Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

Names and dates. To some they’re the dreaded stuff of high school history exams. To those of us who study and preserve history, however, they’re essential keys for understanding the past. As we continue our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of The State Museum and Archives Complex at PHMC, a clarification of certain names and dates may be in order for understanding exactly what it is we’re celebrating.

The Pennsylvania State Library’s former Division of Public Records, which later became the Pennsylvania State Archives, was created in 1903, and The State Museum of Pennsylvania was established in 1905, so both institutions are now more than 110 years old. The collections and offices of both the museum and archives (incorporated into PHMC in 1945) had been located within various buildings near the State Capitol in Harrisburg until late 1964, when a new complex of two connected buildings to house the institutions was completed. It is the anniversary of the 1965 opening and dedication of this complex – a monumental work of Midcentury Modern architecture now listed in the National Register of Historic Places – that we’re celebrating this year.

Intended to serve as a memorial to Pennsylvania’s founder, the complex was first named the William Penn Memorial Museum and Archives Building. By 1984, however, it was determined by PHMC leadership that this name was confusing to the public and that the buildings would now bear the actual names of their occupant organizations; hence the whole facility became known as The State Museum and Archives Complex.

In this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage, the compelling story of how the iconic complex became a reality, resulting from the efforts of PHMC’s passionate executive director S.K. Stevens through nearly two decades of relentless political negotiations, is recounted in “A Home for History” by State Museum curator Curtis Miner. A feature within the article by PHMC architect Andrea W. Lowery examines the complex’s distinctive Modernist attributes and explores the evolution of the design, from original planning by architect William Gehron to the final tour de force by the Harrisburg firm of Lawrie & Green.

As part of the commemoration of the complex, we continue to highlight Midcentury Modern design in its many manifestations throughout Pennsylvania. Modernism at its height found expression in a particularly exaggerated form in commercial architecture. Following the mantra “form follows function,” the function in these popular structures was to grab one’s attention – and hence one’s patronage – with fanciful thematic features, soaring rooflines and colorful neon. In “Kennywood in the Space Age,” pop culture historian Brian Butko describes how the amusement park south of Pittsburgh embraced Modernism to draw audiences to its attractions and reveals how the buildings that remain today have become part of a fantastic mix of eras that continues to charm visitors.

A little more than a decade after the William Penn Memorial Museum opened, one of its new attractions was a walk-through artificial 300 million-year-old Carboniferous forest, complete with coal swamp, primitive trees and plants, and prehistoric dragonflies and predatory amphibians. This year the exhibit will be reconditioned as part of the anniversary. Another glimpse at the Carboniferous world comes to us from Spencer G. Lucas in “Alfred King’s Forgotten Fossil Footprints,” which tells of an amphibian that crept out of a swamp in what would become Unity Township, Westmoreland County, leaving tracks as a record of its existence for a self-taught paleontologist to discover in the 19th century. All but forgotten through the years, Alfred King and his Limnopus heterodactylus are now, in this issue, rescued from obscurity.

So with names and dates down pat, join us with a visit to The State Museum and Archives Complex as we celebrate five decades with exhibits on Modernist architecture, special anniversary events and revitalized interiors – and continue to rely on Pennsylvania Heritage as your guide to the commonwealth’s storied past.

Kyle R. Weaver
Editor