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

For almost six years it has been my privilege and honor to serve as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC). This July I will complete my 50th year of public service as an educator, historian, museum director and preservationist. I can think of no better way to spend a life than in promoting and protecting America’s history and culture. It is very important work and it has provided me with opportunities for study, travel and personal fulfillment that most people can only imagine. I have worked daily with dedicated, thoughtful and knowledgeable professionals on an amazing variety of programs and projects. For five decades I have looked forward to each day knowing that it would be full of stimulating work, interesting company and unexpected challenges.

Nevertheless, the time has come for me to step down. In December I informed the commission of my intention to retire. PHMC Chair Nancy Moses has appointed a committee that has been hard at work since January searching for my replacement. Shortly after you read this, the appointment of a new PHMC executive director will be announced.

I suspect that it is natural upon approaching retirement to think back and reflect on your career. In my case I have directed sites and museums from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to San Diego, California. At the National Trust for Historic Preservation I was responsible for sites as old as Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico (c. 800 AD), and as new as the Midcentury Modern houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohr and Louis Kahn. I have directed or managed four presidential sites in Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, DC. It has all been very fulfilling. But I want you to know that I consider my years at PHMC to be the most important work of my career.

PHMC is a unique and remarkable institution. It may be second only to the Smithsonian Institution in the variety and scope of its collections and services. Through the Pennsylvania State Archives, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, and the historic sites and museums on the Pennsylvania Trails of History, PHMC is truly the treasure house of Pennsylvania’s past. PHMC’s millions of  documents, artifacts, artworks, natural history specimens and archaeological objects all relate to one story: Pennsylvania’s story. It is important for all of us to remember that the treasures of Pennsylvania are also America’s treasures and that Pennsylvania’s stories are America’s stories. The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address are all Pennsylvania stories. The valuable relics of human endeavor in the state, from hunting and farming to industries such as iron, coal, oil and railroads, are all preserved within PHMC’s collections. PHMC also has a hand in supporting nearly every other historical institution in the state in their telling of Pennsylvania’s story through the State Historic Preservation Office and its administration of the National Register of Historic Places, the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operating assistance grants and rehabilitation tax credits. It has indeed been an honor to be a small part of that effort.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the many people who contribute to this important work and have made my time at PHMC such a pleasure. I must begin with the dedicated PHMC commissioners and the two terrific chairs who served during my tenure, Andrew E. Masich of Pittsburgh and Nancy Moses of Philadelphia. I also want to recognize the many board members, volunteers and donors who support our museums, sites and programs. PHMC could not succeed without them. And finally, I want to salute and thank the dedicated, professional and hardworking staff of PHMC. State budget constraints of the past decade have severely reduced the size of PHMC staff but Pennsylvania history continues to be protected and taught through their tireless efforts. They deserve your continuing support. I will miss them all but will retire with the knowledge that the treasures of Pennsylvania remain in very good hands.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC