Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Probably few people in the history of the English lan­guage have joined together, in one phrase, the verb “to place” and the noun “property,” i.e. real estate. But we at the Historical and Museum Commission have brought the two words together to describe a program that we are pursuing to deal with the very difficult financial woes of the PHMC. Much like the work of the college placement office, we are seeking to find useful, productive and cost efficient new careers for all of the historic properties and museums which are under the custody of the Commission. It is an exciting and creative process, one that I would like to share with the readers of PH.

During the sixty-eight year history of the Pennsylvania state history program, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has acquired, by gift, purchase and a host of other vehicles, a total of sixty historic properties and museums which were intended to highlight and interpret the varied history of the state and its people. Almost every year, the Commission received responsibility for yet another historic site or museum. Some were great and notable; some were largely reconstructions of properties which were lost either to time or the elements; others were of extreme local interest with little value for interpreting history for the citizens of the Commonwealth.

All was well with these continual additions until the early 1970s when suddenly the state’s economy entered one of its cyclical slides. Unfortunately, the economic decline occurred just as the Commission was completing its development of a host of properties acquired or planned in the boom years of the 1960s. And, unfortunately, although these new historic sites and museums required an expansion of staff, the opposite occurred. From a force of more than 500, the Commission’s staff declined dramatically to its present level which barely exceeds 300. Consequently, the Commission is currently able to staff only thirty of its sixty properties; and the prospects of a reversal of this staffing picture are dim indeed.

To deal with the situation and to insure that the Com­mission will continue to carry out its mandate of protecting and preserving the sites under its custody, we have estab­lished a program “to place” all of our properties in their highest, best and most efficient uses. With a recent profes­sional evaluation of all our sites in hand, the Commission is planning the full development and staffing of slightly more than a third of the sixty historic sites and museums, is seeking non-state local historical groups to manage more than a third of the remaining properties, and is exploring alternative uses – some of them to produce income – for the remainder. In all cases, the use of the property will be such that it will be protected and preserved and will be available to the general public on a schedule that is appropriate for that particular site. In every case, we are seeking to work directly with legislators and local citizens to define the future development and use of each property and to assure that when such a program has been devised, it will reflect the interests and desires of local citizens.

Just like the college placement office, we are seeking to measure the values, virtues, limits and capabilities of each and every property or museum; look at the vast number of potential new careers for each; measure the potential against the time and economic constraints in which we operate; and, ultimately, bring every site into an appro­priate programmed use. In the past probably too many properties, for a great variety of reasons, have been placed in public use as historic sites and museums – at least the level of visitation and the absence of sufficient staff to operate them would suggest that such is the case. Now, however, we are attempting to find new roles for all our properties to ensure their preservation and maintenance for generations to come.

The property placement program is an open and creative process. Ideas and suggestions are eagerly invited, and vol­untary participation in the process on the part of any citizen will be encouraged and greatly appreciated.

Larry E. Tise