle R. Weaver