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

History is revisited and revised not only because newly found or overlooked evidence is uncovered through the years but also because distance in time and transformations in society often call for a fresh outlook to provide context and meaning for readers today. The features in this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage are written by experts who have been involved in extensive research in their fields, and here they offer relevant contemporary perspectives on their subjects.

In recent years, historical archaeologist Angela Jaillet-Wentling has participated in excavations at the site of a free Black community known as Pandenarium, which flourished from 1854 to the 1930s on 100 acres along Indian Run in East Lackawannock Township, Mercer County. In this edition she brings together recent research on the community in the article “Piecing Together Pandenarium,” providing new insight on the approximately 63 original inhabitants, many of whom had been previously enslaved by a Virginia plantation owner and manumitted upon his death, to the last generation living at the site in the early 20th century. Through analysis of period maps, aerial photographs, census records, accounts from descendants, and especially the significant material remains uncovered in archaeological investigations, Jaillet-Wentling debunks early newspaper histories that characterized the community as a failure and offers a broader, more nuanced narrative of the people who lived, worked and raised families at the site.

Visitors traveling the roads of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, especially in Berks and Lehigh counties, will notice the recurrence of a mysterious feature in the landscape: barns with large colorful, multipointed stars painted on their forebays. Over the past decade, Patrick J. Donmoyer, director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, has been documenting and studying these barn stars, commonly called “hex signs.” In “More Than Decoration,” he traces the impact of an early observer’s assumption about the meaning of this phenomenon and introduces some of the 20th-century practitioners of the craft, notably third-generation barn star painter Milton Hill, who combined tradition and imagination to develop his own distinctive style, and Johnny Ott, who rather than painting on barns applied the stars and other fanciful designs to wooden panels and other objects, selling them to tourists and claiming they had symbolic meanings and magical powers. Donmoyer explains how both painters influenced a new generation, exemplified by Eric Claypoole, who today preserves the tradition of decorating barns with stars — nearly 100 to his credit — but also carries on the practice of painting the designs on signboard.

For many years, Baldwin Locomotive Works was the largest producer of steam locomotives in the world. Founded in Philadelphia in 1832, it produced in all 70,500 locomotives until the company discontinued production of engines in 1956. Author Dan Cupper, who has been researching and writing about railroad history for more than 40 years, here recounts the rise and fall of Baldwin in “The Giant That Stumbled.” The article takes us from the company’s modest beginnings when founder Matthias W. Baldwin constructed its first steam engine, “Old Ironsides,” through its most productive years under Samuel Vauclain, turning out 3,600 locomotives a year, to its final decades in engine-building, when Baldwin was ultimately unable to adapt to new diesel-electric technology.

After reading this issue, be sure to visit the PHMC website at phmc.pa.gov and click on the Events Calendar to find out about upcoming virtual programs on a variety of subjects from our Trails of History sites across the commonwealth as the agency continues amid the pandemic in its mission to bring relevant Pennsylvania history to the public.

Kyle R. Weaver