Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The First Report of the Historical Commission of Pennsylvania, printed by the New Era Printing Company of Lancaster in 1915, was the first official publication of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (PHC), forerunner of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). It is contained in “Administrative and Biennial Reports” (Record Series 13.84) of the Pennsylvania State Archives, which covers the period from 1915 to 1944.

Established as an independent commission under P.L. 1265, passed by the state legislature on July 25, 1913, the Pennsylvania Historical Commission consisted of five citizens appointed by the governor. The superintendent of public instruction served as an ex officio member, and the Commission was eventually placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Instruction. Charged with preserving antiquities and historic landmarks and publishing the results of archaeological and historical research, it cooperated with municipalities and local historical societies in preserving and restoring public buildings, military sites, and historical monuments. The Commission also maintained historic buildings, monuments, and antiquities committed to its custody by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania.

During its first decades, the Commission acquired Old Economy Village, Cornwall Iron Furnace, Pennsbury Manor, Daniel Boone Homestead, U.S. Brig Niagara, Ephrata Cloister, and Drake Well Museum, popular destinations on PHMC’s Pennsylvania Trails of History. Between 1914 and 1933, the PHC began placing large bronze plaques at sites where important historical events occurred and approved inscriptions on monuments submitted for review by local organizations. The First Report of the Historical Commission of Pennsylvania contains extensive lists of sites at which markers had been erected, as well as a photograph of a monument installed at the site of the 1756 massacre and capture of pioneers at Fort McCord, located seven miles west of Chambersburg, in Franklin County. Designed by T. J. Brereton, Chambersburg, the monument — cosponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission and the Enoch Brown Association — was dedicated on October 29, 1914, on land donated by John W. Bossart.

In addition to publishing the results of archaeological investigations, the Commission first began publishing The Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet in 1940. During World War II, the State Council of Defense designated the PHC as the Commonwealth’s official war history agency.

Under the provisions of P.L. 446, passed June 6, 1945, the functions of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission were consolidated with those of the State Museum and the State Archives, part of the Department of Public Instruction, to create PHMC. The history of PHMC is well documented by Record Group 13, Records of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, held by the Pennsylvania State Archives.

To observe its thirty-fifth anniversary with this edition, Pennsylvania Heritage selected the pioneering First Report of the Historical Commission of Pennsylvania for Our Documentary Heritage.


Willis L. Shirk Jr. is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives.