Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

Until railroads reached Philipsburg in the mid-nineteenth century, the small Centre County community was primarily a hub of local commerce. Founded in 1797 on the east side of Moshannon Creek by a thirty-year-old entrepreneur, Henry Phillips (1767–1800), the community owed its economic boom of the second half of the nineteenth century to the proverbial coming of the railroad. Philipsburg was incorporated in 1864.

The Beech Creek, Clearfield, and Southwestern Railroad, organized to haul the region’s abundance of timber and coal to market, reached Philipsburg in 1885. Railroad service dramatically expanded outlets not only for lumber and coal, but also for refractory clay, making Philipsburg an important industrial and trading center serving south-eastern Clearfield County and south-western Centre County. In the early 1880s, a writer described Philipsburg as “a stirring, enterprising town of about eighteen hundred inhabitants.”

The development of the Beech Creek, Clearfield, and Southwestern Railroad was supported by the New York Central Railroad Company, a consolidation of early companies, to expand its ever-growing network. The Beech Creek, Clearfield, and Southwestern Railroad Company and its assets were sold at a sheriff’s sale on June 4, 1886, and reorganized several weeks later as the Beech Creek Railroad, on June 30. Four years later, the Beech Creek Railroad’s line was leased by the New York Central, which made it part of its Pennsylvania Division in 1899.

“This is a nice place and am having a fine time.” wrote a woman identified only as Edith to Mrs. Alfred La Monte, the former Alice Lucinda Bower (1864– 1915), of Hepburnville Township, Lycoming County, on September 13, 1909, on a postcard depicting the New York Central Railroad’s station at Philipsburg. “It is Old Home Week here, something to do all the time.”

Although Edith’s remarks may today be considered innocuous, her postcard was not; it was part of a craze that deluged the nation’s post offices during the opening years of the twentieth century. Official records of the United States Postal Service reveal that a staggering 667,777,798 postcards were mailed in 1908 alone.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has adopted “Energy: Innovation and Impact” as its annual theme for 2009. Edith’s postcard is a reminder that Pennsylvania communities — no matter how small or remote — played a vital part in producing and transporting materials that fueled the nation’s factories and heated homes and hospitals. And Philipsburg, with its nearby mining and logging operations, is part of the Keystone State’s energy legacy.

In her illustrated book entitled Railroads of Pennsylvania: Fragments of the Past in the Keystone Landscape, Lorett Treese examines the history of both small and large operations which served the Commonwealth and offers readers suggestions for visiting sites and destinations related to what once was a powerful and influential industry.