From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

On March 10, 2003, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) was privileged to dedicate a state historical marker commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Pennsylvania State Archives. Congratulations are due to all those individuals -­ both past and present – responsible for establishing and maintaining this outstanding institution.

The Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg is the repository and custodian of two hundred million pages of government records and historical manuscripts. The material represents the official documents of the Commonwealth from 1673, before England’s King Charles II granted William Penn his charter in 1681, to the papers of recent governors of the Key­stone State. Also represented in the vast collections are important historical manuscripts and records that help tell the story of our rich heritage.

For individuals who have not yet fully explored the State Archives, it may come as a surprise for them to find a fascinating wealth of historical records beyond official documents, such as land grants issued by Penn, letters written by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker, or Civil War-era muster rolls of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Regi­ments. Preserved among the tens of millions of documents are other treasures, classified under manuscripts, which offer an entirely different historical perspective. This is what constitutes our “special col­lections.”

Comprised of photographs, drawings, prints, maps, posters, broadsides, fraktur, and other media, these special holdings make up a substantial percentage of mate­rial safeguarded by the State Archives. These are the under-explored and unex­ploited resources of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

A phenomenal collection of late nine­teenth-century bird’s-eye views of Pennsyl­vania communities by Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler (1842-1922) provides a panorama of Pennsylvania history through the unerr­ing eye of a precise draughtsman. Outstanding illuminated manuscripts include a prison ledger book elaborately embellished in the mid-1890s by Sidney Ware, an inmate at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Peni­tentiary. A significant collection of hand­-drawn canal maps provide an incredible understanding of Pennsylvania’s develop­ing transportation system in the mid-nine­teenth century. Broadsides and placards – as well as rally, campaign, and recruiting posters – yield hints about the Keystone State’s social and political landscape through the years.

My favorite in the special collections are our photographs. These images, number­ing more than four hundred and fifty thou­sand, capture a unique, intimate side of individuals and their environment. They provide unparalleled documentation of our history and a much greater appreciation for the written story. I can read the newspaper accounts in 1906 describing the dedication of the new State Capitol and the speeches made by President Theodore Roosevelt and Governor Pennypacker. However, nothing can assimilate the facts for me­ – like my recent visit to the Archives search room and discovering a “new” perspective of that historic event taken on October 4, 1906, by John William Roshon, a leading Harrisburg photographer.

From its humble beginnings a century ago, the Pennsylvania State Archives has evolved into a national leader and one of the finest programs of its kind in the coun­try. We invite the public to visit the State Archives in person or online at the Pennsylvania State Archives website. Please be sure to visit ExplorePAhistory.com, an excit­ing and innovative joint project with WITF, where you will discover an uncommon wealth of information.

John C. Wesley
Interim Executive Director