The Last Frontier: Venango County Indians, Oil, Ghost Towns

Venango County. Its name is derivation of a the Seneca Indian word earliest for explorers “French and Creek.” Its earliest explorers and settlers were the French, shortly followed by the English. At one time, the territory was claimed simultaneously by France, and the colonies of Virginia and Pennsyl­vania. But Venango County’s rich history bespeaks vigorous pioneering a spirit...
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Pennsylvania Firehouses: The Evolution of Design

Firehouses are among the most easily recognizable and popular public buildings across the nation. Beginning with the construction of the first permanent homes for volunteer companies in the early nineteenth cen­tury, fire station design has been influ­enced by functional requirements. Be­yond serving as a place to store fire­fighting equipment, however, the fire­house was also a public building,...
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A Treasure Trove of Books

Considered one of the finest repositories of rare books in the nation, the Rare Book Collection of the State Library of Pennsylvania was, at its conception, nothing more than an accumulation of law books necessary for the founding fathers to organize and govern the province. In­deed, for two more centuries, the collection of rarities and unique volumes, as it is known and safeguarded today, was...
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The Wissahickon Valley: To a Wilderness Returned

The rural Wissahickon Valley, near center-city Philadelphia, typifies the rugged landscape which greeted the first white settlers. Today, its huge hem­locks and towering sycamores contrast markedly with the busy factories and row houses only a mile away. But this valley of contrasts has always been different from the sur­rounding region. A century ago, when most of America was rural or wild, the...
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The Search for Jacob Shallus

Long before the bicentennial of the United States Constitution rendered them ubiquitous, the pen strokes We the People probably formed the most famous and sacred piece of handwriting in the Western world. The original lettering, seen by swarms of visitors to the document’s repository in the nation’s capital, is the very script of the Constitution signed by members of the...
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The Call for the Constitution

Ratification of the United States Consti­tution came about quickly in Pennsylva­nia. In less than three months the state was able to call a ratifying convention, conduct a special election, assemble delegates in Philadelphia and, ultimately, ratify the proposed frame of government. At a time when travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could consume as much as two difficult weeks, the speed...
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Courting the Constitution

If the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were to awaken this sum­mer in Independence Hall from two centuries of sleep, they would undoubtedly enjoy an exciting session. George Washington as president of the convention, after persuading Ben Franklin to stop tinkering with his electric table light, would call the Convention to order. Upon learning that the government devised by them had...
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The Making of a Miracle

Early in 1788, George Washington wrote his friend the Marquis de Lafayette that there had been a “miracle” in Phila­delphia. Considering the many efforts and failures be­tween 1765 and 1787 to estab­lish an enduring form of government, first for individ­ual states and then for all­ – fundamental laws, orders of government, plans of union, resolutions, declarations,...
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Into the Valley of Death

Horses, rearing in death, pitched their riders into a fren­zied mass of red­-coated soldiers, while Indians sprinted from tree to tree, leaping out to scalp the wounded and the dead. Even the dauntless Daniel Boone, then a young wagoner, cut his horses loose and fled for his life. George Washington, a volunteer lieutenant colonel, recounted years later that, “had I not been witness to the...
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Carbon County: Stone Coal in the Switzerland of America

Carbon, the primary component of an­thracite coal, is also a county in eastern Pennsylvania – for the same reason. The value of anthracite to the burgeoning industrial revolution of the mid­-nineteenth century created in 1843 a new county from the northern fringes of the once­-immense Northampton County. Beginning in the nine­teenth century, an entire county of coal was carved and moved to...
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