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.

Another year has passed on the Pennsylvania Trails of History. Exhibits, special events, thousands of visiting schoolchildren, more than a few beer and wine festivals, and several battle reenactments are now recorded in the books. As a way of wrapping up the year, we look back at a few milestones along the way. But before we turn our attention to the World War I centennial and an overview of awards and exhibits from the past year, Janet Johnson, a curator for The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology, provides background on a recently restored American Revolutionary War artifact now on display at Brandywine Battlefield Park.

 

PHMC staff worked with members of the Anchor Yacht Club to remove the cheval de frise from the Delaware River in February 2013 to protect it from ice damage. PHMC/Photo by Don Giles

PHMC staff worked with members of the Anchor Yacht Club to remove the cheval de frise from the Delaware River in February 2013 to protect it from ice damage. PHMC/Photo by Don Giles

A Rare Survivor of the American Revolution

The path of destruction created by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 was devastating to Philadelphia and the surrounding communities and demanded the efforts of many people to help with recovery. Members of the Anchor Yacht Club of Bristol, Bucks County, were pulling in moorings for their boats from the Delaware River when they made a significant archaeological discovery. What initially appeared to be a simple, large log entangled in their moorings turned out to be an important mechanism of defense from the American Revolutionary War. The correct identification of a cheval de frise and subsequent efforts to preserve this significant artifact ensured its conservation and ultimately its exhibition at Brandywine Battlefield Park in summer 2017. The recovery of the cheval de frise, 30 miles north of Philadelphia and 235 years after the British defeat of troops at Fort Mifflin, is mystifying.

Chevaux de frise is the French term for obstructions designed for use on land to slow an enemy approach. Cheval de frise is the singular form, in this case characterized as a log with an iron spike designed to puncture the hull of large sailing ships attempting to move up the Delaware River. The spike was notched to hold fast once the hull was punctured. These spikes were secured in a square frame or box and weighed down with rocks to hold them in place in the water.

In September 1777, after his victory at the Battle of Brandywine, Gen. William Howe marched his British army into Philadelphia, but he had a supply problem. He was surrounded by Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army, and more importantly, the Royal British Navy was unable to deliver supplies into the city because of the American forts protecting the river.

The Delaware River was a valuable resource during the Revolutionary War and control of this waterway was essential in defending Philadelphia against the attacking British forces. The Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly’s newly appointed Committee on Safety approved the design and installation of a series of chevaux de frise in the Delaware River from Fort Mifflin, near the mouth of the Schuylkill River, and Fort Mercer, on the New Jersey side of the river. More than 50 chevaux de frise were secretly placed around Fort Mifflin to hinder attacks from the British.

The original iron spike from the cheval de frise, which was removed during conservation treatment by B. R. Howard & Associates. PHMC/B. R. Howard & Assoc.

The original iron spike from the cheval de frise, which was removed during conservation treatment by B. R. Howard & Associates. PHMC/B. R. Howard & Assoc.

Despite the obstructions and valiant efforts from the Continentals at these forts, the troops were eventually outnumbered and defeated by the superior British navy. Howe’s troops had suffered losses as well, and with Washington secure at Valley Forge, he gained little in the winter of 1777, apart from control of Philadelphia and the icy Delaware River. Despite harsh conditions, Washington’s troops would emerge stronger in 1778 and force the British from the city.

Shortly after its recovery, the cheval de frise was stabilized and stored to allow PHMC to plan for its future. Initial conservation treatment was conducted at Eastern Carolina University in 2013-14. The object then went back into storage until 2016. By that time, PHMC’s Brandywine Battlefield Park visitor center had been selected as the location to exhibit the cheval de frise, because it fits with the park’s interpretation of the Philadelphia Campaign. B.R. Howard & Associates Inc. performed additional conservation treatments, advised on the best approach to exhibiting the artifact, designed custom mounts, and in 2017 supervised the installation. They also fabricated a replacement spike. The original, judged to be in poor condition, will be conserved separately.

The powerful impact of viewing the cheval de frise at Brandywine Battlefield Park is testament to the determination of Americans, originally in protecting their homelands and today in preserving their heritage. PHMC and The State Museum of Pennsylvania have expended considerable resources in conservation treatments to ensure the preservation of this artifact and its compelling story of our independence for future generations.

 

Pennsylvania and the Great War

The commemoration of the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I took center stage at many Trails of History sites and museums (see Trailheads, Spring 2017). PHMC supported two special issues of the Pennsylvania Historical Association’s quarterly journal, Pennsylvania History. Articles encompass Pennsylvanians on the battlefield and the home front, including attitudes toward German Americans during the war, conscripting prisoners, and the outbreak of influenza in Philadelphia in late 1918 (the latter by Christina M. Stetler of the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation).

