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.

As the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and its Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums have recently engaged in strategic planning, one of several issues identified has been the challenge of articulating our value to the public. When one thinks of a favorite destination on the Pennsylvania Trails of History, what comes to mind first? Readers of this magazine love history and are predisposed to value sites for the landscapes, structures, and collections they preserve and the stories they tell. Many support and work at PHMC’s historic sites and museums because they believe a shared heritage is a critical part of good citizenship. Learning about the consequences of actions, decisions, and choices made in the past helps in under-standing the impact on the present and future.

These history lessons are a vital — if not the most important — part of the work historic sites perform every day, with audiences of all ages, but they aren’t the whole picture. In most communities Trails of History sites mean more than just history.

Writing the weekly Trailheads blog and this quarterly feature requires a steady stream of information. To keep in touch with what PHMC’s historic sites are doing, I visit their websites, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and read blogs, e-mail, and Google Alerts. Lately there seem to be more items about community engagement to broaden the circle of people who think of sites and museums as important local partners. It has brought to mind the efforts that have been ongoing at these attractions for years.

In the northeastern part of the state, for example, staff and board members at the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum and the Scranton Iron Furnaces are engaged in a variety of partnerships designed to promote heritage preservation, community revitalization, and economic development. The Heritage Valley Roundtable, hosted by the Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area, brings together museums, historic sites, schools, county government, colleges, libraries, local media, and cultural groups to pool resources and expertise for the good of Scranton. The roundtable was recently awarded first place in the arts and culture category of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Nonprofit and Community Assistance Center’s Community Awards. The United Neighborhood Center’s Elm Street Project is bringing people together to revitalize the city’s South Side, using the Scranton Iron Furnaces as a focal point for cultural, historical, and artistic events and community gatherings, such as the South Side Farmers’ Market and the Arts on Fire Festival. Arts on Fire won a 2011 Hometown Star Award from the Scranton Awards for Growth and Excellence and a 2012 Townie Award from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center.

Every year Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum hosts an event several weeks before Christmas with a bonfire, music, and seasonal goodies. Throughout the day open hearth cooks prepare a feast in a tavern decorated with nineteenth-century furnishings. In the evening and after the public event the meal is served to Landis Valley’s volunteers in gratitude for their service. Admission to the event is free, but attendees are asked to bring non-perishable items for the Lancaster Food Bank. Many in the local community consider this event to be an important part of their holiday celebrations just as they view Landis Valley’s annual Herb and Garden Faire in May as the start of summer gardening.

At the Erie Maritime Museum the Christmas Tree Ship program commemorates the sinking of the schooner Rouse Simmons, which was lost in a storm on Lake Michigan one hundred years ago carrying a cargo of Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago. The museum partners with Family Services of North Western Pennsylvania (NWPA) to provide twenty-five Christmas trees to local families in need through a drawing held at the event. Individuals attending the program are invited to bring new or gently used Christmas decorations, as well as hats, scarves, and mittens to help ward off the winter weather.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Military Museum serve as drop-off points for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.

For its annual Oxygen Day program the Joseph Priestley House includes a presentation by the Respiratory Care Department of Geisinger Medical Center, discussing how lungs work and offering interested attendees an opportunity to have their blood oxygen levels and pulse rates checked.

Many PHMC attractions promote artisans and craftspeople in their areas through programs and museum stores. Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum offers a regular program of crafts demonstrations and its Weathervane Shop was recently recognized by Smart Retailer for its consignment program. The Somerset Historical Center’s Mountain Craft Days has been showcasing crafts and trades for more than forty years, providing a venue for artisans from throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond. Drake Well Museum and Park hosts the Oil Valley Blacksmiths from April through October, giving them a place to meet and practice their skills and provide visitors a monthly blacksmithing demonstration. Drake Well has also partnered with the University of Pittsburgh, Titusville, as an option for its freshman class day of service and will be working with Clarion University of Pennsylvania faculty and graduate students in library science on a project to index oil industry patents, making them more accessible to researchers.

A number of Pennsylvania Trails of History historic sites are located on extensive grounds that require a good deal of maintenance. For years local residents have enjoyed the park-like atmosphere of the Conrad Weiser Homestead and the Daniel Boone Homestead. Increasingly local organizations are using historic sites as settings for athletic events and charity walks, such as the Bristol Township School District’s Tiger Classic 5K event, which was held at Pennsbury Manor for the first time this year, and the Bridge of Hope Mother’s Day Walk on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum. The Military Museum is also the location for the annual People’s Choice Festival of the Arts and a weekly Farmers’ Market, in addition to military tribute and reenactment programs throughout the summer. Bushy Run Battlefield is the home course for the Penn Trafford High School’s cross country team and will host several meets, in addition to the annual Battle of Bushy Run reenactment commemorating its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary in August 2013 and seasonal guided nature walks.

 

The author wishes to thank the staff and volunteers at Pennsylvania Trails of History historic sites and museums who plan, carry out, and promote programs and events to engage their communities and the visiting public.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator based in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums, supporting education, interpretation, and communications efforts bureau-wide and at individual historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trails of History. She writes an informative weekly blog entitled Trailheads.