Executive Director’s Message

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

Travel Journal

Friday, August 31, 1990, Titusville, Venango County

As I board the Oil Creek and Titus­ville Railroad to make the short trip to the Drake Well Museum, I cannot help but think about the unique chal­lenge we face in preserving the legacy of America’s Industrial Revolution. Industrial artifacts are of a scale and complexity far different and greater than those we use to interpret agri­cultural or domestic life in Pennsylvania . To create a sense of what life was like in the industrial age requires us to maintain the tracks that carry our train and the bridge that takes us over Oil Creek. The engine and the passenger cars, as well as the freight station­ – now converted to a visitor’s center – all call for a total com­munity effort involving dozens of volunteers to make the visitor experience life in the exciting age of steam.

At Drake Well, I am imme­diately struck by the ambitious task we have undertaken. For here is not only a fine museum with interpretive exhibits, but also a park featuring operating machinery! This story could never be told, I realize, unless we keep these machines run­ning.

In the afternoon, I drive to Johnstown for the National Folk Festival. Organizers se­lected this city because of the survival of diverse ethnic peo­ples who came here to work in the iron and steel industry. An entire Johnstown neighbor­hood, Cambria City, serves as the setting for the festival as booths of ethnic foods and crafts line the streets and per­formance stages stand in the shadows of the behemoth steel mills. The sights, smells and sounds of the festival preserve, if only for one weekend, America’s traditional cultures.

But there are also living traditions here in Cambria City. The churches, restau­rants, fraternal organizations and social dubs of the Poles, Serbs, Slovaks, Hungarians and other nationalities have somehow survived the homog­enization of American life and remain an integral part of the working-class community.

Saturday, September 1, Indi­ana, Indiana County

I arrive about noon on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsyl­vania to dedicate a historical marker to William Sylvis. A county native, Sylvis was a leader of the iron molders union when it formed in 1860. In the 1860s, he founded and led the National Labor Union, the first of its kind in the coun­try.

Amidst the celebratory rhetoric at this marker dedica­tion are expressions of sadness and alarm. The American labor movement is threatened with extinction, warns one speaker, because it lacks the dedication and vision of a William Sylvis. There is some talk about other proposals for markers for people and events connected to Pennsylvania’s industrial labor history. Clearly, preserving the history of the labor movement is part of a strategy to preserve the movement itself.

As I travel home to Camp Hill, I replay the images of the past forty-eight hours. The railroad. The oil well. The festival. The ethnic churches. The historical marker. With these flashbacks, I realize that it is our Pennsylvania Histori­cal and Museum Commission that conducts programs which directly or indirectly preserve and interpret these various facets of our industrial heri­tage, not just the buildings and artifacts, but also the way of life of an industrial people. And I ask myself: will we have the resources and the creativ­ity to do the job properly? Without knowing the answer, I arrive home confident, at least, that we have made a good start and that public history in Pennsylvania is being well­-served.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director