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.

Inspired by the Quaker ideals of hard work, faith, and modest lifestyle, Isaiah Vansant Williamson (1803–1889), a wealthy Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist, founded the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Middletown Township, Delaware County, the year before he died. He established the school to provide financially disadvantaged young men with an opportunity to become productive and respected members of society. “It was seeing boys, ragged and barefooted, lounging on the streets, growing up with no education, no idea of usefulness,” he wrote, “that caused me to think of founding a school where every boy could be taught some trade free of expense.”

Williamson’s endowment of two million dollars — the equivalent of nearly forty-eight million dollars today — funded the acquisition of 220 acres in 1889 for the school, for which Frank Furness (1839–1912), of Philadelphia, one of the leading architects of the day, designed the buildings. The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades opened in 1891 and offered three-year programs in bricklaying, carpentry, machine shop, and pattern-making. The school’s first graduation three years later made it a pioneer in the country’s vocational education movement.

The school’s curriculum has been expanded and upgraded through the years. In 1972, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted Williamson the authority to award the associate in specialized technology degree. It now offers craftsman diplomas in carpentry and masonry, and associate in specialized technology degrees in construction technology (with an emphasis on carpentry or masonry), horticulture, landscaping and turf management, machine tool technology, paint and coatings technology, and power plant technology.

“This is our cottage,” wrote a student known only as Harry to Mrs. W. T. Boring of Colfax, Huntingdon County, on a penny postcard postmarked January 20, 1909. “The third room from the right on the third floor is mine and the second room from right on the second floor is Geo.’s.” The young student added, optimistically, “I have passed two examinations so far.”

Perhaps Harry and George were brothers and Mrs. Boring their mother?