Ephrata’s Comet Book

  In the late winter of 1744 a bright comet with six tails that spread out like a fan was visible in the sky. It was so brilliant at its perihelion – its point closest to the sun – that it could be seen even in the daytime. Known as the Great Comet of 1744, the astronomical object mystified the world and led to speculation about its meaning in both scientific and religious...
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Historian of Pennsylvania Exceptionalism: Samuel W. Pennypacker

Reflecting on “the play of forces” that propelled him to Pennsylvania’s governor’s office in 1903, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker (1843–1916) confidently declared, “there is no such thing as an accident” (a notion popularized by Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis). This was not to say chance plays no part in history because he pronounced with equal certitude: “To every man certain...
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Lancaster County: Diversity of People, Ideas and Economy

When Lancaster County was established on May 10, 1729, it became the proto­type for the sixty-three counties to follow. The original three counties­Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester – were created as copies of typical English shires. The frontier conditions of Ches­ter County’s backwoods, from which Lancaster was formed, presented knot­ty problems to the civilized English­men....
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Pennsylvania’s Architectural Heritage: Representative Styles as Seen in Lancaster County

At the time of the Common­wealth of Pennsylvania’s Ter­centenary, it is appropriate that architecture receive special atten­tion. Of all the arts, architecture is most closely related to life itself: whether a barn or a cathedral, a build­ing satisfies a human need. Thus, buildings are a mirror of a given epoch’s ideals and functions. 1n this light, Pennsylvania’s architectural...
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Religious Freedom: Key to Diversity

“There can be no reason to persecute any man in this world about anything that belongs to the next.” – William Penn   To describe Pennsylvania’s re­ligious diversity is to present the history of its religious develop­ment. Although many other states be­came religiously heterogeneous during the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania was pluralistic even as a colony within...
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The Pennsylvania Germans: A Celebration of their Arts, 1683-1850, An Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The art of the Pennsylvania Germans is showy and elusive, reflective and new, easy and difficult; showy because it is boldly colorful; elusive because there is more to it than decoration; reflective because one can see the Old World in details; new because Pennsylvania Germans add­ed to the European vocabulary of designs and form; easy because it is familiar; and difficult because marks, like...
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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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“Prepare Thyself … to Meet the Lord Thy God!”: Religion in Pennsylvania During the Revolution

Religion in the colony of Pennsylvania was distinctive. In contrast to most areas of the western world, this province practiced freedom of religion. It never had an established church. Friends who controlled the first legislative assembly, meeting in Upland, now Chester, in 1682, specified that no one was “at any time [to] be com­pelled to frequent or Maintain anie religious worship, place...
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Finding a Light in the Forest: Conrad Weiser Homestead

More than any other, Conrad Weiser (1696-1760) captured the imagination of the Pennsylvania German community during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when its leaders asserted its right to be considered a major participant in the building of America. The veneration he was accorded led to the creation in 1923 of the historic park bearing his name and interpreting his...
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Pushing William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” to Its Limits: Ephrata Cloister

On the banks of the Cocalico Creek in northern Lancaster County a group of remarkable individuals established Ephrata, one of colonial Pennsylvania’s most unusual communities. A place of intense spirituality, unconventional way of life, literary and artistic brilliance, and medieval-style architecture, Ephrata was the center of a religious society whose principles gave William Penn’s...
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