Letters presents readers' comments and reactions to specific articles in Pennsylvania Heritage, the initiatives of PHMC, and other developments in the historical, cultural and museum communities of Pennsylvania.

It’s no secret that Pennsylvania abounds with spectacular resources, both natural and historic, including vast forestlands, state parks, majestic mountains, verdant valleys, and hundreds of historical organizations and cultural institutions, including the more than two dozen historic sites and museums that make up the popular and well-traveled Pennsylvania Trail of History. No matter where you travel in the Keystone State, you’ll find history and natural beauty around each and every corner.

Since becoming chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) last year, I have enjoyed the good fortune of visiting a number of our historic sites and museums. My travels have taken me to the Drake Well Museum, Erie Maritime Museum, Bushy Run Battlefield, Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, Landis Valley Museum, Old Economy Village, Fort Pitt Museum, Somerset Historical Center, and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. At each and every stop, I have been impressed by the dedication of staff, members of supporting organizations, and volunteers, among them crafts demonstrators, interpreters, and reenactors. Their selfless dedication to making each visitor ‘s tour a remarkable and unforgettable experience is inspiring. Their passion for history – and for presenting it so enthusiastically – is nothing less than sensational. And infectious!

For many, Drake Well Museum in Titusville evokes an image of Edwin L. Drake’s famous derrick and engine house – but there’s so much more. Exhibits and dioramas in the visitor center explore the technology spawned by the oil boom and features an array of unusual objects and artifacts, such as a circa 1890 nitroglycerin wagon, an 1868 “Colonel Drake” firefighting steam pumper, and a wagon used by photographer John Mather to record life in the oil fields between 1860 and 1915. In addition to the replica of Drake’s 1859 well, the museum grounds contain a spring-pole drilling rig, an oil company office, drilling rigs, tractors, pumping machinery, tank wagons, and tank trucks that helped move Pennsylvania crude to markets around the world.

My grandfather was born in Erie, but I had never visited the port city until l took in the Erie Maritime Museum. Not only does this new state-of-the-art facility tell the story of our fascinating maritime heritage, but it also serves as homeport for the Commonwealth’s goodwill sailing ambassador, the U.S. Brig Niagara. Commanded by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie, the re-created Niagara offers a glimpse of naval warfare in the early nineteenth century. Visitors to the museum and the flagship cannot help but be impressed by the city’s beautiful waterfront with its spectacular vista and recent development, spawned, in part, by the city’s embrace of heritage tourism.

Following a visit to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, colleagues and I stopped for lunch at a nearby inn, where we were seated on a terrace. From our table, we were mesmerized by lush fields of Lancaster County crops shimmering in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun. As if by magic, a wagon with a team of sturdy horses driven. by an Amish farmer appeared on the horizon. I watched intently as the magnificent draft horses, their luxurious manes bathed in the amber-hued light, kept perfect time with the cadence of their hoofs in the rich brown soil. At that instant, two young Amish children – a boy and a girl – both wearing dark, somber shirts and he a straw hat, literally popped up from inside a large apple basket. There and then, I knew immediately why we at the PHMC work so hard to preserve and interpret out past.

It’s little wonder that Governor Rendell has made heritage tourism a vital component of his plan to reinvigorate Pennsylvania. In his budget address in early February, the governor proclaimed that the Keystone State is “sitting on a tourism gold mine.” I couldn’t agree more. As I recall the faces of our many visitors minoring the enthusiasm, energy, and passion of our staff and volunteers, I realize that our treasures are not only historical and cultural, but also living. There are “gold mines” in each of our sixty-seven counties.

I invite you to sample for yourself the treasures awaiting you at Pennsylvania’s historic sites and museums.

Wayne S. Spilove


Wayne S. Spilove was appointed chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in April 2003.