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

Every year we dedicate the spring issue of Pennsylvania Heritage to the annual theme adopted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). These themes enable us to partner with organizations and institutions throughout the Commonwealth to explore a particular subject’s impact on the Commonwealth’s history and heritage.

The staff of PHMC is delving deeply into our theme for 2011, “William Penn’s Legacy: Religious and Spiritual Diversity.” An idealist whose convictions laid the groundwork for Pennsylvania, Penn described his colony as “the seed of a nation.” This edition examines his vision and how it influenced religious and spiritual life in Pennsylvania.

William C. Kashatus, popular with readers for his timely and relevant articles, examines the utopian colony that Penn established for those seeking religious freedom in the New World. In his article sharing the same title as the theme, he deftly places the proprietorship in the context of the seventeenth century, enabling present-day readers to understand and appreciate the constraints and challenges of Penn’s day. It was no easy feat for the founder to establish a haven for those seeking relief from religious persecution, nor was it easy for early colonists to find their way as they needed to learn how to adjust to Pennsylvania’s religious diversity. And there’s much more!

In “Our First Friends, The Early Quakers,” Rae Tyson chronicles the arrival and the rise and fall in prominence of members of the Religious Society of Friends who made the Keystone State their home before Penn’s first visit in 1682. Less than one hundred Quaker meetinghouses exist in Pennsylvania today. Robert Jaeger, executive director and a cofounder of Partners for Sacred Places, takes readers on an armchair tour of historic and older houses of worship throughout the Commonwealth in a photo essay entitled “Sacred Places in Pennsylvania: Signs of Religious Freedom and Diversity.” The author visits both the famous and the little-known places of worship in large cities and small communities. John Fea examines the topic of religion and tourism in “On the Road in Search of William Penn’s Holy Experiment,” in which he contends that “much of the story of Pennsylvania’s past can be told through its religious institutions.” To prove his point, he visited three central Pennsylvania communities and discovered that houses of worship, no matter the denomination, are not only important to their congregations, but they also serve as political, social, and fraternal centers as well. These features illustrate that each religious institution bears witness to its community’s history.

With this edition we debut a new department, History Works, which features individuals who work in professions and occupations in the history field, such as research, preservation, conservation, restoration, documentation, interpretation, and education. In History Works, you’ll meet Jeffrey B. Johnson of Harrisburg who devoted nearly a quarter of a century to restoring Pennsylvania’s State Capitol.

Most regular departments in this issue – from Wish You Were Here! [see “Dauphin County: State Street, Harrisburg, PA“] to Sharing Our Common Wealth [see “Illuminated Manuscript at Ephrata Cloister“] – underscore our 2011 theme, and I know you’ll find these backstories intriguing, if not surprising.

I hope you’ll become familiar with the meetinghouses, churches, mosques, temples, chapels, and shrines in your area and appreciate the role each has played in Penn’s unprecedented vision of a society unencumbered by religious restraint.

Best wishes,
Michael J. O’Malley III