News

News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

William J. Wewer Departs PHMC

William J. Wewer, who served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for over eight years, resigned from that position effective April 8 [1981]. A native of Ashland and a graduate of the Pennsyl­vania State University, Wewer first joined the staff of the Commission in 1958 as assistant to the director for projects in historical interpretation. He was promoted to deputy executive director in 1967 and served in that capacity until December 1972 when he was elevated to the post of executive director.

Outside of the PHMC, Wewer has also been associated with a wide range of organizations involved with history and preservation. He serves as executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies, chairman of the State Historical Records Advisory Committee and is a member of numerous boards and commissions concerned with the preservation of our historical environment. In the past, he sat on the executive committee of State Historical Preservation Officers to formulate national policy for the preservation of historic and cultural resources and was chairman of the National Conference of State History Ad­ministrators.

During his tenure at the helm of the PHMC, Commission activities expanded dramatically, reaching more people than ever before. The major exhibit halls of the William Penn Memorial Museum, built in 1965. were all completed and broader based public programs introduced, helping to make it one of the country’s leading state museums. Improve­ments led to accreditation from the American Association of Museums not only for the state museum, but for the Pennsylvania Farm Museum, Old Economy Village and Ephrata Cloister as well. Additional sites and museums, including a visitors’ center and orientation museum at Pithole City, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Anthracite Museum Complex have been opened to the public. Extensive restoration and construction have also been completed at existing Commission properties, making historic sites more accessible and meaningful to residents of the Commonwealth. Another major accomplishment occurred when Valley Forge was transferred to the National Park Service in 1977 thereby ensuring that the park would receive the federal recognition it so richly deserved.

Preservation efforts have also been strengthened. The Commission’s newly instituted Bureau for Historic Preser­vation, formerly the Office of Historic Preservation, has administered federal matching grants totaling $7.5 million since its inception in 1970 as well as having funded hun­dreds of projects throughout the Commonwealth. Related programs initiated during Mr. Wewer’s tenure include com­munity conservation and economic development activities, increased registration of historic properties and coordina­tion of a statewide archeological survey program.

Public history has also been fostered. While the publica­tion of scholarly works has continued during the past eight years, more emphasis has been placed on popular publica­tions. The state archives has actively increased its holding of state records and manuscripts and has been preparing finding guides to assist researchers in their use. The num­ber of workshops, conferences and seminars held through­out the Commonwealth and sponsored by the Commission has greatly increased, and Pennsylvania Heritage was created in 1974 in part to better inform the public of all of these Commission activities.

For the past twenty-three years, William J. Wewer has served the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in some capa­city with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Com­mission. He has worked tirelessly to bring Pennsylvania history to its people. For his efforts, he is to be com­mended and thanked.

The Commission’s new, recently appointed executive director is Larry E. Tise. who comes to the PHMC from the North Carolina Historical Commission where he served as Director of the Division of Archives and History. The fall issue of Heritage will introduce you to him.

 

Celebrating 300 Years: Historical Markers For the Counties

On March 4, 1981, Gov. Dick Thornburgh signed a proclamation officially launching the celebration of Penn­sylvania’s three centuries in history. For the past thirty-five years, particular persons, places and events that have at­tained significance during these three centuries have been recognized by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission through historical markers. Now, this celebra­tion and ongoing program have come together in a project for the dedication of a special marker at each of the state’s sixty-seven county seats.

Since its beginning in 1946. the PHMC’s Historical Marker Program has installed over 1,350 markers with blue backgrounds and gold lettering topped by the state coat of arms in all sixty-seven counties of the Common­wealth. No one section of the state has been consciously favored and markers have ranged in their coverage from pointing out Christ Church in Philadelphia, to noting the Eagle Ironworks in Centre County, to commemorating Tom Mix in Cameron County. Until this year, however, none of the existing markers had focused on the distinc­tive character of Pennsylvania’s counties which – beginning with three in 1682 and reaching the present figure of sixty­-seven in 1878 – have formed a matrix against which the social and cultural development of this Commonwealth can be viewed.

It seemed particularly appropriate that a key part of the 300th anniversary observance-which is, after all, to be a celebration for the whole state-should be the dedication of a special historical marker for each of the counties. Plans for these markers began in 1979, and from the beginning people from each and every county have been involved. County historical societies were asked to furnish the names of coordinators and also to suggest information for inclu­sion in the marker texts. As the markers are completed they are being shipped directly to the counties, there to be stored until their dedications. This process began last December and should be completed before the end of this year when the sixty-seventh marker is delivered. By con­trast, the formal dedications which began this March are expected to continue throughout the year 1982.

Each of these county markers will be identical in appearance. The content will, of course, be different: underneath the name of the county there will be information on its formation and (usually) the origin of its name and the establishment of the county seat, as well as one or two significant facts distinctive to the county’s history.

Two county markers have already been dedicated as part of this program – Warren County (March 12) and Lycoming County (April 13). Both of these dedications were held on the anniversary dates of their counties’ forma­tion, and it is anticipated that more of the ensuing dedica­tions to be held over the next two years will be keyed in to significant anniversaries – including that of William Penn’s first arrival in Pennsylvania aboard the ship Welcome in the fall of 1682.

It is envisioned that most of the sixty-seven markers will be installed at the county courthouses, there to be seen for decades to come. In a few cases, another spot such as a museum or county historical society building may be chosen, but in each instance local wishes will be the chief determining factor. The erection and dedication of these very special markers will have fulfilled their objective if they help to bring Pennsylvania’s 300th Birthday celebra­tion home to the individual counties – and if they foster a heightened awareness of each county’s distinctive heritage, both among visitors and among its own people.