The Inventor from Ercildoun: William Chester Ruth

It is apt to remember inventor William Chester Ruth (1882–1971) as a pinion in both his community and his machine shop and as a bridge between cultures and eras. The son of a man who had been enslaved until his 13th year and a woman from a distinguished free Black family, “Chester” displayed both confirmation of talent inherited from his parents and his own innovative path to the future. Steeped...
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The Old Stone Arch Bridge over Jack’s Creek

The Old Stone Arch Bridge over Jack’s Creek in Derry Township, Mifflin County, captured in this c.1937 postcard, has been enhancing travelers’ journeys ever since 1813, when it was built as part of the first turnpike to connect Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Construction of this segment of the road began in Lewistown and was completed to Harrisburg in 1825. The single-span, semielliptical stone...
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Digging Deep: 50 Years of Preservation Archaeology in Pennsylvania

On a lovely morning in early autumn, I arrive at an old farm along the Susquehanna River to find Dr. Frank Vento in his natural element. That is to say, he is squatting down at the bottom of a backhoe trench some 8 feet deep, carefully examining the many layers of flood-deposited sediment left behind by the great river. Frank, recently retired from the faculty at Clarion University, is a...
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Before and After the Act: Historic Preservation in Pennsylvania

In 1816 the City of Philadelphia purchased Independence Hall to save it from demolition. This was the first historic preservation effort in the United States. One hundred and fifty years later, the historic preservation movement found its footing as a national priority when President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act into law on October 16, 1966. The act codified the...
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Lewistown Narrows

  The contrasting relief of Shade and Blue mountains with the Juniata River Valley creates a magnificent landscape near the border of Juniata and Mifflin counties. That splendor belies the obstacles that the topography has presented for engineers throughout the centuries. Archaeological excavations of the Lewistown Narrows within Juniata County have revealed artifacts dating back nearly...
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Indian Hannah

Hannah Freeman is a name rarely found in history books, although her story and legend live on in southern Chester County. Known more popularly as “Indian Hannah,” Freeman is remembered in local lore as the last Lenape living in Chester County at the time of her death in 1802. She was born about 1730 on the Webb farm in Kennett Township not far from the Delaware border. Today the farm is part of...
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A Pitcher, A President and a Home Movie

In November 2013 the Pennsylvania State Archives was contacted by Mrs. Judith Savastio regarding a home movie that her father filmed. She had questions about preserving the film and was interested in finding a repository for its permanent care. Mrs. Savastio’s father, Major League Baseball pitcher James “Jimmie” DeShong (1909-1993), shot the film on his new 8mm home movie...
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History Cast in Iron: Rediscovering Keystone Markers

From Airville to Blooming Valley, from Camptown to Dornsife, and all the way to Wysox, York Haven and Zion View, Pennsylvania literally claims unusual – as well as unique – place names from A to Z. Most of the Commonwealth’s cities, towns and villages were once marked with cast iron name signs, painted in the rich blue and gold colors associated with Pennsylvania. Manufactured in an...
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A Challenge to Restore

One of the most exciting challenges facing historic preservationists today is the rehabilitation and adaptive restoration of buildings significant to our cultural and historic past. Rehabilitation projects are being partially supported by federal funds in an attempt to re­vitalize urban areas, for example in Lancaster and Phila­delphia and on Pittsburgh’s north side. But not all...
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Celebrating Fifty Years of State Historical Markers

On a September day in 1946, three men stood alongside U.S. Route 22, fourteen miles east of Harrisburg, inspecting a distinctive blue and gold sign that had just been erected. They were James H. Duff, chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (who in four months would be inaugurated the Commonwealth’s thirty­-fourth governor), and Commission members Charles G. Webb and...
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