The Pennsylvania Military Museum’s 6-ton M1917 as it appeared before the latest round of conservation work. Visitors to the museum can now see the fully restored tank.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum’s 6-ton M1917 as it appeared before the latest round of conservation work. Visitors to the museum can now see the fully restored tank.
PHMC/Photo by Don Giles

The summer 2017 issue of Pennsylvania History includes an article by Michael Siggins and Karen Dabney exploring a rare M1917 6-ton tank that is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Military Museum (pamilmuseum.org), its place in the history of tank warfare, its road to the museum, and the work of conserving it for exhibition. Siggins and Dabney describe the U.S. production of the M1917, based on the French Renault FT-17 but modified after experience with the FT-17 in battle. Like most M1917 tanks, the one at the museum never made its way to the battlefields of Europe. It was used for training and was purchased by the donor from Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia in the 1930s. In 2006, as part of the development of the museum’s current exhibits, the M1917 received professional conservation care that included removing earlier paint and concrete layers, replacing incorrect parts, and documenting the original paint scheme. (The M1917 was part of a trench scene in the museum’s original exhibits, and dabs of concrete had been applied to simulate mud.) The M1917 will hold a prominent place in the new exhibit galleries now under design for the museum. Michael Siggins is an active volunteer at the Pennsylvania Military Museum and leads periodic tours of other armored vehicles on the museum grounds that allow visitors to look inside and climb in if they wish. Karen Dabney is a paper conservator and freelance writer who assists the museum with programming and operations.

There are also two PHMC-related articles in the fall 2017 issue of Pennsylvania History. Richard Saylor, of the Pennsylvania State Archives, writes about the scrapbooks of Gen. Edward Martin. During World War I, Martin served with the 109th and 110th Infantry Regiments in five major campaigns in France and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He had a long and distinguished military and political career, including serving as governor of Pennsylvania (1943–47). In addition to the scrapbooks, PHMC holds in its collections extensive archival materials and other Martin items, such as military medals and citations.

Blue Star Service Flags, such as this one in the collection at the Erie Maritime Museum, were flown at servicemen’s family homes during World War I. PHMC/Photo by Linda Bolla

Blue Star Service Flags, such as this one in the collection at the Erie Maritime Museum, were flown at servicemen’s family homes during World War I. PHMC/Photo by Linda Bolla

Linda Bolla, a frequent contributor to the Trailheads blog, writes about a Blue Star flag in the collection of the Erie Maritime Museum (www.flagshipniagara.org). She notes, “The Blue Star Service Flag was designed and patented in 1917 and quickly became an unofficial symbol indicating that the home that proudly displayed it had a man serving on the frontlines during World War I.” In 1918 the museum’s flag (FN2011.9) was displayed by the family of William Henry Stine at their home on the West Public Dock of Erie (Stine’s father-in-law was harbormaster). Stine’s World War I service was on board USS Shawmut, part of Mine Squadron One, which dropped more than 56,000 mines in the North Sea straits between Scotland and Norway. Stine survived the war and, with his wife Leila, raised a family in Erie. The flag was donated to the museum by their granddaughter Barbara Stoll in 2011.

For copies of the World War I issues of Pennsylvania History, visit the website of the Pennsylvania Historical Association at pa-history.org.

 

Awards and Exhibits

The Trails of History were well represented among recipients of this year’s Leadership in History Awards from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). Honorees included The State Museum of Pennsylvania for the exhibit The Pennsylvania Turnpike: America’s First Superhighway and Somerset Historical Center for the publication Shade Furnace: An Early 19th-Century Ironmaking Community in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

 

The award-winning Pennsylvania Turnpike exhibition is part of The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Transportation and Industry Gallery. PHMC/Photo by Don Giles

The award-winning Pennsylvania Turnpike exhibition is part of The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Transportation and Industry Gallery. PHMC/Photo by Don Giles

Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum received an Institutional Achievement Award from PA Museums for its exhibit Weathervanes: Three Centuries of a Pennsylvania Folk Art Tradition. PA Museums also presented the S.K. Stevens Award to the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in recognition of the fact that the museum’s core exhibit, Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests, had been honored by PA Museums and AASLH in 2016.

Changing exhibits on the Trails of History this past year included the 50th Art of the State exhibition at The State Museum of Pennsylvania; Remembering “The Harmonie”: 100 Years of Preservation & Celebration at Old Economy, carried over from Old Economy Village’s centennial last year; Signed, Stamped or Engraved: A Treasury of Artifacts Bearing Names at Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum (see this issue’s Sharing the Common Wealth, back cover); Anthracite Recollections: Crafting Reflections of the Past at the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum; Working Together for Wildlife at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum (originally organized by The State Museum in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Game Commission); Oil in War at Drake Well Museum & Park; and Conscientious Objectors at Pennsbury Manor.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Mu-seums. She writes a weekly blog also called Trailheads at patrailheads.blogspot.com.