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.

Centennial Legacy

1876 Centennial Craze Sweeps into Philadelphia!” [by James McClelland, Spring 2006] was a grand review of that enormous extravaganza, with marvelous pictures to bring the grounds and the exhibits to life for today’s readers.

Hordes of visitors to Philadelphia in 1876 were dazzled, as well, by the flamboyant, wildly eclectic Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, reopened in its new building designed by Frank Furness just in time for the Centennial Exhibition.

It’s gratifying to know that another historic building, the Ohio Building, seen by crowds in 1876 still survives today, along with the magnificent Beaux Arts-style Memorial Hall, with its amazingly varied uses over all these years. Its new role as the Please Touch Museum for children would surely delight the visionaries who ignited the “Centennial Craze” 130 years ago!

Betsy Bell Condron
Kingston, Pa.

Betsy Bell Condron is a member of the board of directors of the Luzerne County Historical Society, Wilkes-Barre. A former college administrator and recipient of numerous honors and awards, she is one of 400 Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania, appointed by governors since the recognition program’s inception in 1949 to honor women who have made outstanding contributions in various fields.


The excellent article in the Spring 2006 edition on the Centennial Exhibition states that the only extant buildings from this extravaganza are Memorial Hall and the Ohio State Building, both located in the city’s Fairmount Park.

According to local tradition, the railroad station at Strafford, Chester County, was originally a building at the Centennial. The structure was supposedly moved soon after the fair closed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to Wayne, where it became a depot, and then to its present location at Strafford about 1900. Although some sources say it was part of the Japanese exhibit, most authorities agree that it was used to sell guidebooks to the Centennial.

Beautifully restored, the distinctive building still serves at a very busy commuter stop on SEPTA’s R-5 line between Philadelphia and Paoli/Thorndale.

Patrick E. Purcell
Wayne, Pa.

The Philadelphia firm of M. Thomas & Sons Auctioneers conducted a public sale of the Centennial Exhibition buildings and structures on December 1, 1876, less than one month after the fair ended. A copy of the sale catalogue is included in a scrapbook assembled by Samuel W. Pennypacker (1843–1916), governor from 1903 to 1907, now in the rare book collections of the State Library of Pennsylvania. Extensive research has failed to connect the building, designed in an exuberant carpenter gothic/ stick style, with the Centennial. Although many individuals contend the station originally served as the Centennial’s Japanese Bazaar, the British Building, the Illinois State Building, or the Official Catalogue Building, it bears no resemblance to any of the fair’s buildings. Researchers believe the popular tale may have arisen because the station is strikingly different from its counterparts on the Main Line.


Hands-On History

I very much enjoyed your article on the PHMC’s dugout canoe [“Hands-On History: ‘The Pennsylvania Dugout Canoe Project‘” by Kurt W. Carr, et. al, Fall 2006]. It occurred to me that during the Pleistocene, circa 10,000 BP, the range of the canoe birch, or American white birch, Betula papyrifera, extended far to the south of Pennsylvania. The current range for this species is a wide swath across central Pennsylvania and well into West Virginia.

I would assume that even with the retreat of the species to the north that bark trading would have been active among Native peoples. Accounts of Indian canoe use on the Allegheny River and the French Creek, including portages, preclude use of dugouts.

During one of my bonefishing trips to the Yucatan, I found a beautiful, albeit damaged, dugout canoe on display at the Casa Blanca Lodge on Ascension Bay. The dugout was possibly shaped from an unknown tropical hardwood with steel tools. It is beautifully shaped, with a sweeping, streamlined bow, and measures about twelve feet in length, just like a modern canoe. Its thickness is an inch or less — I can lift one end. Congratulations on an interesting and important project!

John D. Voytko
Pittsburgh, Pa.