Trailheads presents information and details about the exhibits, events and programs hosted by the historic sites and museums on PHMC's Pennsylvania Trails of History.

In the last installment of Trailheads, we took a look at how Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster prepares for winter. As a rule, historic sites and museums on the Pennsylvania Trails of History – especially those with outdoor exhibits – are quieter during the winter. Some sites close for a month or two, others are open fewer days during the week. It’s a time to plan for the busier seasons, install changing exhibits, or perform collections care work that would otherwise be disruptive for visitors. I hope you find something of interest for you and your family in this “spring mix.”

 

The Land of Penn and Plenty

Throughout this year, you’ll find articles and regular departments underscoring “The Land of Penn and Plenty: Bringing History to the Table,” the theme adopted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) for 2012. Our in-house moniker for this theme is “foodways.” Visitors to Trails of History destinations know this is a perfect fit. Every attraction’s exhibits, tours, or programs touch on the subject of food at some point during the year, if not on a regular and frequent basis. Food is one area in which we can all take an interest; it connects us to each other on a fundamental level. When visitors walk into the Bake and Brew House at Pennsbury Manor in Morrisville, Bucks County, for example, and smell the aroma of freshly baked bread, they are experiencing a moment that would have been familiar to the late seventeenth-century residents of William Penn’s country estate overlooking the Delaware River.

Regular and special programming at our historic sites and museums during 2012 will offer a broad range of food-related experiences to the public. At military encampments, reenactors will spend time between weapons demonstrations and battle reenactments showing visitors what troops would have eaten and who (if anyone) would have prepared the food. Workshops will demonstrate how today’s gardeners can foster sustainable varieties of vegetables, fruit, and herbs by learning from the past. Tours will highlight kitchens, dining rooms, parlors, and other domestic spaces where food was prepared and served or preserved for later use. Family life, communal practices, ethnic traditions, and more can be found — and not just this year — along the Trails.

On the Trailheads blog, we’ll do our best to keep up with special programs and events and highlight their relationship to “The Land of Penn and Plenty.”

 

History Online

In late 2011, the Scranton Public Library debuted the Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives to make northeastern Pennsylvania’s history more accessible to the public. The project launched with several online components, including “Out of the Wilderness,” described as a collection of “letters, books, paintings, photographs and other artifacts from the era [1850–1865] when the Lackawanna Valley emerged from its agrarian beginnings to become an industrial center that powered the torn nation’s war effort.”

As one of the partner organizations in this initiative, PHMC’s Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton contributed digital copies of a series of fifteen letters written by Benton Township native Ebert Smith, who served with Company B, Seventeenth Pennsylvania Drafted Militia, to his sister Hannah Thacher in 1862 and 1863 from Camp Simmons at Harrisburg and Camp Mansfield, Deep Creek, Virginia. The letters give a sense of the tedium and hardships of camp life (of course, he writes about the food). But you also see Smith’s desire to stay involved in family affairs even while he’s away at war. His comments about his stepmother are no less pointed than his comments on the Emancipation Proclamation. After reading some of the letters, which appear in manuscript form and as transcriptions, I had a fairly complex picture of Private Smith. Quite honestly, I didn’t like him very much; however, his correspondence made him more tangible, especially when compared to some of the figures whose letters and diaries are frequently published.

For a dose of historical synergy, you can find Smith – and many others who served the Union during the Civil War – in Record Group 19, Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861– 1865, at the Pennsylvania State Archives.

 

The Season Ahead

During March, April, and May, the destinations along the Trails of History emerge from winter’s icy cocoon and burst forth like so many butterflies in the verdant garden that is Pennsylvania. Operating schedules expand, school groups arrive in their yellow buses (or the family SUVs), and the landscapes are green and lovely. The Pennsylvania Heritage Society provides information on events and exhibits in its newsletter appearing in this issue. To tempt readers’ appetites, I’m turning the spotlight on a tantalizing selection of activities that shouldn’t be missed.

The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in Galeton, Potter County, holds its spring antiques show and collectibles sale on Saturday, March 31. Ephrata Cloister’s popular Winter History Class is held on Thursdays throughout March and April, providing enrichment for the Lancaster County historic site’s volunteer guide staff but also for the public as well. The Sunday afternoon program series at Pennsbury Manor begins on Sunday, April 1, and continues through October; programs rotate among historic trades, living history theater, open hearth cooking, garden highlights, and animals at the picturesque historic site. Nearby Washington Crossing Historic Park welcomes spring with its annual sheep shearing demonstration on Friday, April 27. Bushy Run Battlefield, Jeanette, Westmoreland County, kicks off the month of May with its annual Spring Nature Walk on Saturday, May 5 [2012], guided by a local naturalist. Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum’s popular Herb and Garden Faire, featuring the fruits of the museum’s Heirloom Seed Project and numerous local vendors, is slated for Friday and Saturday, May 11–12 [2012]. That same weekend, but continuing through Sunday, May 13, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, Lancaster County, hosts Conrail Days, in cooperation with the Conrail Historical Society. The Pennsylvania Military Museum, Boalsburg, Centre County, is the setting, on Sunday, May 20 [2012], for “A Celebration of Service” and during the weekend of May 26–27 [2012] will hold its annual “World War II Revisited” program.

For more information on these and other programs, contact the individual historic sites and museums.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator based in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums, supporting education, interpretation, and communications efforts bureau-wide and at individual historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trails of History. She writes an informative weekly blog entitled Trailheads.