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.

In 2015 the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in Galeton, Potter County, officially opened its expanded visitor center to the public. The museum also debuted Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests, an artifact-rich exhibit exploring the history of the lumber industry, the rise of the conservation movement and professional forestry, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and current best practices in sustainable forest management. In 2016 the visitor center expansion and core exhibit were honored with awards from the American Association for State and Local History and PA Museums, the statewide museum association. The museum and exhibit also continued to receive positive response from visitors, including a note from the leader of a Cub Scout pack: “The Cub Scouts benefitted greatly from the museum tour and the ranger talk. They are still talking about how much fun they had and how much they learned on this tour.”

This year marked 100 years of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s stewardship of Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Beaver County, which became state property on February 3, 1916, as settlement of a legal case (see “Old Economy Village: The Centennial of the First Site on the Pennsylvania Trails of History,” Winter 2016). Activities at the site included special exhibits and programs exploring the history of the Harmony Society and PHMC’s role in preserving Old Economy as a museum. A reunion of descendants of Harmony Society members and workers hired for the society’s industrial and agricultural enterprises took place in August. During the centennial celebration, visitors enjoyed free admission on Sundays thanks to the support of The Buncher Foundation.

Tall Ships America, a not-for-profit organization that promotes sail training and education, organizes a Tall Ships Challenge every summer, rotating among the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Great Lakes. This summer, while celebrating 25 years of sailing, U.S. Brig Niagara participated in events in eight cities around the Great Lakes, competing with other tall ships in races between ports. Coinciding with the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie in September, the Erie Maritime Museum hosted Tall Ships Erie 2016, which brought nine ships, a very large rubber duck, and roughly 90,000 people to the city’s waterfront. The next Tall Ships Challenge on the Great Lakes will be in 2019.

Marking the 75th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War II, the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Centre County, conducted its annual Pearl Harbor tribute ceremony on the grounds beneath two 14-inch guns from the USS Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 (see “Keystone Flagship: USS Pennsylvania in the World Wars” and Trailheads, Fall 2016). Earlier, in August, Petty Officer Seth Southard was commissioned an ensign in a U.S. Navy ceremony under the “Pennsy Guns.” The museum also hosted a ceremony in September in which Justin Kerstetter was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, with the oath administered via Skype by a USMC colonel stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.

PHMC, in collaboration with the LGBT Center of Central PA History Project, presented an exhibit and programming at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Council for Sexual Minorities, created by Gov. Milton Shapp in 1976. It was the first governmental body in the U.S. devoted to LGBT civil rights and public policy advocacy. The exhibit, We’re Here: Pioneering LGBT Rights in Pennsylvania, explored the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy coalitions working closely with Shapp to achieve groundbreaking progress in Pennsylvania and the nation.

On Charter Day, March 13, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster opened its 2016 changing exhibit Weathervanes: Three Centuries of a Pennsylvania Folk Art Tradition. Mounted by site curators Bruce Bomberger and Jennifer Royer, with guest curator John Kolar, the exhibit includes more than 40 historic weathervanes from the collections of Landis Valley and other institutions. Among the weathervanes featured is a piece commissioned by William Penn and business partners Samuel Carpenter and Caleb Pusey. Dated 1699, it is one of the earliest examples known to still exist. The exhibit, which runs until December 31, 2016, received widespread publicity and was featured as the cover story in the August 12 issue of Antiques and the Arts Weekly.

On behalf of the commonwealth, PHMC is responsible for approximately 400 structures, many of them dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Keeping up with their care is a full-time job for the agency’s Division of Architecture and Preservation (DAP). The staff manages a wide range of projects throughout the Pennsylvania Trails of History, working with outside contractors or site maintenance personnel. DAP’s Preservation Field Services program was initiated in 2014 to provide additional in-house expertise and hands-on skills in the repair of historic fabric. This reduced the need for contracting and increased DAP’s flexibility in scheduling work seasonally. Projects completed in 2016 included structural repairs to the first floor of Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland, restoration of the large fireplace in the Weiser House at Conrad Weiser Homestead in Womelsdorf, Berks County, and continued improvements to historic window fabric at various sites.

In July, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, Lancaster County, hit the number 5 spot on USA Today’s list of the 10 Best Transportation Museums in the country. It was a big year for the museum. Design began on new interpretive exhibits and restoration work was completed on the famous “Lindbergh Engine” (see “The Lindbergh Engine: Racing through Time with Pennsylvania Railroad Locomotive No. 460,” Spring 2016). In a first for the Trails of History, the Railroad Museum joined the Smithsonian Affiliations program, which develops long-term, high-quality partnerships with museums and educational organizations in order to share collections, exhibitions, learning opportunities and research expertise. A ceremony in early November officially recognized the museum’s affiliate status (see PHMC Highlights in the winter 2017 issue).

No retrospective of 2016 would be complete without a mention of Pokémon GO. All sites on the Trails of History were touched by the craze when it erupted this summer, with gyms and PokéStops found just about everywhere. As with any instant social phenomenon, it was not always clear how to respond. We read articles in professional blogs about the chance to reach the elusive millennial audience and articles about how this, too, would pass. Quite a few sites promoted themselves on social media with images of the virtual creatures that could be captured on-site and reminding players that some areas required admission fees. The State Museum, Bushy Run Battlefield and Old Economy Village enthusiastically embraced Pokémon GO and invited visitors for picnics and events, setting lures to increase traffic. By fall, the initial fervor seemed to have subsided . . . but one never knows.


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