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.

It is time once again to look back at the past year on the Pennsylvania Trails of History. What follows is a scrapbook for 2015, with highlights of events and programs at PHMC’s historic sites and museums.

 

Milestones and Anniversaries

In May, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum held a much-anticipated ribbon-cutting ceremony for its newly expanded visitor center. The building and community room had been in use since last fall, but the official opening marked the debut of Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests, a comprehensive exhibit exploring the history of the lumber industry, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the rise of the conservation movement and professional forestry, and best practices in sustainable forest management. State legislators, Potter County commissioners and the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum Associates were recognized for their support of the museum and participated in the opening festivities.

After a busy opening weekend, visitation to the museum continued to increase, roughly doubling through summer. Use of the new community room by local organizations and tour groups has exceeded expectations and confirmed the need for such a facility in the area. Ongoing projects include moving artifacts from their temporary home in the museum’s logging camp back to the visitor center, where collections storage was upgraded as part of the expansion. While the outdoor exhibits will continue to close from November through mid-April, the visitor center will remain open year-round. For information, visit the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum website.

The celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Pithole City, an oil boomtown in Venango County, kicked off with Wildcatter Day on June 6. Little is left of the town except for building foundations, but events at the site draw crowds throughout the year. By popular demand, the visitor center is open on weekends during the summer. An 1860s-era baseball event in July included vintage teams from Pittsburgh and Somerset, as well as a team from the Titusville Fire Company. The season wrapped up on the first weekend in October with Lantern Tours, bringing an early Halloween feel to the abandoned streets of a town that was nearly empty within a few years of its birth.

In late June, Pennsylvania representatives of the United States World War One Centennial Commission visited The State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Pennsylvania Military Museum, where they were particularly focused on the 28th Division Shrine. Part of the centennial commission’s work is centered on documenting World War I memorials around the country. PHMC’s own World Wars staff committee is formulating plans to commemorate Pennsylvania’s involvement in World War I (100th anniversary in 2017-18) and World War II (75th anniversary starting in 2016). The Pennsylvania Military Museum has a strong emphasis on both wars in its collections and has added a new living history program, The Great War Remembered, World War One, to complement the existing World War II Revisited.

On October 11, the American Society for Metals (ASM International) added the Scranton Iron Furnaces to its list of historical landmarks in recognition of the site’s role in the “discovery, development and growth of metals and metalworking.” The Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and Cornwall Iron Furnace are among other landmarks honored by ASM. The firm of Scranton, Grant & Co. started the iron furnaces in 1840 and by 1865 had the largest iron production capacity in the United States. Today, the site (managed by the Anthracite Heritage Museum) is part of community revitalization efforts on Scranton’s South Side, hosting a seasonal farmers market, the annual Arts on Fire Festival in June, and a harvest-themed bonfire in October.

PHMC celebrated the 50th anniversary of The State Museum and Archives Complex with a series of events and exhibits throughout the year, including a festive gala in October (see the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation newsletter).

 

Research, Collections and Social Media

This summer Eckley Miners’ Village hosted an archaeology field school directed by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland. The five-week field school was an extension of the Lattimer Archaeology Project, a multidisciplinary research effort exploring company towns in the anthracite coal region. Excavating near the remnants of slate pickers’ houses on what is known as the “back street” of the village, the crew recovered and documented artifacts that shed light on the daily lives of Eckley’s most poorly paid miners and their families. The field school students were joined by local volunteers and high school students during their stay. During this year’s Patch Town Days event, they shared information with visitors and welcomed them into the on-site lab where they were processing the artifacts. To learn more about the Eckley dig or the earlier work in nearby Lattimer and Pardeesville, visit the Lattimer Archaeology Project blog.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania announced the arrival in June of AEM-7 No. 915, an electric locomotive used on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor since the late 1970s and now being replaced by the new Cities Sprinters. Built in 1981 and donated to the museum by Amtrak, No. 915 is officially the youngest locomotive in the museum’s collection. In July, TTX Company of Chicago donated a flat car built in 1965 at Bethlehem Steel’s plant in Johnstown, Cambria County. These two additions to the collection will enhance the museum’s interpretation of commuter rail and intermodal freight hauling in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. More detail is available at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania website

PHMC’s social media presence continues to grow with all Pennsylvania Trails of History sites having a Facebook page, many active on Twitter, and a growing number using Pinterest and Instagram to engage the public. In 2015 staff in Harrisburg and around the state participated in several national and international Twitter-based events, raising our profile in the greater museum and archives community. We started with Museum Selfie Day (#MuseumSelfie) in January, with staff and volunteers posting photos of themselves with their favorite objects or in front of buildings. In late March, we shared photos of souvenirs, behind-the-scenes activities, architecture and things that inspire us and our visitors as part of #MuseumWeek. Curators and archivists took to Twitter in September and October to field questions from the public and colleagues for #AskACurator and #AskAnArchivist (as part of American Archives Month). We hope to have even more sites involved with these online events in 2016, so please be sure to follow @PHMC or your favorite site to join in.

 

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