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.

2014 was a good year on the Pennsylvania Trails of History, with more than half a million visitors to sites spread across the Commonwealth. Long-standing programs continued to draw crowds, and many sites branched out in new directions as well. Trying new things can present challenges, but our staff and volunteers are committed to expanding audiences and generating new resources to keep sites growing and lively while supporting their essential missions.

In that vein, the Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums moved forward this past year with an initiative to help sites achieve and sustain a level of excellence that will allow them to serve the public for years to come. The Standards Program builds on the work of the American Alliance of Museums, the American Association for State and Local History, and the Tri-States Coalition of Historic Places. And our sites continue to work with the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations to strengthen governance and fundraising capabilities.

There were far too many events and achievements to report here, so we’ve selected some highlights.

 

Building Projects

The construction project to expand and renovate the visitor center at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum finished up this fall. The museum store has been reinstalled, and visitors have begun enjoying the beautiful new interior. Construction and installation of the new core exhibit is underway. The museum is closed for the season, but plans are forming for the grand reopening in spring. With almost twice the square footage as before, fresh exhibits and a new community room and kitchen, we look forward to the next phase of life at the museum.

In the Spring 2013 issue of this magazine, the Trailheads column focused on the restoration of the George and Frederick Rapp Houses at Old Economy Village. It took longer than anticipated for the project to get up and running, but it is now complete. Based on extensive research, walls and doors have been moved, reproduction wallpaper and carpets have been installed, and much has been learned. Curator Sarah Buffington chronicled the work in a series of blog posts, Rapp Houses Restoration, along with photos of the new interiors, which are something of an eye-opener.

 

Anniversaries

In 1854 the rural village of Shingletown, Pennsylvania, became Eckley, an industrial coal-mining community, also known as a “coal patch,” or “patch town.” Coal companies often built – or in this case, expanded – communities to house their employees in close proximity to the collieries where they worked. Part of the Coxe family holdings, Eckley was home to coal miners and managers and their families. The presence of Catholic and Protestant churches in the village served the mix of religious and ethnic groups who called Eckley home. The arrangement and size of the houses reflected the social and economic hierarchies at play in the 19th century. The company store and social club helped to keep residents and their money close to home. By the mid-20th century, mining activities surrounding Eckley had diminished, and much of the village’s original architecture had been lost. Local interest in preservation was spurred, however, when Paramount Studios used Eckley as a set for The Molly Maguires (1970), adding reproduction buildings and a coal breaker to suit the film’s needs. By 1975 the property had been acquired by PHMC, and Eckley Miners’ Village opened to the public. Although some of the houses are used as exhibits on family life, venues for special events, and support buildings for site operations, other houses are still private residences. Appropriately for Eckley’s 160th anniversary, PHMC recently approved a state historical marker for the town, which will be dedicated in May 2015.

We are entering a period of time where the story of our sites as public venues is history in and of itself. In 2013 we marked the centennial of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, which became the PHMC we know and love in 1945. Pennsbury Manor opened as a historic site in 1939, following the controversial reconstruction of the Penns’ manor house. To kick off the celebration, the site hosted a very special Charter Day celebration in March. Working with staff at the Pennsylvania State Archives, Pennsbury arranged to display the original charter of 1681, by which King Charles II of England conveyed Pennsylvania to William Penn. Governor Tom Corbett and First Lady Susan Corbett were on hand to share their interest in the Penn family with visitors. Pennsbury also hosted an exhibit of oil paintings by Violet Oakley, produced as studies for a mural series in the State Capitol building completed in 1906. Perhaps the most moving of the anniversary activities was a naturalization ceremony on July 18 in which 45 people from 22 countries became U.S. citizens.

 

Items of Interest: A Sampling

Staff and volunteers planted 10 chestnut seedlings on the grounds of Bushy Run Battlefield in Westmoreland County. The goal is to begin returning the landscape to what it looked like at the time of the battle in 1763. The seedlings were provided by the American Chestnut Foundation, as part of their work to reestablish a healthy, blight-resistant species.

For the past several years, staff and volunteers at the Erie Maritime Museum have been working with Erie Cemetery, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Medal of Honor Foundation to place markers at the graves of Civil War-era recipients of the Medal of Honor. This year on Veterans Day, the museum organized a ceremony to dedicate a marker for William Young (1835-78), who served on numerous U.S. Navy ships, including USS Michigan, based in Erie.

This fall, the State Museum of Pennsylvania (statemuseumpa.org) launched a new photography exhibit, UnCommon Modern, featuring examples of Midcentury Modern architecture found in Pennsylvania. The exhibit runs until April 26 and is the first program for the 2015 PHMC annual theme and the 50th anniversary of the State Museum and Archives Complex.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums. She writes a weekly blog called Trailheads.